But what was more compelling to me about both the speech and the spirit of the room was how nonideological it all was. Other than undocumented immigrants, who represent a go-to boogeyman for the right, Trump’s targets consisted of a bipartisan assembly of the ‘‘permanent political class’’ that Joan Didion described in her book ‘‘Political Fictions’’: that incestuous band of TV talkers, campaign strategists and candidates that had ‘‘rigged the game’’ and perpetuated the scripted awfulness of our politics. ‘‘Everyone knows that what you see in politics is fake or confected,’’ Didion wrote. ‘‘But everyone’s O.K. with that, because it’s all been focus-grouped.’’
Resentment of this class has built over several years. It has been expressed on both sides, by the rise of insurgent movements like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street (Trump’s railing against fund-raiser ‘‘blood money,’’ ‘‘bloodsucker’’ lobbyists and Wall Street ‘‘paper pushers’’ would play well across the board). As a reporter in Washington, I, too, have grown exceedingly weary of this world — the familiar faces, recycled tropes and politics as usual — and here was none other than Donald J. Trump, the billionaire blowhard whom I had resisted as a cartoonish demagogue, defiling it with resonance. He tacked not to the left or to the right, but against the ‘‘losers’’ and ‘‘scumbags’’ in the various chapters of the club: the pundits who ‘‘wear heavy glasses’’ and ‘‘sit around the table,’’ the ‘‘political hacks’’ selling out American interests overseas. Karl Rove ‘‘is a totally incompetent jerk,’’ Trump told the crowd in Dallas, referring to the Fox News commentator and chief Republican strategist of the George W. Bush years. The crowd went nuts at the Rove put-down, which in itself is remarkable — the ‘‘architect’’ of Bush’s political ride being abused by a right-leaning crowd in Bush’s home state.
It was at this point that I began to feel glad I decided to write about Trump, who seemed to have clearly seized on some profound exhaustion with our politics. There’s very little difference between Trump when he’s not running for president and Trump now that he is running for president, except that he makes more public appearances. Trump is the same boorish, brash and grandiose showman we’ve known across many realms. And for some reason, that character has proved an incendiary match with this political moment. It was a repeat of what I saw that night of the first debate, when the whole room abandoned the professional campaign surrogates in favor of the blazing chaos of Trump himself. Was Trump the logical byproduct of a cancerous system in which American democracy has mutated into a gold rush of cheap celebrity, wealth creation and narcissistic branding madness? Or has he merely wielded the tools of this transformation — his money, celebrity and dominance of the media — against the forces that have engendered this disgust in the system to begin with?