An eight-car motorcade of black and silver SUVs and vans received thunderous cheers as it sped onto the dirt field in the center of the arena at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds. When Donald Trump's head, topped with his trademark “Make America Great Again” red cap, peeked up from behind one of the vehicles, the crowd roared again.
His acolytes idolize him. Trump's supporters have fallen sway to a cult of personality.
Mixed in with this worship is a little bit of Disneyland ride. The Trump experience is hours of waiting in line under an unremitting sun for the relatively short pleasure of seeing and hearing the man firsthand. Not that many of the thousands who showed up on Saturday, May 7, to the fairgrounds in Lynden were complaining.
A woman from India sitting in the welcome shade of the grandstands lit up with joy when she saw Trump. The woman and her husband, from Bellingham, declined to give their names.
I had asked them before Trump showed up what they thought of him and particularly of his reputation as a racist. To give just one example, when Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015 he referred to Mexicans as “rapists” who bring drugs and crime into the United States.
“That does not bother us,” the man said. “We just like him. We see him the last 20 years on the TV, and nobody said anything (critical of him).”
“The way he speaks,” the woman said, “he sounds like he would bring real change to America.”
Trump gave a boring speech, which started an hour late and must have gone on for 40 minutes. Predictably, he spent a huge chunk of his time saying how great he was and putting down his erstwhile Republican opponents and his likely challenger for the White House, “crooked Hillary Clinton.”
“Just forget it,” Trump said of Clinton, in that way he has of delivering short, offhanded sentences that seem to hold his fans in thrall.
“Can you imagine another four years of the Clintons? Seriously. She's totally controlled by Wall Street and everyone that gave her millions of dollars.”
Clinton, understandably, was Trump's primary target on Saturday. She would get rid of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, Trump said, and would nominate liberal Supreme Court justices who would destroy America.
But the Trumpism that resonated most with his followers was the wall he would build along the Mexican border.
“We will build a wall when it is time,” Trump said to loud cheers from the crowd. “It will be a nice, high wall. ... It will have a door (but) they have to come in legally.”
The Trump crowd carried the notion of the wall with them outside the arena. Trump supporters after the event were confronted with hundreds of protesters on the other side of Kok Road, chanting “Love trumps hate” and “Racists go home;” and holding signs that read “Fuck hate” and “Build bridges not walls.” Trump supporters responded with chants of “Build the wall,” along with some hurled insults and pointed hand gestures.
Spending seven hours rubbing sunburned shoulders with Trump supporters allowed for a little bit of belief to creep into this observer—not belief in Trump's bullying, xenophobic, cartoonish version of world politics, but belief that he could win in November.
“I would love to just absolutely beat her,” said Trump, a hypercompetitive billionaire who approaches the concept of losing about as well as a 3-year-old.
His supporters believe he can beat her. They will tell you Clinton is beatable because she is untrustworthy and—in their view—should go to prison. The fact that she probably won't be locked up is more evidence that the system is “rigged” (one of Trump's favorite words) to benefit the political elite.
Under his administration, Trump said, the gravy train for political fat cats would stop; miners in West Virginia and loggers in Whatcom County would get their jobs back. Trump's appeal lies in how he would take from the undeserving rich, the “political hacks” who have ruined America, and give to the poor workers who have suffered under the ineptitude of the country's leaders. For Trump supporters, this ineptitude is illustrated by Obamacare, the bad deal struck with Iran to end sanctions, and the bad trade imbalances between the U.S. and countries such as China and Japan.
Trump has the same answer for all of the country's ills: “I'll fix it fast.” As unnuanced and naive as that sounds, it's just what his supporters want to hear.