By Nancy Smith
The clogged roads and strict security protocols that hurt local businesses and frustrate residents in Palm Beach … they’re all back. President Donald Trump is home for Thanksgiving.
Truth be told, a lot of Palm Beach Countians would have preferred he ate his turkey somewhere else. And they said so Tuesday evening in often ugly-worded signs along the route to Mar-A-Lago, the first family’s arrival at Palm Beach International Airport at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday went well enough. By all accounts, the president spent several minutes greeting and signing autographs for cheering supporters before he, first lady Melania and their son Barron joined the waiting motorcade.
But it deteriorated from there. Mostly.
For every “Welcome Home, Mr. President” sign I saw in news reports of the trip, locals hoisted perhaps three “Get Off My Lawn,” “Hurry Back to Washington,” “You Should Pay a Toll to Use Our Roads,” or similar messages of you’re-not-welcome-here.
Surprisingly, messages less about President Trump’s policy than the train of disruption he brings with him to the island.
“He paralyzes our lives when he comes to town,” Palm Beach travel consultant Lara St. Clair told Sunshine State News Tuesday night. “He’s killing us. We’re in freeze mode until Air Force One is airborne again.”
The first holiday weekend Donald Trump brought his presidency home to Mar-A-Lago was a true come-to-Jesus lesson in business loss and lifestyle chaos for locals. It was last February. The New York Times used numbers to tell the story of 2017 President’s Day weekend in Palm Beach:
- “$200,000 in lost fuel sales at a large local airport.
- “75 no-shows at a new restaurant in just one night.
- “$60,000 a day to pay overtime to sheriff’s deputies who guard the many closed roads.
- “250 private flights grounded every day.”
Said the Times, “Secret Service rules restricting private flights have grounded operations at Palm Beach County Park Airport in Lantana, nine miles south of Mr. Trump’s club … That means no parachute jumping, banner advertising, flight lessons or chopper trips. Business owners there are still hoping that a president who campaigned on improving the economic prospects of the little guy will be sympathetic to the havoc his visits wreak.”
There are reports everywhere after Tuesday’s landing of exasperation over the drain on small businesses and the circuitous routes residents have to drive to avoid two miles of closed roads.
The news was full of grumpy people.
I bring this up because watching the TV coverage Tuesday night, seeing Trump at best cold-shouldered into town, I was struck by the memory of another time, another island — well, a peninsula, really — and another president. So many similarities, but a starkly different reaction from a town equally affected by a presidential entourage. The treatment compares like night and day.
I was in Hyannis Port, Mass. vacationing with my parents in 1962 during a long Fourth of July holiday, when President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade rolled into town. The first family was on its way to the Kennedy Compound. Nothing else on the road moved.
Looking back, I don’t recall a single grumpy face. Certainly there were no hostile signs, no rude finger gestures. People waved American flags and blew kisses. They cheered and clapped and jumped up and down, hoping the president would wave back. Kids tried to keep up on their bikes behind the last car in the motorcade.
As I said, I know for a fact Kennedy’s presence paralyzed traffic on the long, narrow road into town and made prisoners of residents for hours that day. And I also know because I’ve read since that the Kennedys’ presence in compact Hyannis Port was as disruptive and deleterious to local small business as Trump’s has been to Palm Beach County’s.
I fear more than just the mood of the town or the state or the nation has changed in 55 years. It seems to me what makes us so different today than we were back then — so much less tolerant of the clobber a president carries with him — is less who our president is or whether he’s popular or unpopular, because Kennedy had his own policy problems in 1962. And it isn’t 9/11 or the threat of terrorism all by themselves that makes us different.
What I think it is, is the long, stealthy slipping away of civility, and God help us, some collective need to hurt each other with our individual definition of patriotism. It’s almost a way of life now. It’s less a statement on Donald Trump than it is a statement on ourselves. It shows at times like these. Here we have a simple thing, a president moving within the country, yet we respond not with spontaneity but with a political statement — the party musters a group of cheerleaders for show — or we treat it as an almighty nuisance.
Over the years we Americans have lost some of the best of ourselves.
Nancy Smith is the editor of Sunshine State News. She started her career at the Daily Mirror and The Observer in London before spending 28 years at The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News as managing editor and associate editor. She was president of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in the mid-1990s. Reach her by email here, or follow her on twitter at @NancyLBSmith.