This was the game plan for Trump: Park somewhere remote, then take the People Mover to Cobo, where you get off inside the building and don’t have to navigate — don’t even have to see — the demonstrators outside. And that’s pretty much how it worked; a $7 parking spot in Greektown, a brief train ride and into the a/c and pleasant convention-center groove of…a convention center. The credentialing was a snap, the Secret Service wand-down chill, and into the auditorium, set up to accommodate somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000.
I was thinking this would not be a friendly crowd. Not hostile — the Detroit Economic Club emphasizes the clubbiness, and gentlepeople don’t do hostile face-to-face — but not much more than polite applause. These are Republicans, but Bush/Rubio/Kasich Republicans. America doesn’t need to be made great again, because for these titans of industry/C-suiters/middle managers on the way up, America is already pretty great. They’d like tax relief, of course, but when have American businessmen ever not wanted that? Detroit still runs on the auto industry, and it was recently saved from rack and ruin by none other than Barack Obama, Tim Geithner, et al. If that doesn’t make America pretty damn great for these folks, I don’t know what would.
Maybe the thunderous applause was just them being polite. I don’t know.
I do know this. After an introduction by Mike Pence (who was himself introduced as a graduate of the “University of Indiana”), out came the man himself, and it was clear from the outset that, as it was in Cleveland, this would be a teleprompter deal. Prompter Trump is a different animal. His vocabulary increases in size and complexity (somewhat, anyway). He swings between the screens like a pendulum, a phrase or two left, center, right. He reads well, pronounces well, but like a lot of kids I’ve tutored in reading over the years, punctuation other than periods is a struggle. He doesn’t seem to understand that a sentence can carry over to the next line, so that a passage like this…
When we abandoned the policy of America First, we started rebuilding other countries instead of our own. The skyscrapers went up in Beijing, and in many other cities around the world, while the factories and neighborhoods crumbled in Detroit.
…sounds like this:
When we abandoned the policy. Of America First. We started rebuilding other countries. Instead of our own. The skyscrapers went up in Beijing. And in many other cities around the world. While the factories and neighborhoods. Crumbled in Detroit.
I put the meter at a type of free-form anapestic — dat dat DAH, dat dat DAH. It’s different from the way he speaks when he’s freestylin’, so you know immediately that he’s on the prompter. Not a criticism, just an observation.
So that’s how it started. After “crumbled in Detroit” began the first big set piece of the speech, which committed the first sin that every carpetbagger, parachuted-in journalist/analyst does here, which is to conflate the three Detroits: the city, the metro area and the auto industry. They shouldn’t be.
Conservatives often make this mistake, to reel off the horrible statistics from the city — the unemployment, the crime, the illiteracy, all of it — and pretend it’s all the result of Democratic governance. (Or, in the usual phrase, “Democrat governance.”) This ignores pretty much every major factor that led to the city’s decline, and there are dozens. The automation of factories. Freeways. Sprawl. Ethnic tensions. Rising prosperity; have you seen a Detroit workingman’s bungalow? Would you like to raise three or four or five kids in 1,000 square feet once you were making enough money to afford better? And the stinking 900-pound primate in the room, race.
No, to people spinning this talking point, it’s all about taxes and welfare and Those People, who Just Don’t Want to Work For a Living. Under this argument, San Francisco and New York should be on the canvas by now, but whatever.
So here is Donald Trump, standing in front of a couple thousand mostly affluent white people, dressed in suits and ties and dresses and pantyhose, telling them they live in a shithole of misery:
In short, the city of Detroit is the living, breathing example of my opponent’s failed economic agenda. Every policy that has failed this city, and so many others, is a policy supported by Hillary Clinton.
She supports the high taxes and radical regulation that forced jobs out of your community…and the crime policies that have made you less safe…and the immigration policies that have strained local budgets…and the trade deals like NAFTA, signed by her husband, that have shipped your jobs to Mexico and other countries… and she supports the education policies that deny your students choice, freedom and opportunity.
Shipped whose jobs to Mexico? Not these people’s jobs. In fact, they did the shipping. Education policies that support choice have been well-established in Michigan for decades now, pushed and supported by Republicans. And immigration policies? That’s rich, considering this place was about as spicy an immigrant stew as you could find outside of Ellis Island, and still is. They couldn’t have run those giant factories with the Trump kids; they needed people willing to get dirty and work hard for a little bit of money, and then a little bit more.
So you can see right there that he’s losing me.
But then the hecklers started. These were Code Pink-types who’d stand up, start screaming and be hustled out by security. One after another, all but one women. They started before that passage above, in fact, when he was still in his thanks-for-inviting-me pleasantries, and continued, every few minutes, for about the first half hour. With each ejection, the cheering got louder. He started winning the crowd, not for the mumbo-jumbo coming out of his mouth, but because the people who got in to yell at him were worse.
I know the DEC was embarrassed by this. Tickets are not available to the general public, although members can bring guests. They don’t do shit like this, especially to national figures. As the ejections went on and on — 14 in all — it only made Trump look better, because he didn’t react. He just stood mute until the shouter was outside, then went on.
And he did go on. There was a laundry list of promises, mostly latter-day Reaganomics. Tax cuts, of course:
I am proposing an across-the-board income tax reduction, especially for middle-income Americans. This will lead to millions of new good-paying jobs.
How? As Boon said to Otter: Forget it, he’s rolling.
Three brackets instead of seven. A top corporate rate of 15 percent. All from the GOP wish list. This was a big applause line:
Finally, no family will have to pay the death tax. American workers have paid taxes their whole lives, and they should not be taxed again at death – it’s just plain wrong. We will repeal it.
An auditorium full of people whose net worth put them in estate-tax territory loved that one.
On it went. Coal’s coming back. So is steel. American steel is going to “send new skyscrapers soaring.” It’s going into “the spine of this nation.” By now he’s in the last-20-minutes-in-Cleveland mode:
We can’t fix a rigged system by relying on the people who rigged it in the first place.
We can’t solve our problems by relying on the politicians who created them.
Only by changing to new leadership, and new solutions, will we get new results.
We need to stop believing in politicians, and start believing in America.
And then it was over. Standing ovation. Thunderous applause. Not the polite kind.
Cobo has a glass-walled front, and as I was walking out, I could see the demonstration outside. It looked pretty peaceful, although there were a couple of scuffles here and there. Two suit-and-tie gents were walking near me.
“I like that 15 percent, I’ll say that,” one said, before looking out at the crowd and wondering, “How do they get to spend a Monday doing that?”
“They don’t work,” the other scoffed.
We’re in trouble, guys.
And me, I’m back to my day job. See you tomorrow.