Donald Trump is an unfathomable leader

You can become like me, Donald Trump promises the Americans. A journey through a country that could elect this indomitable man to be the next President of the United States - even if half the world thinks he's a clown


How do you think big when you're already as big as him, billionaire, womanizer, TV star? There is only one thing left: the Presidency of the United States. "I inspire people's imaginations," is how he once explained his success: "Many people don't think big, but they are fascinated by those who do."

So half a year ago Donald John Trump, 69, applied; people laughed at the narcissistic clown. But he has been leading all polls for the Republican nomination for months, and if elected today, he would be the White House candidate.

What's going on in america

Anyone who travels through the USA these days experiences the hope of a new beginning and at the same time the longing for old greatness. The journey through this angry, suspicious, nostalgic country begins where Trump once laid the foundation for a political career that no one thought was possible. Maybe not even himself.

Central Park, New York

When he's president, he promises, it'll be great. Amazing. Here in New York City they are already enjoying the fruits of his skills. A mild winter day; the sun shines through the skyscrapers into Central Park. The people impatiently knead their fingers, step from one leg to the other, soothe their children. The ice rink is still closed to their eyes: a clunky machine is noisy driving in circles, labeled with the word "Trump" in large red letters; It sluggishly pushes itself over the furrowed surface, planes the ice, sucks, splatters and finally leaves a damp, shiny surface, almost too beautiful to scratch it with runners.

It's a gift for the people, from Donald Trump, the real estate mogul. In the eighties he had to watch from his window in the neighboring Trump Tower how the city failed to renovate the ice rink: It planned forever, chose the wrong cooling technology, the construction company adulterated the concrete - the disaster symbolized the ungovernability of New York. When six years and several million dollars were wasted, Trump, as he said at the time, was fed up. He repaired the system at his own expense within five months. "I'm still happy," he later boasted, "when I stand by the window in the living room and watch hundreds of skaters on the ice rink."

Like everything in the life of the indomitable egocentric Donald Trump, this was less unselfishness than an investment: He had allegedly proven that he could redeem his fellow men from officials and bureaucrats whom he still calls incapable and clueless. It was his first victory in politics, no, over politics, the core of his political identity: I can do it so much better than the weak, repulsive, corrupt politicians to whom you are otherwise so inexorably delivered.

How much many people believe him is shown by the fact that now, a week before the start of the primaries on February 1, a realization is ripening in America: Trump could become president.

Fifth Avenue, New York

He declared his candidacy for the White House on June 16, 2015 in Trump Tower - his most famous building, in which he works and lives. But what does "declared" mean: Politicians explain, they read from the teleprompter. Trump, who wants to become president without being a politician, just starts talking:

“So nice, thank you very much. Really nice. Thanks. It's great to be in Trump Tower. (...) This is beyond all expectations. There wasn't such a crowd. I can say some of the other candidates didn't know the air conditioning was on. They sweated like dogs. They did not know that the room was too big because they had no one. How are they going to beat 'Islamic State'? I don't think it will happen. "

Nobody understands what Trump is trying to say, and yet the tone alone explains his success: Trump seems real because he apparently says exactly what he thinks. “They laugh at our stupidity. When did we defeat Mexico at the border? ”He then asks:“ When Mexico sends its people, they don't send their best, but people with many problems. They bring drugs. They bring crime. You are a rapist. And some, I suppose, are good people. ”The illegals who sneak across the border at night - a horde of sex offenders sent by the Mexican state?

Donald Trump was always like New York. This included the excessive greed for money and attention that is typical in parts of this city, but also political moderation and the will to get along with everyone for good business. Trump disapproved of the radicals in both parties, he donated to the right and left, revered Ronald Reagan, and had Hillary Clinton come to his wedding. A middle-class man, more opportunist than ideologue.

In the atrium of his Trump Tower, bursting with pink Breccia Pernice marble and gold, visitors are as colorful and excited as they are on tours of the United Nations. Origin doesn't matter here, as long as you spend money and admire the 18-meter waterfall. His name is here hundreds of times, Trump Bar, Trump Grill, Trump Teddy. Trump is a global luxury brand, like the luxury brands in the neighboring Van Cleef, Tiffany’s and Saint Laurent boutiques.

But now the host is raising the mood against foreigners, wants to expel millions of illegals, forbid all Muslims from entering the country, close mosques, and impose punitive tariffs on China. He calls rivals and critics “weak”, “clueless”, “sick”, “corrupt”, “boring”, “irrelevant”, “stupid”, “overrated”, “useless”, “incompetent”, “repulsive”. Or: "idiot", "lightweight", "garbage", "scrap", "loser" and "total loser".

Trump himself is above everything: “Sorry, loser and hater. My IQ is one of the highest - and you all know it, ”he tweeted. "Please don't feel stupid or insecure, it's not your fault."

Trump has been prophesied of the end after each of his failures, but his offensive campaign is self-sustaining. Whatever the outcome: Trump's rise will be the story of this election and "Trumpism" will probably remain in the country as a new, ultra-populist way of doing politics - or to replace it with a permanent riot, ideally in 140 characters. Twitter format. Like the ice machine in Central Park, Trump has scraped away all political rules and certainties.

What remains are two theories of how it might turn out. The first: the Trump phenomenon is a bubble that is about to burst. Trump is overrated because the media exaggerate him, his supporters are unreliable, the citizens become more sober as election day approaches; because some in the midst of society would never vote for him. And because the moderates always win anyway.

Second theory: Trump can read the mood in the country like no other. America is currently fed up with Washington and needs a doer who is fed up too. That could win Trump the nomination and, should he reinvent himself as a moderator, even the presidency. Political expert Alex Castellanos, a Latino, writes: "If I had to bet, I would put my money on Trump."

In New York City, however, where Trump was born the son of a building contractor in 1946, suspicion is one of the greatest. Trump has moved a long way away from the values ​​of this heterogeneous, tolerant metropolis. In front of his skyscraper, the Latinos can now be photographed with their middle fingers outstretched, the Jewish teacher Ray Levi, a democrat like so many here, is standing at the ice rink in Central Park. Levi's family once fled Germany. “Trump plays with fears,” he says, “like Adolf Hitler once did.” The verdict among New York Republicans is no better. “Trump is a good businessman,” says Christianna Long, “but I would never trust him with the land.” Her son Nick, 20, castigates Trump's un-American intolerance. Nick's friend Zoë says: “I'm Jewish, we don't always get along with Muslims. But should we lock them all out? In earnest?"

The Longs are academics and sound like the prolet Trump insulted their intellect. You will spend the afternoon on his skating rink, but you don’t want to owe him more than the entrance fee, let alone your voice. "Beautiful Stranger" by Madonna echoes from the speakers. Beautiful stranger.

But Manhattan is just an American milieu. There are so many others along Interstate 80, which goes all the way to the Pacific, and with it into the Midwest, where Trump is now facing the first area code in Iowa. New York to Iowa - 1,800 miles, a lot of snow, a lot of anger, a country that struggles with whether it should take this billionaire to its heart, its cheek, its boldness, its very American boast. Or if it should send him back to Fifth Avenue quickly.

Youngstown, Ohio

Across the Hudson River is New Jersey, followed by Pennsylvania. It starts to snow in the endless forests. Ice flowers on the windshield, the windshield wiper scratches over it.

Soon the first accident, the police blocked two lanes with beacons: two trucks collided and coal briquettes fell from one of them. One thinks of Jeb Bush of the grand presidential family, who was considered a safe Republican candidate until Trump redefined him as the “low energy” guy. Bush fell by the wayside in this competition to conquer America, like the trucks in the right lane.

Youngstown, the first city in Ohio. Bruce Springsteen sang a song about Youngstown, where after the steel furnaces there was also no courage to live. The hard core of Trump's electorate can be found here in Ohio: the blue collars who wear overalls, the poorly educated, lower middle class, worried about stagnating wages, jobs being relocated to China, black workers from Mexico, the headcutters from the “Islamic State ".

"We are a silent majority that is no longer silent," said Trump when he visited the workers' state in the fall. “I brought up the problems with immigrants and have been beaten like never before. They wanted to see me on my knees. But I don't do that, people. "

About the IS terrorist group, he said: “Am I in favor of waterboarding, simulated drowning? You can bet your ass on it! Believe me, it works! Even if it doesn't work, you deserve it. "

When Trump demanded that the Muslims in the country be monitored, boos from two interferers rang out in the hall. “Come on,” he called to the stewards, “throw them out.” It sounded like his former reality TV show “The Apprentice”, in which young managers were allowed to prove themselves until Trump threw them out. "You're fired," he said, the phrase became a classic in pop culture. Now it is becoming a political program: Trump fires the troublemakers, the illegals, the incompetents; a satisfaction for those who yearn for authoritarian leadership.

In Youngstown, the local Republican chefs meet in a pizzeria, they eat chips from a basket, and the waitress is so busy clearing up early that Mark Munroe and Mark Mangie constantly have to defend their snack. With their freedom, they believe, it is similar under President Barack Obama: The state takes your chips away because it thinks you had enough and passes the basket on to refugees from Syria and children from Guatemala. And if you complain, you are also considered a lousy little racist. Munroe and Mangie like Trump, they say that quite a few Democrats want to vote for him here. “Trump has already won. He beat the cancer of political correctness, ”says Mangie. “Obama has always treated critics like stupid fanatics, Trump is now the result. He says what the silent majority thinks. "

Cleveland, Ohio

The "Winking Lizard", a bar on the edge of Cleveland, with gas stations, hotels and motorways around it. At the entrance a green iguana is dozing behind glass. Ralph King, a leader of the right-wing populist Tea Party, looks like the bouncer but works in road construction. He orders chicken wings with hot sauce and American beer, which, he complains, "tastes like diluted weasel pee".

King is a Republican, but he despises his party's politicians. The blue suits. The white shirts. The red ties. And always that US flag badge on the lapel.

King was a lousy student, he fought, and later he drank seven nights a week and slept with women he thought were sluts. But decency was always important to him: that you neither curse nor smoke in front of your mother, that you keep your word and not only think of yourself. King has always hated shamelessness in politics. How the councilors raise their salaries but don't allow the garbage collection guys to do it. "It's even worse in Washington: everything is contaminated with money," he says. "The politicians let themselves be bought by Wall Street, the lobby, the large donors, and then they squander the taxpayers' money."

King used to vote for the moderate until George W. Bush fought two wars and saved big banks with unimaginable sums of money during the financial crisis. In 2009, King went to the Tea Party, the right-wing insurgent in the Republican Party, to protest. They hated Obama - but even more so did their own party leaders. Some call it a civil war between the grassroots and the elite, the people and the powerful, the lower and upper middle classes. Although the Republicans have recaptured the US Congress in recent years, the result is disappointing from the perspective of the Tea Party base. "Our MPs in Parliament," believes King, "are now hanging out with the old pullers."

So there remains only one hope: Donald Trump.

In him King recognizes himself, sees a man who is strong, fearless and incorruptible, but who also has the soft heart of a family man. Well, in the third marriage, but with lots of well-off children. King calls Trump street smart, a shrewd bully who fights to win, does not allow himself to be bought by the lobby, does not allow himself to be ripped off by the Iranians, does not allow himself to be belaboured by the do-gooders who open all doors to foreigners.

The other day his son had to play football against big boys from Akron. King said to his son: "You are the greatest on the team, you have to run over one of them on the first turn, a foul, so that they understand that you are not wimps." In politics, this guy who deals with you intentional foul respect, Donald Trump.

It is the great irony of his candidacy that the rebellious right-wing base is hoping for a New York billionaire to lead their revolution. But Trump just speaks the way the people want to hear it. King says he would have a beer with Trump. The highest praise for candidates for the White House is to be one of us. But a beer with Trump? "Trump is more of the guy," writes the author McKay Coppins, "who buys the brewery, fires and expels all foreign illegal workers and then takes off in his private helicopter with an obscene gesture in the direction of Mexico."

Interstate 80, Indiana

Sun, white salt crust on the asphalt, country music on the radio, songs about beer, girls and pick-ups. Indiana is a state that never matters. Flat. No mans land. The voice on the radio says, “We're making America great again.” It's Trump, even here in nowhere you're a permanent guest on his political reality show.

Many of his suggestions are as simple as they are illogical and vague. Why should Muslim countries ally with the United States against terrorism when their citizens are not even allowed to travel to America? Why should Mexico pay for US border guards? How exactly does Trump replace Obama's health insurance, other than, as he says, something "great"? What happens if Trump imposes punitive tariffs and China avenges itself with punitive tariffs against America's farmers?

Trump has caused a stir all his life with the most incredible chatter; but often it remained unfathomable what he really meant. Sometimes he cursed women, sometimes he promoted them. Sometimes Mexicans were sex offenders, sometimes great employees. Sometimes he sounds like a Democrat, sometimes like a Republican. Trump says everything in so many varieties that any audience can hate or love him."When he offered his views, sometimes with a smirk, sometimes with a scowl, a grin or a poker face, then he challenged the world to guess when he was serious and when he wasn't," writes his biographer Michael D'Antonio .

Probably the details and convictions don't matter at all. Trump is a one-point party: Washington is incompetent so I have to fix it. At least the first part of this statement is currently very popular.

Des Moines, Iowa

In the morning the sun drags itself so lazily out of the fog, as if it just wanted to take a quick look to see whether the grain silos are still standing. Iowa in the midwest. Fields above all. There is not much to say about the capital Des Moines. "I come from Des Moines," writes the author Bill Bryson, "someone had to."

Iowa is at the heart of America's flyover states. The people from the coast always fly over it. Only every four years suddenly everyone ends up in Iowa because the parties hold their first primary here for the presidency. The candidates eat pork skewers and pretend to be interested in wind energy. Iowa is not a reflection of the USA, it is whiter, more conservative, more rural, more religious. Whoever wins here doesn't necessarily become president, but an early win doesn't hurt.

On the outskirts of the capital, where the residential areas end in front of the fields, Rebecca Holdridge and her friend Sharon Meredith meet for coffee. Both were born here, one works in the “skin care business”, the other is a teacher. Middle class, very bourgeois. Although the world's trouble spots are far away, they fear attacks on planes and foreign infiltration in schools. They consider what is happening in Germany to be a warning sign. In December they saw a Trump performance, they found him warm, smooth, honest. You will choose him.

As a responsible person, can you really support someone like Trump who puts everyone down?

"He's only been in politics for half a year," says Meredith in order to defend him.

Would she allow her children to be as acidic about other people as Trump?

Both women pause briefly, as if they felt caught out. "I overlook it," says Holdridge finally. "The truck drivers love it," says Meredith. "His tone reveals his strength," says Holdridge. “Exactly,” calls out her friend.

And the sexism, the meanness when he said of a rival: look at that face?

"He just fought," says Holdridge. “He was always surrounded by these great models; normal people like us fall away, "says Meredith, hesitates, then mumbles:" Okay, he shouldn't have said that. "Holdridge interjects:" He just said this woman looks angry. "

Anyone who has chosen Trump is ready to show such indulgence as the despised Washington politicians can no longer expect. Trump is allowed to sneer, revile and brag. His followers overlook it because times are difficult. Or because they just like Trump.

The going of this election depends on how many people are willing to ignore Trump's rudeness. There are more and more: In March 2015, only 23 percent of Republicans thought it was possible to vote for Trump, now there are 65. With the serious Jeb Bush it is exactly the other way around.

Can Trump even win the main election against Democrat Hillary Clinton and move into the White House in a year's time? According to the prevailing opinion, not because it is too loud and superficial, because it has turned against all Latinos, all moderate, young, tolerant Americans. But the prevailing opinion has never been correct with Trump, and the magazine Politico is already playing the victory scenario: According to this, the changeable Trump will reinvent himself in the summer, this time as a pragmatic businessman and family man. He will woo his party blacks, Latinos, and women who are secretly intrigued by him. He will stir up fear of terrorists. He will play his outsider role against Clinton. He recently demonstrated how statesmanlike Trump can sound when he extolled the steadfastness of the New Yorkers after September 11, 2001.

President Trump: It still sounds crazy.

But it would be even crazier to dismiss Trump as having no chance. Even leftists warn that he could win the main election. It is true that he is a will-o'-the-wisp, a busybody who longs for confirmation; nobody knows what he stands for and to whom he feels obliged - except himself. But he has instinct. And the actor Ronald Reagan was once considered ineligible a long time ago.

Webster City, Iowa

Trump spent himself here in Iowa. Last summer, while other candidates were chewing on their pork skewers at the agricultural fair, Trump let the children fly in his helicopter. In the fall he gave a speech comparing a rival to a child molester. But pious Iowa is headstrong, and it is a reminder, especially in these final days before the first primary, that Trump can lose too. Losing is very dangerous for him because he lives off the reputation that he only wins.

Trump's fiercest rival is Ted Cruz, an arch-conservative from Texas. Until Trump came, Cruz played the bad boy alone. He once instigated a parliamentary uprising in the budget dispute that brought the United States to the brink of national bankruptcy. Now Cruz is announced in an airplane hangar in Webster City. The fog makes the runway disappear, but the connection to the sky is different here anyway. Then come the Christian right, the so-called evangelicals.

David Borer, an accountant for an agricultural company, is waiting in row one. "More than 50 million abortions in the last forty years," says Borer. “Maybe the person who discovered the drug against cancer or AIDS was killed. If you have no life, then nothing else matters either. "

Cruz wears jeans, is so close to the 150 spectators that you can read the pants size on the label from the front row: length 32, width 38. Cruz speaks like a preacher. His movements begin in a crescendo, reach the forte in the third quarter, and then finish in a whisper. "Pray for a minute every day," he demands, "dear father, help us to remove our country from the abyss."

The right-wing ideologue Cruz has two opponents. Obama, whose agenda he would shatter once he got into the Oval Office. And Trump: Cruz accuses his rival of embodying "New York values", ie abortion, gay marriage. And greed first. Here in the Heartland, this criticism of Trump is well received, unlike the workers in Ohio, they distrust superficial gloss here. Cruz supporters say Trump does not know the Lord, should learn humility and being principled. "A few years ago he was still in favor of abortions," says Borer. "We welcome all converts, but conversions are seldom sincere in election campaigns."

A few villages down the street, even more Trump opponents meet, where Marco Rubio, the US Senator from Florida, who is everything Trump isn't - young, neat, a Latino, appears in front of a hundred spectators in the community center of Marshalltown. The party leaders consider him the future of the Republicans, a right-wing John F. Kennedy. His fans say Rubio "thinks with his head" while Trump may not think at all.

Of course, Trump says Rubio is a baby.

America's election campaigns actually obey a simple logic: "Democrats want to fall in love, Republicans just fall in line." The left want to fall in love with their candidate, the right merely submit to the most experienced man. Perhaps this time it is the other way around: the Democrats follow the sensible Clinton, the Republicans have a crush on a loudmouth beyond all common sense. Among Republican donors and spokesmen, the resigned prognosis is already spreading that Trump and Cruz will negotiate the competition between themselves, that the Abraham Lincoln party, which once stood for human dignity, will definitely nominate a ruthless self-promoter.

Ottumwa, Iowa

Donald Trump performs in Ottumwa, a city of 25,000 so white that even Mexican restaurants are only served by whites. Three hours before the show, dealers are already selling badges and hats in the parking lot, the first visitors are crouching in front of the entrance, at minus eight degrees in the icy wind. When the doors open, the hall fills with 665 spectators. Hundreds of people crowd outside in front of a screen.

Fear of the future and celebrity cult mix in the audience. While Phil explains why the Germans should be so afraid of the flood of refugees, Laci, who is attending a political event for the first time, has herself photographed in front of the stage, next to her the perfectly styled Tana Goertz. She once appeared on Trump's TV show and is now running his campaign in Iowa; the boundaries between entertainment and politics have obviously dissolved. Soon Goertz is warming up the crowd at the lectern. "He changed my life and can change your life," she says of her mentor. "Guys, he's our last chance."

When he stands there, you wonder again if his hair is real. Some consider it a toupee, but which company would make such toupees? This mat looks like it is being forcefully pressed into a vague vertex formation day in and day out.

Trump starts, as always, with the success reports, the polls. He would have liked to have been Person of the Year at Time, but they selected Angela Merkel. Merkel! Incredible, Trump thinks, after everything she has done to her country. “Poor Germany,” he says. “They are rioting in Cologne right now. In the past, Germans didn't even know what a problem with foreigners was. Now everyone says Trump was right about his wall. If I hadn't said anything, you wouldn't talk about it to this day, folks. ”And Hillary Clinton, the Democratic competitor, doesn't like Trump's tone. “Sound?” Sneers Trump. “They cut heads everywhere in the Middle East. We need clay, believe me. "

Trump cannot win, some say he is too negative and America always ends up voting for hope. But that fails to recognize the dramaturgy of his appearances. Yes, he paints the evil, the brutal enemies, the incompetence in the capital. But he draws it almost like the past from which he is currently liberating the country. Trump spreads comfort. There is a mix of nostalgia - how great America was - and the prospect that those days will return. "I'm angry because the country is so badly run," he says, "but if we fix it, I won't be angry anymore."

In Ottumwa he designs a future with strength, clarity, competence - with everything that Americans expect from a president. He promises so many victories that you will get bored. “You will say: We can't bear to win anymore,” he shouts in the roaring applause. “And I'll say: No way! We keep winning! "

Results - this is what his followers so ardently expect. Ralph King, the road worker, had said: "I love Trump's cockiness, but I hope in him because he delivers." It is the big difference to the ideologist Ted Cruz. “Cruz reminds me of a friend of mine who never avoided a fight, but only got in the face every time. Trump, on the other hand, has the result in mind, he can also compromise. ”Trump's supporters often say this: They only want a capable manager, and he can be tough and demanding, as long as the cash register is right.

Conventional politicians claim that they are like the people. Then they put on jeans, like Cruz. Trump, on the other hand, promises that the people can be like him. Successful. "I'm greedy," he says, "now I want to be greedy for our country."

When Trump is finished and the people get into their cold cars, a snow storm draws in, fine clouds blow over the street as if the asphalt was steaming. Soon the snow will stick.

One thinks of Trump's ice cream machine in New York. It's loud, it scrapes, it sucks, but then when it turns away, that uniform, sparkling surface remains in the winter sun.

How great is America's longing for shine.