In May 2016 I attended a Trump rally in Anaheim, California. I was visiting my daughter and her family, and I was curious to observe this emerging populist phenomenon up close and live.
His campaign had built its strategy around such events, attract huge crowds and creating a political wave the Democrats were failing to heed.
For them, and indeed for mainstream Republicans, the man’s clownishness and demagoguery would guarantee victory for his main opponent Hillary Clinton, whom all polls, all pundits, confidently expected would triumph in November.
On returning to Kenya I wrote a column on the painful experience, noting that after 45 minutes my daughter and I had had enough and walked away, “with just reinforcement of the disgust we had always felt for this vulgar, ill-behaved man and the disappointment that millions of Americans support his arrogant, divisive views and his obnoxious style, ignoring – actually loving – the way he is indifferent to facts; sneers at, mocks and insults anyone with whom he disagrees; and boasts of how smart and successful he is in an endless trail of loosely connected sound-bites.”
Much of Trump’s speech, I wrote, was devoted to trying to persuade us that his winning streak was unstoppable, so surely we should be part of his success.
The media loved it, analysing everything to death, updating their predictions each day, in this most unprecedented and unpredictable of battles – which still had five wretched months to run.
In order to attend the rally we had to apply online for tickets, as a result of which the Trump campaign had access to our contacts. And ever since, at least once a day, I have been receiving mails from the man himself, from his son and from his daughter, from Vice-President Pence, Newt Gingrich and others.
“Friend,” each one starts (quite wrongly imagining me to be part of his base of enthusiastic supporters), before relentlessly stirring me up against all those awful liberals and globalists, against CNN and the New York Times and others of the “fake media” community, and against anyone who denies that Trump is other than the saviour who will Make America Great Again.
The one that greeted me at the dawn of the new year informed me that “President Trump has requested a list of all supporters who have renewed their 2018 Sustaining Membership by MIDNIGHT TONIGHT. These are the patriots who are laying the early foundation for an even stronger second year of our historic presidency. These are the patriots who refuse to let the media define our movement. And this is your chance to put your name up top, Friend.”
As always I am asked to contribute $1 to his campaign fund, “to show the President he has the FULL backing of the American people in the new year”.
“We have now entered a CRITICAL election year,” it continues, saying “the media is hoping to claim that 2018 will be a referendum on President Trump. It’s up to us to prove them WRONG. Let’s show them that we are starting off the year stronger than we started his inauguration. America is waking up to the fake news. We’re waking up to the lies liberals have been feeding our country for decades. We are still fighting to take our country, and we will not rest.”
Reading these daily missives have provided me with excellent insight into how he holds on to his base: by scoffing at the elite; promising to “drain the swamp”; and assuring the faithful that he is there to protect their interests and fulfill the wildest of his campaign promises.
With Trump the drama is constant, reinforcing both admirers and detractors in their views. One day the Fire and Fury book describes his White House as more of a mad house; the next day he tells us he’s a very stable genius.
Now he hosts a bipartisan meeting of congressional leaders that show him as a constructive mediator on immigration, immediately following which he describes African countries as sh**tholes… and then we see Mr. Politically Correct on Martin Luther King Day.
Don’t expect anything to change. I haven’t since seeing him at his campaign rally.