Donald Trump at the RNC
Esquire, Sept 2016
The party of Lincoln becomes the party of Trump. A week at the RNC.
Also at Esquire
They’re lovely people, the Schenbergs. I’d best say that up front. I met Susan on Facebook on the Latinos For Trump page. I sent an email to the administrator asking if any members wanted to meet up at the RNC convention in Cleveland. Susan was the only taker.
“So lovely to meet at last!” she beams. She’s tall and lean, she runs ultramarathons. “This is my husband Gene, and this is Andrew our son. He’s 16!” Big smiles, big handshakes. They don’t seem very Latino, though. More like a nice white family from St Louis. Susan’s mum is “full Mexican”, but Gene’s Jewish and no one speaks much Spanish.
They’re diehard Trumpers, though, and eager to be interviewed. But it’s too noisy in the outer halls of the Quicken Loans Arena (the ‘Q’). The third night of the convention is underway so we’re up against the band and the roar of the crowd. So we sneak behind a curtain into an empty lounge and find a corner table where a small television broadcasts the convention on mute. And against the muffled sound of the arena, Susan and Gene go issue by issue, while Andrew fiddles with his phone.
“Deporting 11 million people doesn’t mean dragging them out of their homes and herding them onto trains,” says Gene. “There are compassionate ways. You can cut off their benefits and force them to self-deport.”
I scribble furiously. Don’t argue. You’re here to listen.
“And the Trump University ‘scandal’, that’s a non-story,” says Gene. He’s referring to a string of lawsuits by aggrieved former students who say they’ve been scammed. “It’s just a licensing deal. At Trump’s level, I’ll bet he didn’t have anything to do with it.”
But he did. Trump said he handpicked every instructor. Let it go.
“And the Judge Curiel thing?” I ask, referring to the time Trump said the Judge in the case couldn’t be impartial because “he’s a Mexican”. (Judge Curiel is an American citizen from Indiana.)
“Well, he’s a big liberal donor,” Susan says, sweetly. “And he’s a member of that group La Raza?”
Right. So Latinos can’t be impartial judges, according to Latinos for Trump. Fine. And the birther campaign, when Trump accused Obama of not being an American? It sounded like a prolonged racist dog whistle to me, but…
“Oh, that was about race?” Gene laughs. “That didn’t occur to us at all. That’s how unracist we are! We see Obama as much more racially divisive. We live near Ferguson, so we saw how he expressed sympathy for Michael Brown’s family and ordered a special investigation. He didn’t do that for Kate Steinle.”
Steinle is a name I hear over and over – a pretty white woman who was murdered in San Francisco by an illegal immigrant who had been repeatedly deported, but kept returning. She is the angel in whose name they fight, a symbol of the immigrant threat. And where would Trump be without the immigrant threat? He was a middling candidate before the Wall.
I want to say so many things. That Obama has deported more illegal immigrants than any President before him. That walls don’t work. That you can’t compare Steinle with Michael Brown because Brown was killed by the police. That’s the whole point.
“The trouble is political correctness,” says Gene. “Civil discourse has been lost in this country under Obama.”
“But we’re going to get that back under Donald Trump.”
And that’s it. I just… I can’t. Trump, who mocks disabled people, calls women bimbos and men pussies, who brags about his cock on the debate stage – he’s Mr Civility now? I can hear Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, on stage – he has whipped up the mob into calling for Hillary to go to prison: “Lock her up! Lock her up!”
“He’s just blazed a trail for us to speak more freely,” Gene says.
I start sputtering. “B-b-but…”
I often reached this point in Cleveland, talking to the Trumpies. Like the delegate couple from Reno who knew for a fact that Obama was a Muslim: “What Christian calls themselves Hussein?” Or big Randy from Mississippi who wanted primary school teachers to carry guns: “If that teacher at Sandy Hook was armed, those little angels would be alive today.” B-B-But…
We’d begin promisingly enough. A chat and a chuckle and “oh you’re English, what do you think of Brexit?” (Trumpies love Brexit). But then we’d hit a wall, to use a fitting metaphor, at which we’d realize that a meeting of the minds was not on the cards, after all. We were so far apart that American politics, and certainly Trump himself, amounted to a live-streaming Rorschach test.
Like many journalists who venture pith-helmeted into Trumpistan, I don’t know any Trump supporters in my regular life. We’ve been siloed into opposing echo chambers and confined to our curated feeds. The heels dig in, we become entrenched. There are even apps to defriend anyone who subscribes to the wrong side. And the rifts between blue and red grow deeper. Only now, they go beyond left vs right. As insurgent movements transform both Democratic and Republican parties (Bernie Sanders and Trump respectively), the splits are also nationalist vs globalist, and authoritarian vs libertarian. Which is how the Trumpies and the liberal media so often end up on opposite sides of gorilla glass, trying but failing to break through.
To his supporters Trump is a thrilling outsider and a return to common sense – a strong, unapologetic CEO who puts country first and speaks for the working Joe. He inspires emotion, a primal sense of safety and gratitude. He precedes reason. And he shatters norms without fear, creating possibility. He’s an authority figure, a firm hand.
And yet the rest of us see a fascist, an infant, a bigot, a braggart and a conman from late night infomercials. He’s hilarious and terrifying, the way tyrants often are. His hairpiece flaps up in the wind like a Sieg Heil. His name is worthy of a Martin Amis character. He has “the best words” (those are his words). His catchphrase is “you’re fired” even as he promises to create jobs. And while we know that he is a looming tyrant and destroyer of worlds, he also has, as Chris Davis of the Memphis Flyer newspaper says, “resting anus mouth”. How can we not laugh?
What I discovered in Cleveland was that his supporters are very different to the Donald. They’re actually quite nice. They may be pushing America off a cliff but I didn’t meet a mean one all week. They were friendly and warm and glad to talk – their man is winning, as he promised, and they have room to be gracious. “I’m everything you hate,” Randy told me, laughing. “Second Amendment, pro-life, you can go right on down that list. But I love you like my brother. We’re all sinners in the eyes of the Lord.”
The niceness was a surprise. I’d envisaged the convention as a poultice on the body politic, extracting all the toxins under one marquee. Like tribalism – we had a lid on it for so long, but now it’s coming loose again and words like fascist, nationalist and racist flare like serpents from their nests, with Farage and Trump as the snakecharmers.
We were expecting violence in Cleveland. It had been a tense few weeks. Two innocent black men were killed by cops in two days, and in response eight cops, also innocent, were murdered in Dallas and Baton Rouge. White nationalist groups were gathering their guns. Black Lives Matter was expected to take a stand. I joked about packing a flak jacket and how the RNC wasn’t issuing wristbands this time but hoods. Haha! Because the Klan! But my friends weren’t laughing. “Be safe, dude,” they said. When strangers at parties told me I was brave, I’d reply, “Just doing my job, ma’am,” like a brave person. But I wondered.
Thankfully the rest of Cleveland was wondering too, and it brought out the friendly in most of us. Those few protestors who showed up were far outnumbered by media – 15,000 media credentials were issued, a ludicrous number (and yes, I’m one of them). And in the designated protest zones, we were all outnumbered by cops. Twenty states sent divisions to support the Secret Service. Downtown Cleveland was ready for war with cops patrolling in posses and black cage walls blocking off streets. An amuse bouche for our fascist future? Perhaps. But nothing happened. I heard Rudolf Giuliani’s security tackled a reporter to the ground at the Buzzfeed party, but that was about it. And you could feel the relief in the air. Republicans have a fetish for cops at the best of times, so this week was off the scale. “Blue Lives Matter” was the slogan of the convention. Everyone wanted a selfie with the Secret Service. And whenever cops walked past a bar or restaurant, the patrons would break into applause.
“Hillary sucks but not like Monica!” A T-shirt vendor pushes his new design, flipping it around to show the back: “Trump that bitch!” An old dear in a Make America Great Again cap, encrusted in red, white and blue rhinestones, takes a picture and giggles. “Yeah, Trump that bitch!”
This is where the fun starts, at 4th and Euclid, a narrow strip, as packed as the Suez canal. It’s not the convention proper – it’s just a side street full of bars, but since half the convention flows through here, it’s heaving with vendors and all sorts. There are stacks of Trump T-shirts and badges and socks (the socks are quite the draw). MSNBC has set up a live studio on the corner. And look, there’s a man in a nappy yelling “kick me for Donald!” And a man in a dress playing the tuba. And a fat man in a cowboy hat with a guitar singing the same old folksy anthem he plays every night: “Donald Trump can…. oh Donald Trump can, yeaaah, make us great again…” If you wait a while “make us great again” comes right after “Trump That Bitch”.
It’s not the wingnut Woodstock I expected, but it’s more of a party than the convention itself, a couple of blocks away. Trumpapalooza, it turns out, is a bit lame. The Donald had promised to be hands-on with it. It’s going to be fantastic, beautiful, classy, that I can tell you. But where were the Trumpian touches? No gold bikinis on roller skates, or motorbikes whizzing around a cage. No Bengal Tiger in a baseball cap – Make America Grrrreat Again. None of the pressure groups came – no NRA booth, no creationists, no Koch industries. And for a Trump event, a little cheap. To enter the arena we pass through a mist of cholesterol that veils the entrance like a hijab – while speakers in the colosseum throw red meat to the masses, the concession stand women throw cheap meat into the fryer. “Everything my father does is first class,” Donald Jr says in the voiceover to a hokey film about his dad.
The convention floor itself is a scrum – so many media, there’s barely room to stand. Aisle monitors shove dawdlers to the side, and charging camera crews knock petite Japanese tweeters over like skittles. And the desperation mounts. Each time the band belts out some dad rock classic, and the delegates party like it’s 1959, cameras cluster and reporters lunge their devices, especially if anyone’s wearing a silly hat. And when the iPhone batteries run out, conventioneers retreat to the halls that ring the arena, where they orbit like space junk in search of a wall socket. They sit on the floor like refugees in a straggle of wires, staring at the TV.
You may have read the notices by now. “Hot mess” (New York Times), “Disaster” (Salon). At the convention itself, “shit show” was the general consensus. In a week’s time, the Democrats will roll out two Presidents, plus Meryl Streep and Bryan Cranston. In Cleveland, Trump managed Chachi from Happy Days, one of the Duck Dynasty beards and a couple of old soap stars from the Bold & The Beautiful. (Sad!) It must burn the right that their conventions are so celebrity light – all that cool and glamor and hardly any of it for them. But even the RNC’s A-list stayed away – no Bush, no Cheney, no Romney or McCain. Ohio’s governor John Kasich was too busy to make the 2hr drive. And the scheduling was a shambles. Every night, support acts followed headliners. After Melania’s speech, an unknown general took to the stage. After the primary candidate Ben Carson, one of the Republican primary also-rans, gave a mad speech linking Hillary with Lucifer, only to be followed by a nice lady from California who told an emptying hall about her avocado business. And, according to CNN, that’s how Trump wanted it.
The energy in the Q, though. With all that death and God and terror and weeping, it was like Game of Thrones, only Joffrey had turned 70. (Can’t they see that they’re electing Joffrey?) Evil stalks the earth but heroes are here to save us. Soldiers and cops and good guys with a gun like Mark Geist of the Benghazi security forces. He sprinkled the crowd with gore like holy water, stories of legs chopped off and arms hanging by the skin. Killing bad guys, he said, “is like that arcade game Whack-A-Mole? Guy sticks his head up, you take him out.” Whoo! “Another guy sticks his head up and…” Bam! Whack that mole John! Whack him for America!
The theme of Day One was Make America Safe Again. But really, that was the theme of the whole convention. Any mention of “blue lives” or “veterans” or “torture” and the crowd went wild. ISIS was going to get it and those rapists from Mexico. They booed and cheered panto-style, the atmosphere building and building, until by the time Giuliani came on, from the Transylvania delegation, he was on the brink of rapture. Overwhelmed by his love for the police. “It doesn’t matter if you’re straight or gay, black or white!” he wailed. “They just come and save you!”
The true savior, though, is Trump. In this crowd, he’s seen as an archetypal American tough guy. Look at the T-shirts on 4th: Donald as Ali standing over Clinton (as Liston); as Clint Eastwood, “come on Isis, Make my Day”; as Captain America. Look at the gallery of machismo he has tried to assemble around him. There were rumors that Mike Tyson was invited to speak, which Trump denies. But he did approach NFL stars Tom Brady and Tim Tebow, and the hard-driving coach Mike Ditka, who all declined. But Dana White of the UFC didn’t – “I know fighters!” – and Don King was in the crowd, waving his little flags.
The Grand Old Party (the GOP) has sometimes confused talk for walk when it comes to toughness. Like Bush Jr, Trump is another draft-dodging rich kid (five deferments) with baby soft hands and a thing for cheap machismo. Only Trump wounds so much more easily. He has reporters thrown out of press conferences. He sets his lawyers on the little guy, like Tim O’Brien, the author of TrumpNation, who allegedly misstated his net worth (and was vindicated). Never have we seen so clearly the boy behind the candidate, the pouting bully in short trousers, and yet at the Q, they see no such thing. They see strength.
One morning by the canal, a bunch of tough guys arrive en masse, engines roaring. The Bikers for Trump are here, and their leader, Chris Cox takes me aside. “I’m kind of nervous,” he says. “Every group has its rotten apples and I don’t want anyone taking the law into their own hands.”
He needn’t have worried. He was expecting “anywhere from one to ten thousand thousand bikers to be a calming force and support the cops.” But this morning, I can count barely 25. “It rained last night, and a lot of these guys don’t like getting their bikes wet,” he explained.
Chris is a gentle bear. Forty-seven years old with kind eyes and frizzy hair, he makes chainsaw sculptures for a living in Charleston, South Carolina. “Like a 500lb pelican? I do wildlife mostly.” But lately, he’s been running biker rallies for Trump up and down the country. It’s a standard format – a national anthem, a prayer, and then speeches about radical Islam and closing the border, with a lot of WWE style yelling. Today, it’s an Infowars crowd, the news site of Alex Jones, a barking 9/11 truther who believes that Lizard people are in charge of the one world government. And the consensus here is clear – Muslims need to assimilate or leave. No more refugees – America can’t afford to go the way of Europe. Don’t they have sharia law in London now?
I sat with James Morrison of Truckers for Trump, a gentle, sad-eyed man who lost a child and never fully recovered. “My wife’s Hispanic, we’re not haters, man!” he says. “We just love America like Donald Trump does. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.” Though Jim didn’t go to college, what he says about Trump is almost indistinguishable from Ginny Greiman, a Harvard Law professor I met at the Q. “He’s for the people,” Ginny said, adjusting her stars and stripes top. “He could have a much easier life outside politics.” They agree that Trump has sometimes spoken inappropriately, but he had to fight for the nomination, and that’s what we need – a fighter. Trump makes them feel proud and strong. “He reminds me of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs,” she said fondly. “Yes, he boasts, he’s insecure, but still he speaks to us. I just love him.”
Chris isn’t a hater, either. He recoiled when I asked if there were any racists in his group. “I wouldn’t stand for it!” he said. “My brother’s black. Kevin – we call him Burger because he’s like 300lbs – my parents adopted him when he was ten. It’s just like that Sandra Bullock movie, Blindside? But Burger can’t play football. He has asthma.”
Push Chris a little, though, and the paranoia pours out. He thinks that George Soros is funding Black Lives Matter “and other paid agitators. I’ve seen the ads on Craigslist!” He sent me the ads – one was Photoshopped, and the other merely offered paid work to campaign staff, distributing leaflets. “I heard reports of guys holding Mexican flags but they were speaking Arabic,” he said, outraged. It’s that Trumpian language – “I’ve heard”, “someone told me” “people say”. He also read somewhere that California was trying to give illegal immigrants the vote, and that Obama swore on a Koran when he took the oath of office. “There’s a second book. It’s all over the internet.” (Things Trump Actually Said #73: “All I know is what’s on the Internet.”)
So I sent Chris some links – Factcheck.org, Snopes, Politifact and others. I didn’t hear back. But at the rally, I manage to tell him that I looked up the things he was concerned about. For instance, illegal immigrants can’t vote in California, they just have driving licenses so that they can buy insurance.
“It’s ID now, but you watch,” he says.
And the second book Obama swore on? That was Martin Luther King’s bible.
He looks skeptical. “OK, well, if you say so. But it still doesn’t make up for all the refugees coming over and not calling it radical Islam and…”
While the Bikers rallied by the canal, a rabble of conservative activists scuttled from room to room in the Halle Building on the aptly named Superior Avenue. Their mission: To stop Trump from becoming the nominee.
“You’re in the middle of an insurgency!” exclaimed Andrew Lee, one of the organizers of the Delegates Unbound movement. Only 29, he worked on Capitol Hill for four years on a House Committee before retreating into health products marketing in DC. But today, he’s back in the thick of it, juggling three news crews and maybe influencing the course of history. “Oh man, you can’t make this stuff up!”
Delegates Unbound seeks to free delegates from each state who don’t like Trump to “vote their conscience”, rather than be bound by tradition and state party rules, which typically apportion delegate votes to reflect the popular vote (though some states were winner-takes-all). It’s part of the NeverTrump movement, a hashtag for dissenting Republicans. “We need a majority of signatures in 10 to 15 states, and then we’ll present it to the convention secretary,” said Dane Waters, a campaign veteran with white hair and an amused smile. “But the RNC won’t even tell us who the secretary is. We think we know, but she’s hiding. It’s all been premeditated! We wanted to have special hats so that delegates would know who was on our side. But the RNC said they’d confiscate hats with disruptive messages.”
It’s all a bit Monty Python.
“It is! But we might actually win. We’re fighting for soul of the Republican party. Our country is at stake!”
It was always a long shot. The offices were threadbare, the volunteers young rather than experienced. In the Q, they gathered near the elevators where the stretchers were kept – what screenwriters call foreshadowing. And ultimately, after a lot of scrambling and huddles and “never mind, we’ve still got options!”, the Delegates Unbound movement turned out to be a cheap lawn chair. On the floor, they were cowed into submission. Calls for a “Roll Call Vote!” were drowned out by “Do-nald Trump!” And in the end, the few that dared speak up were physically shoved to the side. I watched as Washington’s Trump contingent crowded the microphone, building a wall of sorts, to shut out dissenting delegates like Eric Minor. “Welcome to America!” he said, to the gathering journalists. “This isn’t democracy, it’s thugocracy!”
Delegates Unbound was largely loyal to Ted Cruz, the Grandpa-Munster looking Christian conservative from Texas who lost the nomination to Trump. There was a brief moment of high school drama on the floor when Cruz refused to endorse Trump in his speech, to a chorus of boos, and Trump came onto the convention floor with Donald Jr and glowered at him. But NeverTrump goes well beyond Cruz. Scores of rank and file Congressmen and senators conspicuously skipped Cleveland. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse said he was taking his family on a tour of dumpster fires. (Isn’t that a reason for attending?)
This is the silver lining for liberals. Republicans are divided, and the Trumpnado, if he loses, may leave a pile of rubble where the GOP once stood. For Mike Lofgren, author of the Party is Over, it’s about time. “The party leaders have no discernible principles,” he says. A once proud Republican he worked in Congress for 30 years, before abandoning ship in disgust in 2011. “To see Paul Ryan [the Speaker of the House] admit that Trump is a racist and back him anyway. And John McCain giving his tepid endorsement after Trump insulted him for being a POW in the Hanoi Hilton. Where’s the dignity?”
After decades of being let-down, the Republican base no longer trusts party elites. “They’re voting for Trump to punish the party,” says Lofgren. “They don’t care about conservatism. Trump flouts conservative dogma on all sorts of stuff. They’re not buying trickle-down anymore. Instead, there’s a tribal thing going on. And tribes are defined less by what you love than what you hate.”
Lofgren is one of many defections. In recent months, brand name columnists David Brooks (the New York Times) and George Will (the Washington Post) left the party in a kind of pearl-clutching horror. How could this happen to the party of Lincoln! And yet, Trump is partly their creation. The GOP Frankenstein. “He’s a culmination of the party’s worst traits,” says Lofgren.
Here’s one: Over the last 20 years, the GOP has consistently positioned itself against facts and evidence, whether on climate change, gay conversion therapy, or evolution vs creationism. The electorate’s feelings were what mattered, not the facts, even if those feelings were grounded in more than religion. In “Anti Intellectualism In American Life”, Richard Hofstader, the Nostradamus of right wing lunacy in America, wrote of a “folkish dislike of the educated classes”, in favor of “the plain sense of the common man”. (Things Donald Trump Actually Said #62: “I love the poorly educated.”) Ginny Greiman, the Harvard professor told me, “The people are the experts in this election. We tell Donald what we want, and he repeats it back!”
So now the GOP has nominated Trump, even more fact-free than Sarah Palin, their last champion of “the common man”. We blame the Internet for the demise of facts, the clicks economy which lends legitimacy and velocity to fantasy. But before Facebook and Twitter were born, Republicans went to war on faith, rather than evidence. The roots run deep.
“I’ll tell you why facts don’t matter,” says Russell, a lobbyist for a hedge fund. We’re at a breakfast discussion with Donald Trump Jr, hosted by the WSJ. He was here to lobby for intellectual property rights, and that meant schmoozing, getting some face time and dangling his cheque book in front of legislators. “It’s all about money. I lobby in Europe where you’re judged by the quality of your arguments. Imagine that! Here, money is what makes facts compelling.” Needless to say, the proliferation of money in politics is a Republican idea.
Donald Jr rattles through his interview in his hard, cocky style. His confidence is fireproof. There’s already talk about him as a Presidential candidate in years to come. At the end, I manage to get a question in. There are so many options: “What kind of asshole likes to shoot elephants for fun?” “Isn’t it ironic that the GOP’s symbol is an animal you like to murder?” But instead, I ask him: “Why is a lack of experience considered a liability in business but an asset if you’re running for President?”
He nods. “That’s simple. Look at all the years and years of experience in government and where we are now. What has it gotten us? Nothing.”
“People just assume we’re hicks and morons. But look at me – I’m young, blonde. I have a normal job.” Lauren Casper is a 29 year old Republican fundraiser from Philadelphia, and we’ve been hanging out for an hour or so, throwing the beers back. And I still haven’t got to that point with her yet – the b-b-but.
“I get why you think he’s an egomaniac,” she says. “I mean I support him but I still get the joke.” She loves all the usual things about Trump – how unpolished he is, how off the cuff. She loves how he puts America first, and how terrorism and immigration is at the top of his agenda. And she likes how he’s changing the GOP. “We need to rebrand. Be nice to gays and forget Roe vs Wade [the Supreme Court ruling that made abortion a right], it’s never going to be repealed. Trump’s doing all those things.”
Now, hold on. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, is a “pray away the gay” Christian who has said that Trump’s next Supreme Court pick would overturn Roe v Wade. But still, there’s common ground. We agree that the Republican obsession with country music is weird. And that Fox News is hopelessly biased. OK, her go-to sites are the spin factories of Drudge and Breitbart, two firmly right wing news platforms. But she also listens to NPR, our BBC-like radio organization, and she’d rather her fellow Trumpers weren’t so rude about Obama. “Also – shooting elephants for fun is fucked up,” she says. I like Lauren. She gives me hope.
We join the stream of delegates into the Q for the last night. It’s time for Trump’s grand address and the floor is more crowded than ever. The agenda tonight is to humanize, to depict as a saintly figure reaching down from his gold plated throne to sooth the afflicted with his fun-size hands. It’s not very convincing. None of the sick children he supposedly helped, showed up. None even have names. But the crowd doesn’t care. They’ve come to dream tonight.
It’s Ivanka’s speech that will make the headlines – “all things will be possible again!” Without any proper celebrities, the Trump children are the main draw, every one gets their turn. But it’s Tom Barrack of Colony Capital who best captures the strange longing in the hall. A friend of Trump’s for 40 years, he first conjures a gladiatorial image: “The man, without his armor, his weapons, walking down the tunnel toward the arena – who is he?” Then he frames Trump’s story as an American legend – the big-hearted visionary who became a real estate icon, a job creator, a television superstar and a father of four photogenic children. “Imagine how perfect it would be if he became President,” Barrack says. Like a backstory video on American Idol, he’s exhorting the crowd to make Donald’s dreams come true – Make A Wish for billionaires. “It’s up to you to make once upon a time once upon this time…”
And then: Trump. He stands at the podium, before a wall of flags, his ‘yuge’ face on the screen above – the camera appears to have zoomed in extra close. It’s a Teleprompter gig, which is not his favorite – Trump’s best when he’s winging it, when anything can happen. But today, he’s Presidential Trump. And that means no light relief. America is on its knees, humiliated and broken. Criminal immigrants stalk the streets while the world laughs and terrorists pour across the border. It’s not morning in America so much as mourning for America. And in this darkness, the only light is orange. “Only I can fix it,” he says. And “I’m with you”, jabbing his finger at the crowd. And most ominously of all, “I’m your voice”.
It’s so transparent, so textbook, and yet, when I find Lauren in her delegation, she’s almost teary-eyed. “He just crushed it,” she says. “He was so Presidential.”
By any rational assessment, the convention has been a shambles. The D-list speakers, the stolen speeches, the haywire schedule – and yet, none of it seems to matter. The bar’s so low for Trump that “Presidential” just means he didn’t insult the Jews or do a Chinese accent. After Melania read Michelle Obama’s speech like a marvel of AI, Lauren felt she’d done well just to read from a prompter at all.
“When people say Trump’s operation is a mess, they miss the point,” Lofgren says. “Dictators aren’t efficient. They just have a certain charisma that can move a crowd. And they’re often comical. They laughed at Hitler too, with his silly mustache like Charlie Chaplin. So I’m concerned. Human nature is fragile, underneath we’re all the naked ape. And when someone constantly appeals to the brute in us like Trump is… No good can come of it, even if he loses.”
Whatever happens in November, the likes of Lauren and Chris and the Schenbergs aren’t going anywhere. Trump didn’t create Trump voters but vice versa. Under a Hillary government, they’ll try even harder to elect a Trump-like nationalist. And under Trump, if the country descends into chaos, they will be even more vulnerable to his promises to impose order through strength. A corner has been turned in America. There’s no putting Trumpism back in the bottle.
But today, Lauren is joyous. She believes victory is in sight. And she may be right – as the Trump family wave below a shower of balloons, he’s running neck and neck with Hillary in the polls. It’s been a night of grand promises, to fix crime, fix immigration, terrorism – I guarantee it, be-lieve me – and yet now Mick Jagger is singing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Is he singing for us or the Donald?
All over the hall, balloons are popping like a fire fight.