Half the voters in Maine love LePage, who was Trump’s Trump several dismal years before the 2016 presidential election. In that short span of years, politics in Maine has been transformed, and, if anyone was paying attention, foreshadowed the blue collar uprising in other regions where the Democrats had been traditionally strong, then handed the White House to a man who causes me to scratch my head each morning and imagine that I now inhabit some Alternative Reality. In Maine, LePage is in his second term, and there can be no doubt that, overwhelmingly, the veterans at Togus this morning are his strong supporters. You can read it in LePage’s body language. He’s so happy to be here he’s beside himself. I’d never witnessed LePage before in person, but this is not the bombastic persona he shares with the public on the nightly newscasts, when you might hear him shade an issue that infects the whole nation, like the epidemic rise in opiate addiction, in racial overtones. The drug pushers, you know, are “men of color” who come up from Massachusetts, rape and impregnate our white girls; he has proof, but it’s a secret.
A bit sheepishly, LePage – seemingly against type the only well-tailored male among the suits in the room – confesses that he did not serve because he was in college. “It was difficult to be on campus with people everywhere protesting the war,” he grimaces. That might have been his first clue. Not for LePage. He sidesteps the true object of campus unrest, and tells his veteran audience that the protesting students “were condemning you for defending your families while you were fighting to protect their freedoms.” Maybe LePage wasn’t in the foxhole next to you, but he had your back on campus by getting “into a few fist fights,” because he found the protesters so “embarrassing” he had to pound a few of them.
This had all the earmarks of the apocryphal and wishful memory of a congenital bully. LePage blows hard and missteps often, but for an instant he now stood shamefaced. Maybe it actually struck him that he’d just equated his brawling on campus with our wartime service in Vietnam. He’d muddied the waters. By giving prominence to the campus protest, he had strayed from the monolithic commemorative theme that there was nothing wrong with the Vietnam War. He quickly dialed back to the consoling message around which this spectacle had been organized, one, presumably, that those gathered had by now become accustomed to hearing. LePage found his exit line. Tch-tching loud enough to be heard in the next building, he looked us over, and all but quivered delivering his final line: “What a shame it was the way the American people treated you.”
In compensation for being burdened with this shameful indignity we were invited to come forward and receive a commemorative pin, a metal trinket stamped with the fierce visage of an eagle and inscribed in lettering few aging eyes could read without specs, “a grateful nation thanks and honors you.” To this was added a square of supermarket cake, iced with the words, "Welcome Home."