Before he was a cartoon version of a conservative presidential candidate, Donald Trump was a cartoon version of a businessman. He's built hotels, he's built casinos, he's built apartment complexes. He's gone into the airline business, the bottled water business, the video game business, the fake university business, the steak business, the vodka business, the wine business—all the while telling people his name signaled that Trump things were the best, the classiest, the most luxurious. It's like he's living in graffiti mode on Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, trying to tag as much territory as he can before the time limit expires.
Trump's latest presidential campaign has turned into a pretty frightening exercise in right-wing populism, but his message wouldn't have caught on without him being able to make a basic argument: I succeed at everything, I am one of the most competitive, most profitable, and savviest businessmen on the planet, so I am the only one who can Make America Great Again.
Like a lot of people, I can't quite grok the allure of the Donald. I don't just dislike his politics; I'm baffled that his brand has proved to be so enduring. Who is buying these Trump sweatshirts and Trump tie clips? Who's staying at his marble-encrusted hotels and reading his books? Who was ever watching The Apprentice and going, Yes! Yes! This angry man from the 80s has the answers! Was it possible that all this stuff was actually really, really great, and I was missing out?
So I concocted a plan: I would spend an entire workweek—Monday through Friday—saturating myself in all things Trump. I'd eat only Trump-brand foods, wear only Trump-brand clothing, quench my thirst only with delicious Trump Water or Trump Wine. If I wanted to kick back, I'd kick back with Trump's books or an episode of The Apprentice. If I wanted to sleep, a Trump audiobook better be playing.
Would five days of full Trump make me understand his charms? Would it sway me to his side? Could this experiment finally Make Me Great Again, turn me into the winner I always dreamed I'd be? There was only one way to find out.
If there's one place in the world truly ground zero of Trump, it's Midtown Manhattan's Trump Tower. It's where the man himself has lived and worked and filmed The Apprentice; it's where he announced his presidential bid. It's also the best place to stock up on Trump groceries.
I grabbed a few containers of Trump-brand trail mix from the gift shop in the lobby, then some packages of Trump nuts and a case of Trump Water for necessary hydration. It wasn't enough to live on, but it was a start.
I also needed a week's worth of clothes, so I bought one of Trump's ubiquitous "Make America Great Again" hats for $30 and started trying on Trump shirts. The gift shop staff was too busy fighting with a Cuban man to help me much, though. He wanted to buy a Trump hat, but they wouldn't let him because he wasn't a US citizen. Apparently, money spent on Trump campaign merchandise counts as campaign donations, so non-citizens without green cards can't get involved. The Cuban man, who apparently knew the rules better than the staff, started waving his green card in the air and shouting about FEC regulations. I took my rack of water and went home, resolving to buy the rest of my clothes from online bootleggers.
Here's what I left with:
- A case of Trump Water
- One stupid Trump hat
- One travel-sized bottle of Success by Trump cologne
- One hardback copy of The Art of the Deal
- Five plastic tubes of Trump nuts and trail mix
- One glass bottle of Trump gum balls
- Two packages of Trump-brand gummy bears, for old time's sake
Trump swears that he's never had coffee—or alcohol, for that matter—so I decided to avoid it, too. My breakfast consisted of a few handfuls from the tube of Trump trail mix and tea made with boiled Trump Water. I did not feel too Great Again, especially since the stench of Trump cologne made everything I ate taste like sweat and dollar bills.
I'd decided to work through the Trump oeuvre chronologically, so I began with his pre-presidential stuff. That meant I spent most of my day reading The Art of the Deal and half-watching the entire first season of The Apprentice.
I sucked down a can of tomato juice—a classic Trump lunch according to his book—and boiled another Trump tea. By the time Trump was inviting The Apprentice hopefuls up into his penthouse at the top of Trump Tower mid-season, I was starving.
I was also getting some bad looks from coworkers who weren't sure why I was wearing a football jersey with Trump's name on the back and watching reality TV instead of working. At least the red jersey hid tomato juice stains well.
My body desperately needed a real meal, so I dug around online until I found an Ivanka Trump recipe on Pinterest called "Peasant Vegetable Soup." The soup may be for peasants, but the ingredients somehow cost $40. It tasted like parsley and grubs. The pot grew a thin layer of fat across the top like icing as it cooled.
I slept all night with the gentle sounds of a Trump audiobook titled Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and Life tickling my ears. I woke up feeling ready to fucking massacre a boardroom pitch meeting. That heroic feeling quickly fled when I hit the Brooklyn streets in my MAGA hat and a shirt that read "Trump: The Man, the Myth, the Legend." I kept my head down and avoided eye contact for the entire walk to work.
I spent the day watching primary results roll in. This was the Tuesday when Trump took North Carolina, then Illinois, then decimated Marco Rubio in Florida. When it was clear that the guy had all but clinched the GOP nomination, I went home and drowned my feelings in a bottle of Trump Wine. It tasted like Trump had just siphoned Franzia into bottles and printed his name in gold on them, but that was fine with me. Franzia is delicious.
The Trump dreams started Tuesday night. He was a specter haunting my subconscious, wisps of hair and blue wool suits always flitting through my periphery. I woke up to a vision of me chasing Trump around the Trump Tower, always spotting him in the gold-tinted mirrors but losing sight when I turned around.
I got up, shook the dream away, heated up a bowl of leftover Ivanka soup, and set off to make a pilgrimage to the Trump buildings across Manhattan.
I headed first to Wall Street, then Soho, then the Upper West Side. All of Trump's skyscrapers have the same aesthetic—spears of steel and rock and glass, the kind of buildings a child might imagine constructing. They're made to impress, to be photographed by tourists, to stun you with all the space inside, all those shiny floors and dizzying atriums. Anyway, I saw all that, then wound up back at Trump Tower in the early afternoon.
And there, like a bloated ghost suddenly made flesh, was Trump. He was sitting with his back to me in the Trump Tower bar, doing an interview with Fox News. It was him—the man, the myth, the brand, the guy on all my shirts. His golden hair looked stiff and brittle like raw spaghetti, like I could have snapped off a piece as a souvenir had I been a bit closer.
I stared in awe until his security whisked him away, and he lumbered into a car and sped off toward whatever penthouse suite or rabble-rousing rally was next on the schedule.
Tourists drifted through the lobby, basking in the afterglow of this brief and precious Trump encounter. We looked at one another and smiled, knowingly, like we were bonded together by some secret, sacred moment that we could never accurately describe again. I bought a terrible $15 Trump pan pizza and ate it in silence.
He was there in my dreams again, this time more menacing than before, since I had finished up all his business self-help stuff and started falling asleep with his latest book, Crippled America. I didn't wake up ready to stage a corporate coup this time, but I did catch myself seriously considering the practical applications of an impenetrable, climate-controlled dome over our country to keep ISIS out.
I longed for the simpler times, those Monday afternoons that seemed so long ago when all Trump cared about was which Apprentice team would sell the most lemonade in the Meatpacking District.
Here's a list of things I heard Trump talk shit about in Crippled America during a single 2 AM trip to the bathroom:
- Climate scientists
- China again
- "Tree huggers"
I had finished off my last tube of Trump mixed nuts for breakfast, so I headed back to Trump Tower for dinner. Out in the real world, I was a leper in my Trump clothes. People stared and shook their heads and sighed. I took the long route home from work each day, afraid I would run into the Hispanic family that runs my favorite restaurant, and they'd forever brand me a Trumpite. But back inside the pink marbled walls of Trump Tower, I could finally relax. I belonged. I was at home. It was a pretty shitty feeling.
Trump steaks are basically extinct now, but I got the next best thing: a steak sandwich from the Trump Grill. I ordered my meat burned to a crisp, since that's apparently how Donald takes his steak. Trump's recent xenophobia and race-baiting is pretty fucking heinous and all, but, my God, who cooks steak like that? It's inexcusable.
That night I went out dressed in my full Trump regalia. I was waiting for someone to confront me, waiting for someone would ask me why the fuck I was dressed like this, waiting for someone to pick a fight with me, so my faith in humanity would be restored.
No one did. A few people glared. One guy smiled and said, "Fuck Hillary, right?"
I went home and downed another bottle of Trump Wine.
What had I become? Who was that man I saw in the mirror, declaring his love for Trump on cheaply made shirts, eyes rimmed with bags because Crippled America kept him up, weak and malnourished after too many tubes of terrible dollar-store snacks dressed up with Trump's name?
I felt nothing. I was nothing. I could not Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and Life. I was far from Great Again. I was crippled, like America. I saw his burnt umber face scowling down at me when I closed my eyes. I heard his voice in the white noise of cars driving by. Everything smelled like his shitty cologne.
But my week wasn't over. Not yet. I'd tested out tons of awful shit Trump has branded with his name. I'd survived four days on nuts and bad meat and even worse wine. They may all say "luxury" on their labels and be wrapped with gold bows, but luxurious they were not. If I was to truly understand Trump, I realized, I needed some serious goddamn fucking Trump luxury, once and for all. I needed it fast.
So I threw on my Trumpiest blue suit and booked a room at the Trump Hotel.
It was there in the hotel room, that evening, on the seventh story of the Trump Hotel, with Trump slippers on my feet and a Trump towel around my waist, hair wet from a wash with Trump shampoo and soap, hand holding the last glass of Trump-branded wine, that everything finally clicked.
Trump is not about hate. He's not about making America anything, or even about business. Trump's life ambition is for everyone to know that he drives the fanciest cars, dresses in the finest fabrics, beds the world's sexiest women. To be Trump is to constantly announce what a great time you're having and how expensive everything is. Even now, I can't imagine that Trump wants to be president and deal with all the headaches of governing. He wants to be George Washington because the guy's face is on a mountain, that's all. He likes the clapping and cheering and hearing his name. And I get that, I guess. I'm tickled when I see my byline online—I can't imagine the feeling of my name huge on a wall.
Donald Trump is 69 years old. His trophy wives have become ex-trophy wives, his companies have grown and gone bankrupt, he's pulled himself out of the hole he was in in the early 90s. But he's still the middle boy in a five-child house, the son of a father who worked all the time and a mother obsessed with Queen Elizabeth. He's still the kid who punched his second-grade teacher, so someone would acknowledge him.
And now people are! More so than ever before! They're clapping and cheering and fighting for him! He's Tinkerbell in the last act of a Peter Pan play, being brought back to life by love, or at least a reasonable approximation.
I get it, I get it. I feel for you, Trump, Donald, Donny. You're a walking wound, you've got pain, and adulation takes it away. Without all the applause, you'd cease to exist. I'm also like you in some ways, to certain degrees. We're all broken and body conscious, embarrassed by hand size and dick size and thinning hairlines, grasping for places to carve our names in hopes that the words will outlive us.
But come on man, come on. Stick with reality TV. Stick with hotels and buildings and Trump magazines. Don't play out your needs with America, please. If your presidency's on par, quality-wise, with your Trump-branded products, then the whole world is fucked.
Follow River on Twitter.