“I feel like I’m at the Olympics!” a blond lady in a shiny, puffy vest told her friend as they snapped a selfie in front of the New York Hilton Midtown on election night. They took their photo and then kept walking, casually, like they’d stumbled upon a strange NYC tourism moment of intense but fleeting interest. I couldn’t believe the nonchalance. In the background of their photo, they’ll see an endless line of Donald Trump–orange dump trucks with the phrase “CALCIUM CHLORIDE” stenciled on the sides, cosseting the street in a worst-case scenario counterterrorism barricade. Across from the trucks, Trump Nation’s New York City revelers announced their presence, wearing buttons emblazoned with guns and slogans (“Life’s a bitch, don’t vote for one”) and holding homemade signs about draining sewage and jailing Hillary Clinton.
The country was about to reveal the starkness of its divisions, but Sixth Avenue had the mood of a carnival audience awaiting its headliner. Three cops gathered around an iPhone in front of the Joe & The Juice. “It sucks not to see what’s going on,” one said.
Apart from a Columbia University marching band, which paraded around the block early in the evening playing CeeLo Green’s “Fuck You” while wearing “I’m With Her” shirts and banging toilet seats and parking pylons, the anti-Trump presence was minimal. The selfie duo, I must note, appeared neither for nor against Trump as much as they were tourists out for a happenstance stroll. Or maybe I was just conditioned to seeing Trump supporters how I imagined them: old white men in Make America Great Again hats.
The crowd I saw was not what I’d anticipated. “The Democrats made a big mistake choosing Hillary as their nominee,” a baby-faced white guy in a flannel shirt, yarmulke, and a cape shouted to one of the many newscasters. The yarmulke threw me, considering Trump’s campaign had released an anti-Semitic ad just days before the election, and considering Trump campaign chief executive Stephen Bannon has been accused, by his ex-wife, of being an anti-Semite. The man was part of a prominent “Jews for Trump” faction. The throng of NYC supporters was small but fervid, and more diverse than I’d expected. An enormous Israeli flag took up real estate in the small barricaded area. In the roughly 50 people gathered across the street from the Hilton, the “Jews for Trump” were joined by vocal “Muslims for Trump” and “Blacks for Trump,” all with signs declaring their minority affinities for the candidate who ran on the “Fear the Other” platform. “It’s not all about black and white. It’s about red, white, and blue. We got blacks for Trump,” a man screamed. He was not black. (Inside, credentialed reporters surveyed a far more uniform frat-daddy demographic.)
Around the corner, a halal cart fed hungry, glum journalists. I felt too unwell to eat, and a bit like BoJack Horseman in the episode where he goes underwater, except I wasn’t a horse, and I wasn’t a fake melancholy art cartoon. I was in ultra-liberal Manhattan, and I could hear and understand everything everyone was saying, I just didn’t want to. I kept looking at the yarmulke man as though he’d explain things. He was so happy, buzzing with zeal, clasping his arms around his friends and running up and down the barricaded supporter zone with his pro-gun flag. He looked younger than me, but I couldn’t say for sure. I could’ve asked him anything; he was talking to every reporter. He was in an ecstatic and loose-lipped mood — that much was obvious — even when I first noticed him at 9 p.m., when the Democrats were just starting to really pour the panic vodka. I didn’t know what to ask him, was the problem. Instead, I took a video of him shouting:
The police and journalist presence overwhelmed the actual Trump fans, but they were energized, buzzing, adamant, and unwavering, gleefully howling sound bites into the ubiquitous mics. Cars honked at them and they screamed back, and cars honked some more and they screamed back some more. 7 p.m. became 11 p.m. and I didn’t understand what the man in the yarmulke wanted any more than I did the first time I saw him, but I did understand that Trump had tapped into a movement I’d underestimated grievously. Well-dressed older people trickled out of the Warwick Hotel’s restaurant and asked a police officer what was happening, just as casually as the Midwestern-seeming selfie-snappers.
I’ve never been to the Olympics, but they sure sound like Hell.