There is no understanding Donald Trump without understanding his rallies.
They are the crucible of the Trump revolution, the laboratory where he turns his alternative reality into a potion to be sold to his followers. It is at his rallies that his radical reimagining of the US constitution takes shape: not “We the people”, but “We my people”.
As America reels from a gunman killing 11 Jewish worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue; pipe bombs being sent to 14 of the US presidents’ leading opponents, and Trump declaring himself a nationalist and sending thousands of troops to the US border to assail unarmed asylum seekers; the most powerful person on earth continues to rely on his rallies as seething cauldrons of passion.
And that’s not all. Trump is using them as a test run for his 2020 bid for re-election.
Which is why I have crisscrossed the country, from Montana and Wisconsin in the north to Texas in the south, Arizona in the west to North Carolina in the east, to observe the president delivering his message to his people.
On the morning of the fourth rally, the outside world blasts its way into Trumpland. Shortly after 10am, as CNN anchors are telling their viewers about a series of pipe bombs mailed to the Clintons, the Obamas and to George Soros, they have to rush off air because the network has received its own explosive device.
At the same time, Jacob Spaeth and three of his buddies are lining up in a field in Mosinee, Wisconsin. They are all wearing the same distinctive red T-shirt. It bears a cartoon sketch of a smiling Trump urinating profusely over the CNN logo.
Spaeth never watches CNN – he occasionally sees clips of it on Facebook. He gets his information from Infowars, the website of Alex Jones. Jones, a conspiracy theorist, is on the record as saying 9/11 was a government set-up and that the 2012 Newtown school shooting in which 20 children were killed was fabricated. Within hours he will be broadcasting that this week’s pipe bombs are also a hoax.
Spaeth embodies one of the most puzzling aspects of my week in Trumpland. Throughout the five rallies, I talk to scores of people, all of whom, without exception, are welcoming and pleasant. Yet hours later, in the pressure-cooker of the rally, they will turn on me and my mainstream media colleagues and hurl insults at us.
Spaeth admits that when he went to a Trump rally in Minnesota last month he took part in the finger-jabbing and the chanting of “CNN sucks”. It made him feel happy to be able to express his feelings so openly among like-minded folk. “I don’t see it as bullying,” he says.
There’s only one explanation for this pattern of behavior: that Trump enables good, civil Americans to metamorphose into media baiters. “Those people, fake news,” the president says sneeringly at almost every rally, pointing to the caged pen where reporters are cooped up during his speeches.
Read the compete article in The Guardian newspaper here.