Nobody among the supporters at the Trump victory party was more surprised than the few New Yorkers among them.
“It’s not Hitler,” one announced. “It’s Springtime for Hitler! It’s The Producers!”
He was referring to the Mel Brooks comedy where a couple of hustlers produce a Broadway musical that they never expect to be a hit. This New Yorker had known Trump for years and had worked with him on at least one major project. He suspects that Trump himself entered the presidential race with no real expectation he would win.
Trump may have begun to imagine otherwise when he discovered the incendiary potential of Twitter, using tweets as lit matches to commit a level of social arson our politics has never seen, stoking fear and prejudice and hatred against reason.
He spoke lies to power.
His hometown is a city of immigrants that thrums with diversity and had long known him as a con man.
But he won over millions of supporters beyond the Hudson River, where reality-television such as The Apprentice is so often confused with reality. He convinced them that he was going to shake things up and Make America Great Again, just like it said on the red hats that folks were wearing in the VIP section at what was billed an Election Night Victory Party at the New York Hilton before almost anybody believed he would win.
These were all new hats, for the VIPs were not the disaffected Rust Belt workers or riled-up coal miners that had been sporting them for months. These were prosperous-looking people in suits and ties.
“I think he was just playing to a certain audience,” a health-care industry executive from Greenwich, Connecticut, said when asked how he countenanced some of Trump’s more extreme statements.
Some of the VIPs did prove to have a bit of the Trump rally in them as one state after another was declared for their man.
“USA! USA! USA!”
“Drain the swamp!”
But in between, they fell to happy chattering with each other, seeming amazed that they had actually won. A guy who had been recorded bragging about grabbing women’s genitals had been elected the next president of the United States. The shouts erupted again when word came that Hillary Clinton was not yet prepared to concede.
“Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!”
By then, Election Night had ticked into the next day, November 9, making it exactly 15 years since this same Hilton hotel ballroom had filled with the family and comrades of FDNY Captain Patrick J. Brown, following his memorial at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral just down Fifth Avenue from Trump Tower.
As had been noted during the eulogies, Brown had been one of the most decorated firefighters in the city’s history, routinely risking all to save strangers of whatever race or creed or gender from what he sometimes called the red devil. He had died on 9/11 while ascending the North Tower.
“Climbing up flight after flight to meet the very devil himself,” one of the eulogists had said.
The eulogist had gone on to say that Brown had not just been defying death. He had been affirming life.
“He always knew that the devil is not just fire,” the eulogist said. “The devil is also indifference and callousness and materialism and disrespect and anything else that hardens the heart.”
Brown was not one to countenance bigotry or bullying. He had seen heavy combat as a Marine in Vietnam and would not have tolerated denigrating a former POW or a Gold Star mother and father. And, as someone who sometimes sported bruises from teaching karate for the blind, he would have dismissed anybody who mocked the disabled.
So, it was particularly disheartening to see another of the eulogists from Brown’s memorial in prominent attendance at the Trump gathering in this same cavernous room on Election Night.
When he took the cathedral podium at the memorial back in 2001, Giuliani’s eyes had welled with tears as he spoke of a “fallen warrior and a great patriot… a legend in the life of the Fire Department.” Giuliani had observed one other attribute that Brown shared with all true greats.
“He kept his feet on the ground,” Giuliani had told the mourners. “He was humble despite all he accomplished."
Fifteen years later, the once tear-filled eyes had gone shiny with a zany zealotry as Giuliani embraced a man who was the very opposite. Giuliani had championed Trump against all reason even defending The Donald’s lies about giving to the victims of 9/11.
“Every time New York City suffered a tragedy, Donald Trump was there to help,” Giuliani said. “He’s not going to like my telling you this, but he did it anonymously.”
But an audit of Giuliani’s own Twin Towers Fund showed no such anonymous donations. Giuliani seemed to have joined Trump in a realm where the truth was whatever The Donald pronounced it to be.
As the campaigning neared an end, video clearly showed Obama defending the right of an elderly veteran to voice support for Trump. That had not stopped Trump from telling a rally that Obama had been “yelling horribly at the veteran Trump supporter!”
“If I acted like Obama did, I’d be called unhinged!” Trump declared.
Such things had caused Trump to be more unpopular in his hometown than any presidential candidate in memory, perhaps ever. His supporters would not likely fare well sporting those red hats in the subway.
But for a few hours on Election Night leading into November 9, a hotel ballroom in Manhattan was as much Trump country as deepest Georgia.
Around 2:30 a.m., word spread that Trump had made the short journey from Trump Tower to the hotel by motorcade. The future vice-president, Mike Pence, descended with his family from a balcony and took the stage.
“The American people have spoken and the American people have elected their new champion,” Pence said.
Then, a man who is both the most unpopular guy in New York and the candidate just elected president of the United States, appeared on the balcony wearing his usual red tie. He silently mouthed the words “Thank you.”
“USA! USA! USA!” the crowd chanted again.
Trump was joined not just by his family but by the likes of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who serves as his transition chief and may yet get indicted in the Bridgegate scandal.
Trump informed the crowd that he had just received a concession call from Hillary Clinton.
“And I complimented her and her family on a very hard fought campaign,” Trump said. “We owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service for our country. Now is the time to bind the wounds.”
The man who had divided the country as never before announced that we must now come together. He who had targeted Mexicans and Muslims and women with his invective pledged to represent all citizens.
“Working together, we will begin the important task of rebuilding our country,” his said. “It’s going to be a beautiful thing.”
He seemed to be saying that every ugly thing he had done and said, all the lies he had told, all the poison he had spread could just be forgotten because he had now had secured the prize that had inspired all those lies.
“This political stuff is nasty and it’s tough,” he said, as if it had all been just the nature of things and just a way to win.
Trump then said that he wanted to acknowledged somebody in particular.
“I wanted to give very special thanks to our former Mayor Giuliani.”
Giuliani came up on the stage.
“Rudy! Rudy!” a voice shouted.
The eyes that had filled with tears 15 years before now gleamed anew. He appeared to believe this was an honorable victory—something a true devil-fighter like Patrick Brown might have applauded.
The memorial back in 2001 had been held on November 9th because it had been Brown’s 49th birthday. He would have turned 64 on the day that Trump—the arsonist—became our next president.