The two men stood on opposite sides of the street in the East End hamlet of Water Mill — and on opposite sides of America’s political divide. President Donald Trump’s visit to Long Island on Friday afternoon had them facing off.
“Anti-American,” called out Trump critic Donald Mahoney, of Southampton.
“You’re a bunch of cowards,” responded Tom Wedell, 58, of Center Moriches, who supports the president.
The two Long Islanders reflected the tension evident between the supporters and protesters who turned out and made their feelings public.
Trump was in the Hamptons for two private campaign fundraisers organized by wealthy developers. He made no public appearances.
For awhile, a warm summer Friday in the Hamptons — a place made for lying on the sand and sipping drinks at the clam bar — pulsed with all the pressure and strain of American politics today. It also produced a good number of road closures and traffic jams.
The president came to Long Island at a particularly charged time, with recent mass shootings inflaming the debate about gun control, and an abundance of would-be Democratic challengers slamming him during televised debates.
Air Force One landed at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, where Ed Williams, 80, of East Marion, came to wave at the presidential motorcade.
“I’m here to support the president,” said Williams, wearing a red baseball cap with a United States flag on it. “I think he’s doing a good job on trade. He’s trashing those deals that are not making America great. He supports the working man and the police department.”
The scene outside the airport was filled with Suffolk County sheriff’s deputies, their cars flashing blue and red lights. Some people were there to witness the spectacle of the presidential visit.
“I think he’s a buffoon but I like most of his policies,” said Seth Belous, 57, of Melville. “I’m here to see the president. It’s an honor.”
Nat Blumberg, 85, of Smithtown, wanted to send Trump a message of reproach.
“I’m a Vietnam vet and that guy is a draft dodger, besides being a womanizer and an egoist, and only interested in making money for himself and his friends,” he said. His reference to military service was in regard to Trump’s draft deferments.
As the presidential motorcade drove along Riverhead Road in Westhampton Beach, one shoulder of the road held about 50 protesters, several of whom held individual letters that together spelled “Impeach.”
Leila Shields, 44, of Westport, Connecticut, was holding the letter “C.”
“I support everything this administration doesn’t,” Shields said, proceeding to rattle off her priorities. “The environment, LGBTQ rights, gun control, proper immigration policy — and most of all, I hate the name-calling.”
Right next to that group, an equal number of supporters stood holding United States flags and signs that read “Trump 2020 and Beyond.”
Trump headlined a pair of fundraisers. Real estate developer Joe Farrell hosted a 12:30 p.m. reception at his Bridgehampton estate to benefit Trump’s 2020 campaign and the Republican National Committee.
Farrell’s fundraiser reportedly was co-hosted by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., according to the invitation.
Trump then headed to the Southampton home of developer Stephen Ross for a 2:30 p.m. fundraising reception, according to an invitation for the event. Entry to the event started at $100,000 for lunch and a photo with the president, and ran up to $250,000 for the opportunity to attend a roundtable discussion with him.
The grassy park at the Water Mill green epitomized the change in the Hamptons, from a place to escape civilization to the center, however momentary, of the political universe. In addition to moms playing with little kids, the green space was filled with a few hundred people protesting Trump and his policies.
“I’m here because I’m beside myself; I’m so angry about what’s happening in my government,” said Jordy Mark, 70, of Wainscott. She held a sign saying “Dump Trump.”
She added, “I need to be public about my disapproval and anger.”
The protesters faced the traffic on Montauk Highway and there were many lively exchanges between protesters and supporters of Trump driving by. Many drivers also honked and called out support for the protesters.
At one point, a half-dozen Trump supporters positioned themselves on the other side of the street. That’s when Mahoney, who declined to give his age, and Wedell exchanged their opinions.
Mahoney, asked why he had come, said, “I’m here because of people who are treasonous, racist, and full of hate — and that’s un-American.”
For his part, Wedell, the Trump supporter, said that immigrants in the United States illegally have badly hurt his construction business.
“I had [employed] American citizens,” said Wedell, who held a pole with the big U.S. flag. Now his business is just himself. “I’m down to nothing.”
With Joan Gralla