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Spring has sprung and it’s morning in America out here on the East End of Long Island. Crocuses and daffodils are pushing their way through the grass and along the bay in the boatyards; caulk is filling popped seams in burnished teak decks; bottom paint is being rolled and the bright, sunny air is filled with the thwack-thwack-thwack of nail guns and the screech of circular saws cutting two-by-fours and “renovating” mini-McMansions all over town. But there’s another screech we’re hearing on our televisions and smartphones: the sound of Donald Trump’s fans at his rallies around the country. That sound is getting a lot louder. And more hostile.
Politics is largely a local enterprise in the Hamptons. We have our zoning disputes and our building moratoriums and our fights over how best to control the herds of stunted deer thundering through our towns on tiny hooves, chomping our rhododendrons and denuding our forsythias. Our parochial political battles are normally enough to keep us busy over coffee in the morning and drinks at happy hour. But this year, national politics has invaded our pleasant little corner of the world, and what do you know? A lot of people out here are really, really happy about it. That’s because a lot of people in the Hamptons are supporting Donald J. Trump.
You wouldn’t normally put the words Hamptons and Trump together unless you were wagering on the guest list for a fundraiser at, say, Howard Stern’s East Hampton estate. But these aren’t normal times, and our man Trump is not a normal candidate. And the people supporting him are not to be found out there on the grassy expanses of Hamptons lawn parties. No, you are far more likely to find them, as I have, downtown in Sag Harbor at the LT or the Corner Bar. Trump’s people out here aren’t in the bought-and-paid-for, outright racist 25 percent who responded to his early campaign dog whistles like Labradors in a duck blind. His Hamptonites are by and large male and middle-aged or older, and they work with their hands for a living: They run machines in the factory on the Turnpike, or they paint houses and they repair plumbing; some of them work for the big landscaping companies that trim the Gin Lane hedges and mow Sagaponack lawns. They tend to occupy the next 25 percent, in other words — the people a suddenly gentler Trump is working to win over now, those who feel left out and left behind economically, whose thirst was supposed to be quenched by Reagan’s trickle-down economics but who have been waiting nearly forty years for the first drop to fall.
Many of the people who hire Trump’s legions out here run hedge funds and investment banks and real estate investment trusts. Most are Republicans, very wealthy Republicans, and as we know, these Establishment Swells are not happy with Mr. Trump — a while back they dispatched a well-dressed poodle called Mitt Romney to warn everyone how dangerous he is. But the people who work for Establishment Swells in the Hamptons, they like Mr. Trump a lot. You want to know why? Because after decades of promises and kabuki economics, they’ve figured out that the only trickle that’s ever reached them has been from a busted pipe after a winter freeze at one of the Swells’ summer houses, when they were called in to clean up the mess.
The working guys out here like Mr. Donald J. Trump because he is the only candidate on the Republican side who isn’t going to touch Social Security or Medicare — programs they know work because they’ve watched their parents benefit from them. They like him because while he may be another filthy-rich guy (and boy, do they understand rich guys!), he’s against the trade deals and the tax cuts that have made the rich richer and the working guys madder and, yes, poorer. Inflation-adjusted median household income in this country has dropped 10 percent between 1999 and 2014. Foreign trade with Pacific Rim countries cost 2 million jobs in 2015, god only knows how many million more before that.
But it’s not just the working guys out here in the Hamptons who are responding to Trump’s style of populism. Morning Joe Scarborough, bless his heart, seemed to suffer some kind of seizure on Meet the Press recently when he suddenly blurted out: “It never trickles down!” A bewildered Chuck Todd looked on as Joe continued, “Those people in Trump’s crowds, those are all the ones that lose the jobs when they get moved to Mexico and elsewhere. The Republican donor class are the ones that got rich off of it because their capital moved overseas and they made higher profits.”
I know what you’re going to say. Bernie is against rapacious trade deals and he wants a bunch of pie-in-the-sky dream programs and if Trump weren’t in the race these voters might go for him. But Rubio? Dead. Kasich? Dead. Cruz in his cowboy booties from Texas? You’ve got to be kidding. Trump is a New Yorker. He’s as familiar as the front seat of a pickup. His sentences may be strung together like a maze of copper pipe, but these guys understand copper pipe. His hair may look like a frozen tequila sunrise, but these guys like tequila. And his ego may be the size of New York State itself, but they’ve had their fill of the bullshit that’s been shoveled at them over the past forty years. The working guys out here are sick of watching the Establishment Swells use Citizens United as a garage sale where you go to pick up the occasional used politician. When Trump stands up on a stage and points to his opponents and tells the crowds they are bought and paid for, they know he’s right. When he tells the crowds over and over again that their government is filled with fools who make bad deals, they know he’s right — because the deal they’ve been dealt is the worst one of all. And when he says he can solve government gridlock in Washington because he’s flexible and he’s willing to deal across the aisle, they say let’s give him a chance — nothing else is working.
It’s their party now, Trump’s and his voters’, and every time he wins another couple of primaries and the power brokers wince and whine and plot and plod against him, the guys down at the LT raise a glass to Donald J. Trump. Out here in the Hamptons, the guys who keep the schools running and the pools burbling and the lawns mowed and the hot water flowing want a four-wheel-drive candidate with big, shiny exhausts belching smoke and massive bumpers knocking shit out of the way and giant knobby tires crushing everything in their path, and they are delighted that what’s getting crushed the most is the Republican establishment. The Swells have been shafting them for decades. All they’ve ever done for the working stiffs out here is toss them a few jobs and then make them wait and wait and wait to get paid. They’re tired of waiting. A while back a guy over in Southampton turned himself into a local hero when he decided to stop waiting: He had a landscape business and had been cutting some Swell’s Gin Lane lawn and trimming his hedges and pruning his bushes and the guy just wouldn’t pay up. So one night the landscaper hooked up a disc plow to his tractor and plowed under every inch of that Gin Lane estate, hedge to hedge.
To the guys down at the LT, that’s what Trump is doing to the Establishment Swells. They don’t want him at their lawn party, so he’s plowing them under. Out here in the Hamptons, there are a lot of people who like a guy willing to drive his tractor straight through the establishment. Even if he does have a tequila sunrise on his head.