Donald Trump, the U.S. Republican nominee for president, held a rally at his Westchester golf club in New York last week.
It was just hours after he had basically been taken to the woodshed by party leaders, who told the GOP standard bearer — and every news outlet in the world — that he needed to stop having racist rants, and as U.S. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell put it, “start acting like a serious presidential candidate.”
It was before the weekend tragedy in Orlando, during which 49 people were shot and killed at a popular gay nightclub. The perpetrator, Omar Mateen, was a New York-born U.S. citizen of Afghan descent, who had pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State and was said to have been angered by the sight of two men kissing.
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Trump has participated in a variety of racist rhetoric on Twitter, but last Tuesday, he tried to contain himself. In his speech, he didn’t say “Mexicans,” “Muslims,” or “wall” even once. He talked up “responsibility” and promised his supporters, “I won’t let you down.”
I thought he sounded like a teenager who’d been caught doing something very naughty, but Republicans — including the party's national chairman, Reince Priebus, practically swooned:
Great victory speech by @realDonaldTrump tonight. Exactly the right approach and perfectly delivered.— Reince Priebus (@Reince) June 8, 2016
Geez, expectations must have been low. Never mind the petulant tone and pouting lip, Trump promised to take care of "our African American people,” told what seemed to be a pee-pee joke, and on the heels of accusing his opponent of playing the “woman card,” threw down the martyr one.
“I didn’t need to do this,” the candidate said. “It’s not easy, believe me. I didn’t need to do it.” Then he scowled, “You better hope I’m president.”
Talking about Canada with Trump supporters
And just like that, the show was over. Queen’s “We are the Champions” roared, as Trump and his entourage disappeared from the stage. It was like a Scott Disick club appearance — the reality star controlled himself for one night, but you totally know he’s going to land in the tabloids again.
On Tuesday night however, we reporters were definitely left holding our digital recorders.
But since Trump has campaigned so successfully on cutting off our neighbours to the south with a “beautiful wall” and “fabulous trade agreements,” and since I’m employed by our neighbours to our north (who, by the way, import more to the U.S. than Mexico), I decided to use the downtime to investigate whether the whole show could explode with anti-Canadian sentiment, too.
Easier said than done.
Trying to get an interview at a Trump rally
If you think talking politics at a Trump for president event would be easy, you’d be wrong. The first problem was that reporters appeared to outnumber the supporters, and the second was that not all of the apparent supporters (read: people wearing “Make America Great Again” baseball hats) were supporters, per se.
Aside from their head gear, the room’s handful of young men looked liked they were going to their MBA school interviews, while its gaggles of young women appeared to be channeling a version of Melania and Ivanka Trump’s style (really fit and flare dresses, long wavy hair, and platform stilettos). All turned out to be event volunteers.
“I’m not sure if we’re allowed to talk,” one said when I asked for an interview. “Are we allowed to talk?” she turned to a colleague. He shrugged.
They happened to be with the one black person in the room who was not a reporter, Secret Service agent, or a former contestant on “The Apprentice,” Omarosa Onee Manigault. I asked if I could interview her.
“No, no, no!” she shrieked, running away as fast as she could in her super high heels.
I moved on to the real grown-ups. Some, but not all of these women were wearing more sensible footwear, and many were wearing very conspicuous jewellery, particularly favouring large gold and diamond-encrusted crosses. What would Jesus say? I thought.
A half-dozen men also carried “Bikers for Trump” signs, while sporting navy sports jackets or polo shirts. Maybe they were given the Harley-Davidson-style placards with their baseball hats when they checked in? I can’t say.
Ultimately, I didn’t get to “hi” with anyone, much less to, “Don’t hate me, I work for Canadians,” because the second people saw the press credentials around my neck, they bolted.
Hitting the bar as a last resort
And so, I did a low thing. I positioned myself next to the open bar. There, after a lot smiling and acting super friendly, I found four people who wouldn’t tell me their names, but would talk to me. They were a couple in their 50s from West Palm Beach, Fla. and another in their 40s from Westchester, N.Y.
"So what do you guys think of Canada?" I asked them. They seemed confused. Tongue-in-cheek, I clarified that Canada was "the large country to the north."
"I don’t feel threatened by Canada," said the woman from New York. "The problems are coming in from the south," the woman from Florida agreed. "Illegal immigrants coming into the country illegally." I asked them if illegal immigration was a big election issue for them.
The man from Florida added: "And entitlements. I think Trump’ll dial back entitlements."
I begged to differ. "Actually, I think he going against the usual Republican line on that," I explained. "He wants to keep Social Security — not exactly a Canadian-style social safety."
But the man from Florida was "not talking about Social Security," he insisted. He was talking about entitlements. The Florida woman chimed in: "We want America to be America!"
"We should take care of our people in need," her husband agreed. "There are way too many people who are not disabled."
"This should be a land of plenty, but they get here illegally," she nodded. "Do the right thing and come here or get out."
I asked them if they, personally, had any experiences with immigration. The woman from New York explained that she was was heading to Paris next with her daughter, and quite frankly, she was "disgusted."
On immigration and women
"We’re going to Europe when there are thousands and thousands of refugees coming in who don’t appreciate women," she explained, "and they treat women like garbage because that’s their culture, and Europe accepts that culture, and here we’re doing the same thing—"
I cut in: "Treating women like garbage? Some people say Trump is disrespectful to women."
Both she and the woman from Florida wouldn't believe it. In the meantime, the man from New York appeared to make a zip-your-lip type gesture to his wife. I was appropriately horrified. "Oh my God! Are you telling her to be quiet?" I asked, feeling relieved when it turned out the man was only asking for his chap-stick from her purse. We resumed our conversation about immigration and refugees, but this time, I added in "trade agreements, such as NAFTA"
"I am in medical billing and collections," said the man from Florida. The New York woman pointed to her husband, who was applying his chap-stick, and revealed that he was a dentist.
"I have to send out three times as many collection notices because people don’t pay their medical bills now," Florida man continued. "They pay other things first."
"People are less likely to invest in their teeth now and more likely to invest in their kids’ educations," the New York woman agreed wisely.
All of a sudden, Florida Woman said: "Obamacare is a disaster."
"I’ll tell you something about Canada," said Florida Man. "I don’t really understand their one-payer medical system, but I think they might be lucky." I was confused.
"It would not be good for my business," he explained. I told him it would actually be bad for his business, to which he responded that the best system in the U.S. is Medicare. I pointed out that wasn't Donald Trump's position or even the stance of the Republican Party. The New York woman agreed: it made no sense.
"But single-payer is the best!" Florida man insisted. The women disagreed. "I’m just tellin’ it like it is," he shrugged.
"You know," I began, "I think that maybe Trump’s candidacy is just an 'F.U.' to the U.S. establishment." I had hit the nail on the head. "Yes!" the entire group echoed.
"And I’ll tell you something about Canada," added the man from Florida, pointing to his wife. "Her dad is 100 years and a World War II veteran. Got drafted, went. And we were talking about Muhammad Ali the other day, who was a contentious objector during Vietnam. And her dad said, he understood that. He’d have gone to Canada for that one."
"So you don’t think we need a wall on the border with Canada?" I asked. Everyone shook their heads.
"We might need to go there again," said the man from New York.