Deconstructing Donald

The Republican presidential candidate reflects America’s belligerent now

Donald Trump has arrived—and he’s brought hell with him.

It’s sweltering inside the cavernous main hangar at the Sacramento Jet Center, where a couple thousand people braved the risk of heat stroke and waited hours for their political godhead to park his monogrammed plane and extract his daily dose of psychic Viagra.

The Donald didn’t disappoint. He rambled to a theme—bashing the PGA Tour for pulling up golf tees from his Miami course and moving to Mexico City, hit Nabisco for shipping jobs to Mexico and blamed New Hampshire’s heroin epidemic on—ding, ding, ding—Mexico. “Do walls work? Just ask Israel,” he said at one point, to both cheers and confusion.

Then: “If Donald Trump becomes your president, this is all going to stop.”

Oh, yes, please make it stop.

I was not assigned to cover Trump’s June 1 campaign visit to Sacramento. I had no discernible reason to go. But I needed to witness the carnival.

It’s not that I don’t know what Trump is about. He’s been selling his brand of preppy white rage since he demanded President Barack Obama show his papers and flirted with taking him on in 2012. No one then took him seriously and Trump ended up calling his own bluff. He was a laughingstock (which is about the only stock this self-styled mogul has benefited), with his verbal finger-painting act looking an absolute mess in black and white newsprint.

But times have changed. We’ve changed. Same old Donald, more receptive electorate.

Last month in the jet hangar, so many questions pierced the foggy heat:

Has Trump just worn us down? Does crazy verbal abuse become normalized when it hangs around? Is this a domestic-violence situation writ national?

And, most of all, what is this thin-skinned, bankruptcy-prone demagogue’s appeal?

That’s what brought me to the rally. And, after four hours in the scrum and more than a month of reflection, I still don’t have an answer. At best, I have a police sketch of an idea. A persistent notion that Trump is a fun-house mirror that reflects the viewer’s own distorted fears. A tabula rasa to be interpreted and translated as his supporters need.

Take Cole Bartiromo, a self-styled media entrepreneur with an online tabloid called NewsBall. (I kid you not.) He’s been following Trump like a groupie, and has the scars to prove it. Bartiromo was attacked leaving a Costa Mesa rally a month earlier. He proudly carried around a nipple-high poster board showing blood-spattered images of himself, and hoped Trump would sign an actual gold nugget he had tucked in his wallet.

He’s a showman, like Trump, and hopes to become rich, like Trump. What Bartiromo is not is someone who knows history or politics. Hell, he voted for Obama in 2008 because of the “Crush on Obama” YouTube video that went viral.

“A lot of people don’t care about politicians and policies. And that’s true with me and Trump. I don’t care,” he said. “He’s not a robot. He’s not scripted. That’s what totally makes him different.”

The handful of Trump supporters I spoke to had this same uncanny ability, to take the one or two elements they liked and disregard the rest.

For troubadour Kraig Moss, 57, of Oswego, N.Y., who says he’s followed Trump to 33 rallies with his guitar and songbook of original Trump tunes, his support was borne from tragedy. His son died from a fentanyl overdose in 2014. So, to him, Trump’s promise to build a southern border wall to keep drugs out makes sense.

For Sacramento’s Willie Worthy, Trump reminds her of her husband, outspoken Sacramento City Council attendee Mac Worthy. “Because they think so much alike,” she said, standing beside her hubby in the hot hangar. “He has more money,” she said of Trump, but her hubby Mac, “He’s the first Trump.”

For Tom Summers, a self-described “drifter” from Sacramento, Trump is the next political fashion. Summers says he used to belong to Occupy Sacramento (“infiltrated” it, actually), but then migrated to a very different movement with polar opposite values.

“Money is the root of all evil,” he told me while watching two guys argue outside. I looked at his baggy T-shirt, depicting Trump cutting his puppet strings while a marionette Hillary Clinton dangled. “But you’re a Trump supporter?” I asked.

His eyes lit up under a brow pin-pricked with sweat. “Oh, yeah.”

It occurs to me that guys like Bartiromo and Summers represent a not-insignificant subsection of Trump supporters.

There are the Republican anarchists who talk excitedly of blowing the party up, the bully brigade who attend the rallies because they might get to hit someone, the wannabe entrepreneurs who think they’ll be able to steal some special rich-guy tips, and a large swath of struggling Americans left behind by the dream and resorting to Trump out of desperation and well-earned political frustration.

Like any Venn diagram, there’s overlap. Bartiromo definitely belongs to the wannabe rich-guy category. But what he and Summers really are, are zeitgeist chasers.

They just want to be part of the trending moment, like surfers who want to be on top of the wave, not crushed on the bottom. They have no principles of their own; they freely admit this. Republican and Democrat are labels for people with agendas and plans. They have no plans. They’re like addicts hooked on catharsis. Their attention spans have been chiseled and honed into two-dimensional flat surfaces by Snapchat and Vine and their extrapolating ilk. There is no past, no record to consult. There is only the loud, belligerent now.

And that now wears a willow-thin animal pelt and a pinched expression of disdainful mass destruction.

“Listen, he’s not presidential,” Bartiromo acknowledged. “Obama, Bush—they’ve been presidential. What has it gotten us? Seventeen trillion in debt, wars, 9/11, right? OK, so Trump’s not presidential. He doesn’t have those traits. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.”

There are an awful lot of people placing that same wild bet.