In the last days of the US presidential election campaign I visited Punxsutawney, the Pennsylvania town immortalized in the film Groundhog Day. The lead character, played by Bill Murray, is trapped in time, the dawn of each day heralded by the same song and the same weather report on the same radio station. I have been living my own version of Groundhog Day for more than a month.
Every morning, I awake to a batch of emails from a man I have never met, who addresses me as if we were old friends while desperately pleading for cash. His name is Donald J Trump. His approach has all the sophistication of a door-to-door salesman striving to convince me to buy a keg of bleach as a remedy for the coronavirus.
The first email arrived two days after the election, and it included far more bold type, italics and underlinings than is worth reproducing here. “John, I need you,” it began. “The Left will try to STEAL this Election! I’m calling on YOU to step up & FIGHT BACK. Your support is critical right now, John. We must protect the integrity of this Election. Can I count on you? Please contribute $5 IMMEDIATELY to the Official Election Defense Fund.” The message went on to say that I could contribute $10, or $15 or $20 or much more if I so wished. It ended: “Thank you, Donald J Trump, President of the United States.”
The reason I received the email, I assumed, was that prior to attending a Trump rally in Pennsylvania, I had filled in a Trump campaign form on the web, thinking I would need to do so in order to be allowed in. I was mistaken. Everyone was welcome at Trump’s aerosol-rich, 15,000-strong Covid death orgy. As one of three people wearing a mask, I survived to tell the tale, and to receive the emails.
His name is Donald J Trump. His approach has all the sophistication of a door-to-door salesman.
Since that first one on November 5, I have received another 130 from the president himself and another 50 or so from his son Eric, from his daughter-in-law Lara or from his lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Once, I received a touching and immensely flattering personal message from Trump’s wife, Melania.
The words change, but the tone is always the same. One day it is my “patriotic duty” to stand by the president. Another it is “for the good of the country”. Another it is “to defend the constitution”. Always, I am enjoined to part with my money.
The day after Thanksgiving, November 27 — Black Friday in online marketing-speak — I got this: “John, You’ve always been one of my TOP supporters, and now I have an EXCLUSIVE offer just for YOU. For TODAY ONLY, I’m giving YOU a FREE TRUMP GIFT to show you just how much you mean to me. This offer is meant for YOU, John, and is not intended to be shared. You have 1 HOUR to claim your FREE TRUMP BLACK FRIDAY GIFT before I release it to the next Patriot in line. Don’t wait.”
At last, true friendship, I thought. It’s not all take, take, take. Donald gives too. Or so I imagined, until I read the next line, in bright red: “Please contribute at least $35 IMMEDIATELY to claim your FREE TRUMP BLACK FRIDAY GIFT.”
Seriously, who is taken in by this stuff? What kind of a sucker do you have to be? Surely people are not falling for it. They are. Millions have paid up, and millions have been received. The New York Times reported on December 1 that Trump had raised $170m in donations since the election. In less than a week the figure had gone up to $207m.
The salesman president has not failed to seize on the opportunities the festive season provides. Here’s an email I received on Monday morning. “John, I have something special for you. You’ve always been a TOP supporter of our movement, so when I saw our beautiful new 2020 Trump Christmas Ornaments, I knew that YOU needed to have one IMMEDIATELY.
“You have 1 HOUR to claim your FREE TRUMP BLACK FRIDAY GIFT before I release it to the next Patriot in line.”
“We only have a limited supply left, so I’m saving one for YOU for the NEXT HOUR. After we run out, you’ll NEVER have another chance to get one of our ICONIC Trump Christmas Ornaments, so don’t wait. Please contribute $5 immediately to claim your 2020 Trump ornament.”
And then there’s the calendar, which is where Melania comes in. “John, our incredible First Lady, Melania Trump, handpicked the beautiful photos for our BRAND NEW 2021 Trump Calendar. She said to me, ‘Darling, I want John to have PRIORITY-ACCESS to get the calendar FIRST.’ That’s right — YOU are one of my strongest allies, so I’m saving one of our ICONIC calendars for you. All you have to do is contribute $30 RIGHT NOW to claim yours.”
Where is the money going? To the “Official Election Defense Fund”, presumably, to help pay Giuliani’s $20,000-a-day fees and to finance more than 50 lawsuits that have been filed to challenge the election results — reportedly all but one of which Trump has lost.
The speculation in the US press is that much of the money will end up in Trump’s pocket, a suspicion reinforced by a ruling almost a year ago by the attorney general of New York, Letitia James. It read: “Not only has the Trump Foundation been shut down for its misconduct, but the president has been forced to pay $2 million for misusing charitable funds for his own political gain.”
Still the president keeps plugging away. This one was on Wednesday: “John, I have URGENT news! According to the LIES reported by the Fake News Media, [Joe] Biden received 15 MILLION more votes than [Barack] Obama did in the 2012 Election. Does anyone actually believe that? … I want you to know that this is far from over, John. In fact, I have decided to EXTEND our critical fundraising deadline to ensure our team has the resources we need to continue FIGHTING for the FUTURE of our Country. Please contribute $5 IMMEDIATELY …”
The latest email — freshly pinged into my phone as I write — is titled “Make Christmas Great Again”. I am offered the chance to send a Christmas message to Donald and Melania, which — if accompanied by $5, or $10, or $15 — will “guarantee” me a place “AT THE VERY TOP” of the list. I will see my name in lights.
Trump knows his market, and the chances are that he will extend the fundraising deadline right through to a re-election bid in 2024. I could unsubscribe from the mailing list, but I shan’t, partly out of journalistic duty, partly because of the dumb fascination he exerts over me — like a rabbit caught in headlights. For me and the rest of the rabbits, our Groundhog Day could last four more years.
John Carlin is a London-based author of numerous books, including Mandela and the General