Op-Ed: Trump’s secret weapon against Biden is — boat parades?!?

Trump supporters took to the Intracoastal Waterway off Florida in June for a 'Trumptilla."
Trump supporters took to the Intracoastal Waterway off Florida in June for a “Trumptilla” to mark the president’s 74th birthday.
(Brittany Meiling / San Diego Union-Tribune)

In June, more than 1,000 boats formed a flotilla of Trump supporters that stretched out for eight miles along Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway near Mar-a-Lago, many of them flying “Trump 2020: No More Bullshit” flags.

And earlier this month, Donald Trump Jr. invited his Facebook followers to join him in a boat parade off the Hamptons in Long Island organized by Boaters for Trump and led by a 63-foot sportfishing yacht named Team Deplorable. The winner of the “most outrageous design” contest was promised a photo op with Donald Trump, which hopefully was captioned “most outrageous use of a president’s time during a pandemic.”

Boats bearing Trump flags have participated in parades all around the country in recent months — or at least in the parts of the country with access to waterways and nationalist anger. The boats slowly follow each other single file, so their owners can safely express their increasingly unpopular presidential choice only to each other and to animals that can’t express themselves vocally.


Trump has embraced the boat parades as a drowning man would a life preserver. In June, he tweeted a video of a Trump flotilla thanking “our beautiful boaters” and promising, “I will never let you down!”

In July, he released a press statement gloating about how Joe Biden hadn’t made a hit with the flotilla folk. It was headlined, “NO BOAT PARADES: ENTHUSIASM FOR JOE BIDEN IS SINKING.” And his campaign’s Twitter account rubbed sea salt in the wound. “Did you know there has NEVER been a Biden boat parade? How sad! There is no enthusiasm for Sleepy Joe.”

He has asked his advisors to organize more boat rallies and (joking or not joking or semi-joking) asked, “Are we polling the boaters yet?”

At a recent event in Florida, Trump said, “You see the boaters out. There are thousands and thousands of boats every weekend, and we appreciate it, but nobody has seen anything like it, ever.”

That may be true. When else have we seen so many watercraft organized for a purpose other than a military attack, a blockade or a way to share alcohol and blast competing forms of music until it all sounds like Kid Rock?

No one may have seen it before, but someone did predict the widespread support of Trump among the nautical set and put it in a book, and that someone now wants credit for it.


People who didn’t read my 2019 book “In Defense of Elitism” (and sales figures suggest that would be most of you) may not understand why Trump is obsessed with boat owners. It’s because they are key symbols in the main political battle being waged around the world. That conflict isn’t between the common folk and the elites: It’s between two elites who have been duking it out over control of the world for centuries. And only one side loves boats.

The first writer to use the word “elite” as a political term was Mussolini’s favorite economist, Vilfredo Pareto. In his 1901 essay “The Rise and Fall of Elites,” Pareto put forth the theory of “the circulation of elites.” Despite any revolution, there would always be a group that makes up 20% of the population and has 80% of the power. Pareto’s theory of the inexorable dominance of the elites took a hit a year after his treatise was published, when his wife left him for one of his servants. But its principles remained sound.

Pareto called the two groups “rentiers” and “speculators.” But because the two sides neatly divide between those who value education over money and those who value money over education, and because French seemed obnoxious even for a book called “In Defense of Elitism,” I called the two groups the “Intellectual Elite” and the “Boat Elite,” a term I, unfortunately, didn’t think of trademarking until right now.

The Intellectual Elite are innovative, cooperative, sneaky, experience-seeking, cautious. They are basically everyone I know. The Boat Elite (registered trademark) are tough, loyal, hardworking, tribal, traditional and focused on wealth. They are so reckless that as soon as they make the most expensive purchase of their lives, they smash a bottle of Champagne against it. Boat owners are so dangerous that every country has agreed that as soon as they get 12 nautical miles from shore, they are not our problem, no matter what horrible things they do.

Like their leader, members of the Boat Elite are steeped in honor culture. Respect is their most valuable non-boat possession. If their girlfriends get insulted, they fight. If their friends get in fights, they fight. If their fighting ability is questioned, they fight. When they get cut off while driving, they honk. Then they holler at the other driver to get out of their car and fight. The Intellectual Elite don’t do this, because we know that honking and hollering make it hard to hear NPR on the car radio.

The Boat Elite believe they’re winning only if someone else is losing, because that’s how boat races work. They don’t understand that cooperation is why humans have spread out to cover the planet. Sure, if you were alone on a desert island with a rhinoceros, it would stomp on your precious opposable thumbs. But because they can’t work together, there are only an estimated 30,000 rhinos left in the wild.

A line of boats out on the bounding main is a show of force for the Boat Elite, and it’s easy to see why Trump, their captain, has saluted them as they gird for battle.

But perhaps sometime before the election, Joe Biden will acknowledge the many book clubs that support him. And if he does, I’ll be ready. I’m going to trademark the term Intellectual Elite.

Joel Stein is the author of “In Defense of Elitism: Why I’m Better Than You and You’re Better Than Someone Who Didn’t Buy This Book.”