He lashes out at the Congress, including his own party’s failed health-care vote: “The Republicans and Democrats let us down on that.”
He laments the Russia investigation: “A total fabrication.” It is, he says, “just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics. It just makes them feel better when they have nothing else to talk about. What the prosecutors should be looking at is Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 deleted emails.”
At that, the crowd erupts into a sustained roar, and the old, gleeful chants of “Lock her up!” can be heard.
The message to the faithful is clear enough: You are on the hook for this. An attack on me is an attack on you. To stop believing would be a betrayal.
“They’re trying to cheat you out of the leadership you want with a fake story that is demeaning to all of you,” he says. It’s us versus them, and them is everybody else.
Their T-shirts proudly proclaim their hatreds: TRUMPED THAT BITCH, DEPLORABLE ’N CHIEF, DEATH TO LIBERALS. A leering Trump head on the cartoon Calvin figure, pissing on a snowflake.
Outside, the protesters are massed on a corner, buffered by the riot police in their helmets and bulletproof vests. A middle-aged woman waves a HILLBILLIES AGAINST TRUMP sign as the afternoon’s summer storm clears.
The spectacle, by now, is deeply familiar. But it retains the power to shock.
This is the Trump show, the neverending Trump show, and we’re all still glued to our seats.
They love Trump here in Appalachia, as you may have heard.
Dispatches from Trump Country fill the newspapers every day, sounding a tautological refrain: Trump supporters support Trump! They are predictable to the point of parody: The boarded-up Main Streets, the down-on-their-luck working-class white people, the unwavering loyalty.
Why is this news? If anything, Trump’s hard core seems to be shrinking, not expanding. Somehow it was not news when a devoted core of true believers refused to abandon the last president. But news is the unexpected—man bites dog—and the idea that anyone would stand by this president must be continually explained to the befuddled readers of The New York Times and Washington Post.
West Virginia is lush and green this time of year, the sinuous ribbon of federally-funded highway snaking through its rolling hills. Huntington sits on the western edge of the state, across the river from Ohio and down the road from Kentucky. There’s a glassed-in furniture showroom in the lobby of the Big Sandy Superstore Arena, a stolid brick-red rectangle in the middle of downtown. The arena doesn’t host a lot of events these days, if it ever did: Before the Trump rally, the last one was a WWE Live SummerSlam three weeks back.
It is clear to Dick Woodard, a retiree who drove here two hours from Parkersburg, that Trump’s detractors are simply afraid of the threat he poses to their power. He is just about as mad at the Republicans as the Democrats these days, he tells me. “They need to get out of his way, all of them,” he says. “I think we should vote them all out.”