Where better to start our USA road trip than Trump’s town.
New York. The city that never sleeps, where homeless women, with shopping carts full of their meagre, but precious, belongings share the sidewalk with smug, speed-walking bankers, dressed in the finest designer suits only the biggest bonuses can buy.
New York. The centre of the modern world, whose economy, it was revealed earlier this week, is bigger than Russia’s.
New York. The city where dreams – and nightmares – come alive, the city that spawned Donald John Trump, the reality television president who creates chaos every morning before breakfast with a click of his iPhone.
Trump could not have been born in any other city in the world but New York. He is the unruly, spoilt child of this raucous metropolis.
But here’s the thing. He wasn’t brought up in the rarefied atmosphere of the Upper East Side, or even the edgy Lower East Side.
Donald grew up at the end of the line, literally. Earlier this week we took a train out to Queen’s to gawk at Trump’s birthplace, a modest 1940s house in Wareham Place. “This is the end of the line,” intoned the Metro sound system as we disembarked at Jamaica and 179 Street.
The unmistakeable smell of fresh urine hits you as soon as you get off the train. There are homeless men comatose on the subway stairs. Blank-eyed young men in hoodies huddle on the concourse.
I shared the bathroom with two homeless black women. One a silent, older lady who could barely lift her rucksack, bulging with her life’s possessions; the other, a garrulous middle-aged woman who, in a stream-of-consciousness monologue worthy of James Joyce, told me she used to be a nurse, before her hips went. “Now I braids hair to earn enough to eat.”
And she rides the subway, “because you can’t trust drivers on the roads, they gonna knock you down and kill you ... and I made my son get a job, ’cos you can’t have 18-year-olds lying around doing nothing, can you honey?”
Trump’s town. Where on Monday night, a rich, black woman, Rihanna, hit the headlines for dressing like the Pope in a sumptuous John Galliano gown for the annual Met Gala. Few care that every morning a poor black woman brushes her teeth in a filthy public toilet.
Trump has spent his life trying to escape the end of the line. Observers of the 45th President’s psyche – and there are many – suggest he was determined to become Manhattan’s biggest and most notorious property developer in part to show that he, a boy from the outer boroughs, could succeed in the big city.
“I became a city guy instead of a kid from the boroughs,” he says in The Art of the Deal.
And now he is president. America’s elected king, commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful army ... but for how long?
It is impossible to keep up with the news that spills out of Trump’s White House. Cable news tries its best, with the liberal, anti-Trump MSNBC competing with the conservative pro-Trump Fox News in a 24 hours a day battle to the death.
The Washington Post and the New York Times have seen their circulations rise, as a bewildered nation tries to keep up to speed with Trump’s chaotic reign. North Korea. Iran. Russia. Collusion. The Mueller investigation. Michael Cohen. Stormy Daniels. Cash for access.
Every morning sees a new, increasingly improbable story break. And in stark contrast to his predecessor, President Trump makes decisions on the hoof.
“There is no tomorrow with him,” said one seasoned political hack on Thursday morning. “He is only thinking of himself. His decisions are gut driven, there is no political philosophy underpinning him.”
And it feels, here in this rumbustious city, that there is suddenly nothing solid underpinning this great country. Late night TV show hosts sound on the verge of a nervous breakdown, as they mock Trump’s latest gaffe.
People in bars apologise for their president, shaking their heads with disbelief that this two-bit hustler could be the leader of the free world.
Of course, not everyone in these dis-United States thinks Trump is a disaster.
As we travel south on our planned road trip, through Pennsylvania, down the Appalachian Mountains to the Carolinas and beyond, we will encounter many people who fervently belief Donald J Trump can make America great again.
His base believes in his homespun rhetoric. Evangelical Christians ignore his colourful love life. Racists thrill to his threat of building a wall to keep out “aliens”.
His popularity, catalogued every day by hipster polling company Five Thirty-Eight in a tweet, sits stubbornly around the 40–42 per cent mark, and has never fallen below its low of 36.4 per cent last December.
He could hang on until 2020. But not if Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, has anything to do with it. While the patrician Robert Mueller continues, silently, his official probe into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, the shaven-headed, charismatic Mr Avenatti is carrying out his own special investigation, live on television.
It was he who revealed earlier this week that Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, had received millions of dollars from top US companies like AT&T for his “insights” into the Trump administration.
And he promises that he has lots more dirt to dish.
He is never off cable news. “It’s working. It’s working in spades ... because we’re so out front on this, people send us information, people want to help our cause,” he says in response to criticism that he is always in a TV studio.
And his cause is nothing more than the downfall of President Trump.
“He will not serve out his term,” he promises. And watching him this week, his blue eyes blazing, his adrenaline almost palpable, it is hard not to believe him.
It would be some kind of reality television justice if the presidency of Donald J Trump is brought to an ignominious end, not by a former director of the FBI and a team of top-flight attorneys, but by the fast-talking, race-car driving, attention seeking lawyer of a porn star.
It could only happen in America. That is what makes it so great ... for the road trip of a lifetime.