Supporters And Critics Of President Trump Gather In Advance Of Coast Guard Commencement Speech
Facing a storm of controversy, President Donald J. Trump arrived in Connecticut Wednesday to deliver the commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. As Trump arrived at Groton-New London Airport at 10:30 a.m., supporters and critics of the president gathered in a New London park Wednesday morning. As many as 300 Trump protesters and Trump supporters assembled in the morning sunshine at McKinley Park in New London near the entrance to the Coast Guard Academy, holding handmade signs, singing, revving motorcycles and chanting slogans.
“I support the right of the protesters, God bless ’em. They are out here protesting. I’m out here supporting my president. We are all getting along so far,” said Laura Lovell of Centerbrook, who was among hundreds in the park.
Wendy Roth, a Niantic resident, said she came to New London to protest because President Trump stands for “none of the values that the U.S. has.” Nearby a group calling themselves the “Raging Grannies” led the crowd in protest songs. Nancy Miller, who described herself as a military spouse, said she came out because she was concerned about a president with little military and foreign policy experience.
“I am alarmed by the things he is saying about our military and the things he is suggesting to do with our military,” Miller said. Meanwhile, near the Coast Guard Academy, Trump supporters held signs and waved flags along Route 32. About 50 people held handmade Trump signs.
Awaiting the president’s arrival at the Groton-New London Airport, Alan Ackley of Groton came out in a bright orange Trump shirt.
“He’s doing a great job,” Ackley said. “I think we’ve yet to see what he hopes to accomplish with tax reform and the health care first.”
Changing Washington “is going to be a tough job. Now what we’ve got to do is make Connecticut great again and hopefully trump can help us with that,” he said.
Waiting for the President
At the Coast Guard, families and supporters took their seats hours before the 136th annual commencement ceremony for the service academy. Daniel Victory said that the bright sunshine and heat did not bother him because he lives in Fort Lauderdale. Victory traveled north to New London to see the graduation of his son, Derek Joseph Victory, who majored in government and graduated with honors, according to the official program. He not only hailed the graduation of his son, but also his son’s fianc e, Savannah Mackenzie Kuntz, who majored in management.
Nearby, Laurie Bull of Virginia awaited the appearance of her daughter, Tasha Marie Bull, who graduated with honors.
“I’m very proud of my daughter,” said Bull, who grew up in Connecticut because her father served at the submarine base in Groton. “It’s a very exciting moment for our family.”
Ernie Bareuther and his wife Barbara Quintana came from New Jersey to see his granddaughter, Nikole Barnes, graduate. Bareuther said today was about Nikole, but he’s also a fan of the president, and brought along a “Trump 2016” hat for the occasion. His wife wore a red “Make America Great Again” hat and brought along a copy of a Trump biography she had just finished reading.
“I’ve been a fan from way back,” Bareuther said. He hoped the president’s address would focus on supporting the military and that Trump’s budget would include funding to boost Coast Guard spending. His granddaughter, who grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands and won accolades for sailing at the academy, will report to Miami to begin her Coast Guard career, Bareuther said. She hopes to continue sailing and is considering trying out for the 2020 Olympics.
Robert and Karen Beasley from Voluntown said their daughter, Katherine, studied civil engineering at the academy and would be reporting to Boston next month to begin her service. Karen Beasley said she understood some people might be unhappy that Trump was addressing the graduating cadets, but expected he’d receive a warm welcome.
“He’s POTUS, he’s their boss,” she said. Some didn’t like it when Obama addressed cadets in 2015, she added. Suzanne Matteson of Stonington works at the academy and said she heard mostly excitement about the president’s speech, particularly that he was coming to the Coast Guard Academy for his first military academy address.
“We’re honored he came here first,” said Matteson, who was wearing a Make American Great Again hat with an American flag pattern.
At the Groton-New London Airport, sharp shooters were stationed on top of the radio tower and the motorcade flanked by state police and vans of security staff is waiting for the president’s arrival. Trump is traveling to New London with top staff members, including Sean Spicer, Stephen Miller, Kellyanne Conway, Keith Schiller and Reince Priebus. The president traditionally gives the commencement address at one of the four service academies each year, with the vice president and other top officials addressing the other graduating classes.
Trump, who has remained silent during the days since controversy surrounding the ouster of FBI Director James Comey has enveloped his administration. Trump did not speak to reporters before departing Washington Monday. Stonington fisherman Robert Guzzo said he and his colleagues are hoping to catch Trump’s eye by gathering in a “flotilla” near the Coast Guard Academy with signs welcoming the president and asking him to “Make Commercial Fishing Great Again.” Guzzo is hoping a meeting can be arranged between Trump and fishermen the same way the president has worked with the coal mining industry. President Barack Obama spoke to cadets in New London in 2011 and 2015. Last year the academy hosted then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson as its commencement speaker.
When Obama spoke in New London in 2015 he focused on the threat of climate change.
“No nation is immune,” Obama said. “So I’m here today to say climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security. And make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country and so we need to act and we need to act now.”
Trump made multiple visits to Connecticut during the Republican presidential primary stopping in Hartford, Waterbury and Bridgeport and one stop during the general election campaign, addressing a crowd at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield in August.
Wednesday’s speech will be the second commencement address Trump has given since he was elected. Over the weekend he spoke to graduates of Liberty University, an evangelical Christian university in Virginia, telling them to “relish the opportunity to be an outsider” and not to listen to the critics.