A little over a year ago, I went on national TV and vowed to never again write about Donald Trump. I believed his candidacy was a stunt and a farce, crass performance art mixed with brazen brand promotion. I didn’t think Trump seriously wanted to be president (and still don’t sometimes). I expected him to flame out in a heap of hubris and incompetence.
Trump had just made his much-vaunted visit to the U.S.-Mexico border. From the moment he’d barged into the race, with the grace and subtlety of the Kool-Aid Man, Trump had made immigration his rallying cry. He assailed Mexico for sending gangs of “rapists” and drug-dealing criminals into the United States and pledged to build a big new border wall to stop them. When he announced plans to tour the border last July, the logical thing to do was to follow him there and document what happened when rhetoric collided with reality.
I’ve reported on politics for nearly a decade. Attended hundreds, if not thousands, of rallies, marches, stump speeches, conventions, fundraisers, press conferences, occupations, sit-ins, fly-ins, and die-ins. Trump’s border visit was unlike any political event I’d ever witnessed.
His original plan called for a tour of the “actual border” near Laredo, Texas, with some local border-patrol agents—a plan, he said, that held “great danger” with no explanation of what the danger was. But the agents bailed last-minute, and Trump instead opted for a brief tour of a nearby trucking port. The greatest danger faced by any of us—Trump, his phalanx of personal security guards, and several hundred members of the U.S. and international press corps, myself included—was a reckless semi spilling crates of lentils onto our heads. And sunburn.