Joey Valle has been keeping a kind of vigil in front of Trump Tower for the past week or so.
Wearing his red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, Mr. Valle is standing on Fifth Avenue, in front of the Prada store across the street, holding up his smart phone to shoot a livestream video feed on Instagram. He’s checking in with some of his gamer friends around the country, he says, giving fellow Trump supporters a view of the place just a few days before the real-estate billionaire is sworn into office.
“This is a place you can appreciate now,” the courier from Brooklyn says, after framing himself under the tower’s giant golden letters, with Manhattan’s flagship Gucci store and the iconic Tiffany & Co. building flanking either side. “It’s like being in front of the White House.”
This short stretch of Fifth Avenue, of course, has long been famous for its icons of luxury, a destination for tourists and wealthy shoppers both. But today it has become near-hallowed ground for a number of the president-elect’s adoring followers – many of whom may have bristled at Manhattan’s symbols not too long ago.
And in a jarring twist that many in the city find as surreal as the political upheavals now sweeping across the globe, the Trump Tower has become an icon for many of those coming to New York from traditionally Republican states. It’s the people’s White House now, many say, far from the swamp of Washington insiders.
Indeed, as global dignitaries and powerful politicians revolve through the tower’s doors to meet with the unpredictable and brash New Yorker, the proverbial “most powerful man in the world” now – who is said to feel most at home in the safety of his beloved penthouse suite and office here – has inspired hope for a working class long forgotten by Manhattan’s other elites, as many are quick to say.
At the same time, too, perceptions of New York, or at least its clichés, have begun to change for these visitors.
New York as 1950s Mississippi
Mickey and Jan Bishop, retirees from Biloxi, Miss., are beaming as they walk by, smiling broadly as they stop to take a selfie in front of the tower’s gold-trimmed entrance.
“This is where the action is right now,” says Mr. Bishop, who stands on his toes to peer into the lobby, hoping to see a member of Mr. Trump’s cabinet or some other global power player. “And I don’t know about those rumors going around down South that New Yorkers can’t cook, or that they’re not friendly – that’s just not true.”
As he sends the selfie to his brother in Biloxi, who also voted for Trump, Bishop also gives New York what some could interpret as a deeply-red state compliment: “All these mom and pop businesses – it’s good to see, it takes me back to the '50s in Mississippi, we had a lot of mom and pops back then,” he says. “Everything is just the big chains now, they own everything. Here, every block, there’s something new to see.”
After Trump was elected president, this stretch of Fifth Avenue, too, became the site of angry street protests – and the luxury facades here reflected the pitchforked outrage of many others, who chanted “Not my president!” in front of Trump Tower in the weeks following the Nov. 8 elections.
“I was actually expecting people to be protesting here right now, with it being so close to the inauguration,” says April Uriostegui, a visitor from Dallas, Texas, who’s also standing in front of the Prada store, gazing up at the Trump Tower with her Brooklyn boyfriend, John Cusmano.
And though both of them were supporters of Sen. Rand Paul, the Republican from Kentucky, “It’s nice to see that someone else other than a typical politician is in office,” says Mr. Cusmano, a security guard in Brooklyn now training to be a cop.
“I’m not saying that I’m happy that Trump himself became president, but it’s nice to see someone fresh in there,” he continues. “I’ve always wondered when someone from the business world, or just somebody else, would try to step in and pull the reins of the country.... So Trump Tower kind of represents that.”
If many have come to Trump Tower as a kind of pilgrimage, most of the steady stream of tourists also take the time to take a selfie.
Maria Garcez, a tourist from Brazil, smiles broadly as she snaps a selfie to send back home. “But it’s a ha-ha-ha picture,” she says, proclaiming her love for President Obama, and saying her sister back home would find the picture really funny.
There was a similar irony in the mind of Merilin Kiviorg, a human rights professor from Estonia, where she teaches law at the University of Tartu. She and her American husband, Bill Combes, a former US Navy captain and current military consultant and strategist who lives with her in Estonia, laugh at how bizarre it is that they are standing here in front of Trump Tower, which, of all places, has become a symbol of global power and the current political uncertainty throughout the world.
Indeed, the day before, they note, Trump had again sent shock waves throughout Europe, suggesting that NATO may be a relic of a bygone age.
“For Estonia, it is a concern,” Ms. Kiviorg says. “We only have 1.3 million people, and with a very turbulent past and with very interesting neighbors all around us – especially one of them,” she says, alluding to Russia, a nation Trump has been conspicuously loath to criticize. “So I think it would be very interesting and very disturbing if he continues to take a negative view on NATO issues.”
“But we’re also optimistic,” says Mr. Combes, a native of Vermont, expressing faith in the levers of power in America's political institutions. “Twice the US went to fight wars in Europe, so to say that Europe doesn’t affect us is kind of short-sighted, and I think Trump will recognize that.”
Keeping a vigil
Valle, who delivers packages for UberRUSH messenger service, plans to continue to keep his vigil at Trump Tower between deliveries until the inauguration, he says, giving voice not only to the nation’s Trump supporters, but to a different side of Manhattan’s famous glitz and glamor.
“People get the wrong idea, not only of the president-elect, but of New York,” Valle says. “My dad’s working class – 30 years with the telephone company – and he’d been with the Democrats for a while, but now we’re all about Trump.”
“He pays attention to the working class, he does not want to give other countries the benefits we should have,” he continues. “He wants to give us the benefits, he wants to make America great again.”