that happened

The Time Donald Trump Got to Play With a Big Truck

Trump and his toy. Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photos: Getty Images

The Trump era has been defined in large part by its everyday surreality. As we approach January 20, we’re looking back on some strange but perhaps lesser-remembered moments from the last few weird years.

The Trump presidency has been bad for the world, bad for America, and bad for my fragile brain. I used to have ideas, but now my mind is a burned-out hellscape. Where beliefs and opinions once lived, an abandoned shopping cart now rattles. I am a husk. I contain only one thought, one event I am doomed to contemplate. And that is the day Donald Trump got to play with a truck.

Maybe you remember. (It happened three years ago, which might as well be last century.) The president of the United States put on a button that said “I <3 Trucks,” and went to greet trucking-industry representatives in front of the White House. So far, so typical; presidents do a lot of risible things. The Easter Egg Roll alone deserves a separate takedown. But Trump seemed unusually enthusiastic about this particular event. “No one knows America like truckers know America,” he said. “You see it every day. You see every hill, and you see every valley and you see every pothole in our roads that have to be rebuilt.”

Then, the moment small children dream about. Trump climbed into the cab of a Mack truck, repeatedly honked the horn, and made a face that is burned permanently into my memories.

Even when Trump appears to be experiencing childlike pleasure, it feels like there’s a malicious edge to it. By the time Truck Day occurred, he’d already made good on some of his racist campaign promises, like instituting the infamous Muslim travel ban, and it was clear the rest of his presidency would be more of the same. The incident was representative of so much of the last four years: stupidity so pronounced that it was surreal to behold, with the hum of constant cruelty in the background.

I cannot stop thinking about Truck Day. It’s the happiest I have ever seen Donald Trump look. I believe he’s fonder of this truck than he is of his wife and children. I am convinced that he wanted to steal it. To drive away with it into the sunset, Mr. Toad’s last wild ride. Has he always loved trucks? Or did he discover something new and unexpected about himself that day? Perhaps the president hides his own Rosebud, a fragment of childhood purity, in the shape of a Hess toy truck.

But with Trump it’s best not to read too deeply into his actions. He is not a complex personality. Trump  wants. He wants power, women, money, whatever. And on that day in American history, I suspect he just wanted a truck. A big truck, with menacing wheels and a noisy horn. Who doesn’t? America loves its vehicles, the larger and more environmentally destructive the better. Vroom vroom.

The Time Donald Trump Got to Play With a Big Truck