Act in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The president before a crowd of faithful. Lie or exaggerate as usual. But it does not matter. It is his truth and that of those who follow him.
It all comes down to Pennsylvania. Suddenly in the last two days the American political world has come to an agreement. Pennsylvania is THE key state in elections that are celebrated next Tuesday. This is how the electoral system of this venerable democracy works. The candidate who wins Pennsylvania, population 12.8 million, will be the next president of the United States, population 330 million.
I drove to Pennsylvania this morning with my travel companion Lenny. Donald Trump arrived by plane. We saw him in the second of three election rallies that he starred throughout the day, at the airport in a small town called Lancaster. 15,000 faithful attended.
How they love it! Almost as much as he loves himself.
It all comes down to Trump. I saw what a former member of the Republican Party told me a couple of days ago. Trump has devoured the party. There are no Republican flags, no hats, no T-shirts, no posters. On the bellies and breasts of the men and women who idolize him, one reads, “God, guns and Trump,” or “Women for Trump,” or the phrase he has patented, “Make American Great Again.” Nobody else speaks. Just him.
He gets on the podium to the accompaniment of the song “Macho man” by the group Village People and the crowd goes crazy. Well, they’ve already freaked out. They are tighter than at a rock concert, only one in ten wears a chinstrap and they shout with such fervor throughout the hour and 25 minutes of the speech that the density of the viral load must be, to use a word that Trump likes to repeat, epic. Dead for the cause will be here, for sure.
Trump will not be one of them. Not only has the covid survived, but the disease has strengthened him. Say what you want about him, but what energy! It maintains the same intensity and the same volume of voice from beginning to end of that hour and 25 minutes, almost all improvised, almost all lies or exaggerationsBut the crowd followed each syllable gaping or responded with cheers, applause, shouts of “Four more years!” or “USA! USES!” or “Make America Great Again!” because for them “USA” and Trump, “America” and Trump are the same, indivisible.
The state is Trump. They are Trump. And because Trump is “great” they are “great.” Trump is everything: the sun and the moon, the alpha and the omega. Both for them and for himself. That is why he says, and he really believes it, and his followers believe it, that his electoral victory in 2016 “It was one of the great moments in the history of the world”. Yes. That’s what he said. From the history of the world. And he believes it because such is the enormity of his ego that, indeed, the history of the world began the day he ascended to power. And when he immediately says that the current elections are “the most important in the history of the United States” he believes it too. Because your future is at stake and your future is the only future there is. In the world.
“The epic tax cut that I introduced a couple of years ago,” he declares, “is the biggest in history.” Is not true. It is not the objective truth. But it is their truth. The only truth he knows. He lies but he does not lie. Its truth is not empirical, it is not two plus two equals four. Its truth is absolutely self-referential. And it is for his devotees too. They don’t question her because they are him, because they subsume their personalities in his.
What I am witnessing is a religious act. A sect before its messiah. His enemies are by definition one demons. Trump pauses briefly in his speech and on a large screen behind him are images of his Democratic rival, Joseph Biden. The faithful half laugh, half boo, like children when the witch appears in a puppet theater.
They half laugh because Trump doesn’t take it seriously, or so he says. According to all the polls, Biden is going to win. But in the Trumpian alternative world such a possibility does not exist.
“We have spirit and enthusiasm and this is the most important thing,” he declares. Yes, it does, but it is not necessarily the most important thing. If it were Trump, he would win not only Pennsylvania but all 50 states of the Union. Se mofa de Biden. He calls him “Sleepy Joe”, “Sleepy Joe”; Joe “the one who is all sadness and melancholy and spends the entire campaign hiding in a basement.” Not all, the entire campaign, but Trump is right that Biden has been seen very little.
The official version is that Biden does not want to murder his followers in super-polluting events like the one I am witnessing here at Lancaster airport; the possible unofficial version is that Biden is only three years older than Trump but seems to be 30 years older. My friend Lenny, very much a Democrat himself, very expert in election campaigns, very anti-Trump, suggests to me that Biden’s advisers may have decided that the less visibility your candidate has the better; Before trying to kill Trump, let him kill himself.
There’s something in Lancaster about the Jonestown massacre, the Guyanese town where 918 members of an American sect committed suicide in 1978, following the orders of their prophet Jim Jones. Something. But there is something else too, very different. A triumphant energy. As Lenny whispers to me, Trump never transmits the slightest hint of doubt. It is as if they really believe that it is “impossible” for a “loser” like Biden to be able to defeat him.
It almost convinces me. Within the closed logic of this act, Trump is Superman. I am not convinced because I have followed him with open eyes for the last four years and I know that he is a fraud, an ignorant and a madman. But what I understand in Lancaster that I had not understood before is that it is a phenomenon of nature. That such a character has been able to convince not 15,000 but 63 million people to vote for him in 2016, and that a similar number will vote for him now in 2020, has its perverse merit. Trump is, in his own way, a genius. A genius of demagoguery. One of the great demagogues in the history of the world.