One of Donald Trump’s favorite things to say is that America needs to “get tough” to be great again. No one is quite sure when he thinks America was great (Moon Landing? Second Great Awakening?), but it’s fair to say it was some time when there was a big war and a draft.
So I asked Trump fans what they thought of the draft — which Trump hasn’t explicitly proposed — and their opinions differed. Trump youth were skeptical. They don’t want to kill people. But Trump has said that the military will do what he tells them to do, like torture people.
At a Trump rally in Bethpage, Long Island last week, about 10,000 people from across the tri-state came to hear the Donald speak that windy, grey Wednesday evening. Almost without a doubt, some of these people are descendants of Irish Americans in New York City who rioted against the draft during the Civil War. Back then, wealthy protestant New Yorkers were able to literally buy their way out of service, while waves of immigrants — the Trumpists’ ancestors — flowed to the front to fight in their new country’s bloody nightmare.
Trump is a wealthy protestant New Yorker who wants to leave all options open when it comes to defeating our enemies. To start winning again. Most of the responses singled out ISIS. One Trump supporter suggested we bomb five Middle Eastern countries, just for good measure. Read on to find out which ones.
The rally happened in a giant airplane hangar at Grumman Studios (Yes, like Northrup Grumman, an aerospace company that makes flying contraptions and doomsday machines.) It used to do so out in Bethpage, on the edge of Manhattan’s suburban demi-burrough, Nassau County. Now it’s a movie studio.
It’s the facility where the Apollo lunar module was built and also where Andrew Garfield was filmed pretending to be Spiderman. Huge building, and a metaphor for an economy that went from rewarding rocketeers to a racket benefiting the likes of Andrew Garfield. Not that there’s anything wrong with being Andrew Garfield.
“I would be angry if there was a draft. I am a peaceful person,” said Trump supporter Ian Capo, 16, who was there that night. By the time Capo will have to register for selective service, Trump could be in his second year in office. The country could have become so tough at that time that we’d need a draft to continue becoming tougher and win even more frequently.
Among some of the youth, there was a bit of ignorance about how the draft works.
“Personally, I don’t want to go,” said Mike, 18, a college student whose last name I will leave off here because there’s no point in embarrassing him forever on the Internet.
“But if you refuse, you could go to jail. Or you could flee the country,” I explained. “But it’s still a crime.”
Mike contemplated it for a second. His breath smelled a bit like he’d been drinking.
“Oh, then I would definitely flee,” he said.
“Is it because you don’t want to kill people?” I asked.
“No, I don’t mind killing people,” he admitted. “I just don’t want to get killed myself.”
“Is there anybody you would fight against?”
“Race-wise? Probably ISIS,” he replied. Yes, “race-wise” is what he said.
One young woman, Nicolle Bernard, 22, who said she was just there to gawk at Trump, understood the concept better.
“Well if there was a draft, I’d have to go right?” She said.
One remarkable thing about this Trump rally was how young so many of Trump’s fans are, and how enthusiastic they are. The first candidate I could vote for was John Kerry, who was about as inspiring as a postcard of a very tall tree.
But Trump has made American politics fun for all ages delivering that singular New York vaudeville act all across the country, a delight to first time voters who’ve felt shut out by nerds or adults. You don’t need to know much about politics and the constitution to enjoy and grasp a Trump speech. In fact, it’s better if you know less.
When it comes to the draft, though, many of Trump’s biggest fans know exactly what they’re talking about, as they were drafted or served in the military as volunteers.
“I am a former United States Marine and I believe every American should serve for at least two years in the military,” said Michael Corleone, 41, (his real name, he swears). He continued to explain the necessity of a strong national defense.
“I want you to tell me your street address,” Corleone said to me. “I’m going to come to your house and I’m just going to start taking your stuff. Then what are you going to do? If ISIS came here, and tried to take us over, would you fight them?”
Corleone and I spoke hours before Trump took the stage, as the thousands and thousands of people went through a security checkpoint staffed by TSA agents and Secret Service officers. Then they walked into an airplane hanger to hear a guy talk about bombing our enemies to smithereens.
Diane Ammar, 62, from Long Island, was outside smoking a cigarette in the breezy afternoon. She didn’t like the idea of the draft.
“I’d bomb the whole place. Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran and ISIS” Ammar said, offering an alternative solution to the compulsory service.
I asked what about the deaths of innocent civilians that could happen.
“Well that’s the problem. I’m also humanitarian, but I don’t want to see any more of our kids go over there and die,” she said.
The firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden, which helped to weaken the enemy’s will by incinerating their children, have left a long legacy in the mind of the American voter as a kind of magic solution to pacifying our distant adversaries. Tinny-voiced news reels that turned to dust decades ago win hearts and minds into the 21st century. Good job, news reels.