It has been clear to all rational observers since the end of the first week in November that President Donald J. Trump had lost his bid for re-election. During these weeks of interregnum – if he had acted in a classy manner, if he had hyped his Administration’s leadership in the development of Coronavirus vaccines instead of wallowing in his own perceived personal misfortunes, if he had pushed recalcitrant Republican members of Congress to boost payments to Americans in need – Mr. Trump could – even if just for his own self-interest, which is obviously all he cares about — have laid pretty credible – if unnerving — groundwork for a comeback. He has instead roiled the nation in a petulant tantrum that wouldn’t be acceptable from a three-year-old, actively harmed our national security by obstructing the transition to the Biden Administration that all – including him – know is going to occur, ludicrously discounted the unanimous opinion of analysts (including his own Secretary of State) that the recent deep and widespread penetration of our governmental and private systems was perpetrated by Russia, abandoned his post as thousands more Americans succumbed to the pandemic, pardoned mass murderers and those that collaborated with Russians to get him elected in 2016, vetoed the National Defense Appropriations Act, which provides for military pay and funds many strategic defense initiatives, in a fit of pique over Congress’ plans to rename military installations now named for Confederate luminaries and its refusal to remove certain legal protections for internet companies, and most appallingly — perhaps the most “Let them eat cake” moment in American history – held up, while playing golf, in signing the torturously-negotiated Congressional COVID-relief bill, a pause which will reportedly cause a delay in payment of unemployment benefits to millions of Americans on the edge of starvation or eviction. (Mr. Trump’s call for a sharp increase in benefits for Americans, after the bill had passed, is a transparent populist ploy to spite Republicans whom he considers to have deserted him by acknowledging Mr. Biden’s Electoral College victory).
As I commented once before in these pages, the final irony emerging from these days’ events is Mr. Trump’s evident willingness to do anything to stay in power when contrasted with his equally evident lack of interest in actually doing the job.
I would suggest that the manner in which Mr. Trump has behaved since his defeat indicates that despite any future feints, he has no intent to return in an elected capacity. I will venture that when the smoke clears, his behavior throughout his term and after the election will reduce him to a niche — albeit impressive — political and media force, which may be all he truly ever wanted when he launched his seemingly quixotic 2016 campaign. Given the devastatingly effective manner in which he has damaged our institutions and placed doubt in so many Americans’ minds regarding the integrity of our democratic processes, the suspicion that he is a Russian puppet will persist in the mind of anyone that has done any reading regarding the ways and means of Russian President Vladimir Putin (although, as also previously noted in these pages, Bob Woodward reported in his book, Rage, that Trump Administration Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats “… suspected the worst but found nothing that would show Trump was indeed in Putin’s pocket.”)
I’m confident that President-Elect Biden and his aides already recognize that Mr. Trump will continue to be either a knowing or unwitting Russian corroder of American democracy in his post-presidency. How to handle Mr. Trump will be one of the most difficult decisions for the incoming President and his team, requiring sensitivity akin to that which will be needed in dealing with the Coronavirus, managing relations with our foreign allies and adversaries, and coming to grips with our exploding debt and burgeoning social benefits obligations. Any decision by the Biden Administration to prosecute Mr. Trump and his cohort in the name of the rule of law on what will undoubtedly be a myriad of valid grounds will keep Mr. Trump in the spotlight, provide his followers a rallying point, force mainstream Republicans to defend him, and earn him millions in a defense fund, all while offering little chance of a conviction; any decision by the Administration not to pursue him will signal an acquiescence to the disintegration of the rule of law, perhaps serve as an invitation to malefaction for Mr. Trump and others, and leave Mr. Biden open to divisive attack by inflamed and disenchanted progressives. My current inclination is that the latter course will be marginally less destructive to our nation than the former, but it’s awfully close, and my own view might shift depending upon what might be uncovered after Mr. Trump leaves the White House.
During the last five years, it cannot be gainsaid that President Trump struck a chord in the American psyche which will continue to reverberate after his term ends, and will need to be addressed if we are to go forth as a cohesive people. These pages will undoubtedly cite him in the future as a touchstone when considering the evolution of our political environment. That said, unless Mr. Trump executes machinations before Inauguration Day constituting a substantive threat to our Republic, I’m turning off the Trump Show for now. In recent days, I’ve actually engaged in the luxury of reading on substantive policy issues – reading for which I found that I had little enthusiasm while the danger of a second Trump term, and what I feared it would mean for American democracy, loomed large. In Rage, Mr. Woodward reports a comment made by Mr. Trump during their last conversation on July 21, 2020, that I was surprised to see neither Mr. Woodward nor any other reviewer remark upon, they perhaps deeming it innocuous … but to me resonating as the most ominous:
“‘You don’t understand me,’ [Mr. Trump] said [to Mr. Woodward]. ‘You don’t understand me. But that’s okay. You’ll understand me after the election. But you don’t understand me now. I don’t think you get it. And that’s okay.’” [Emphasis Added]
Stay safe. Despite the perils ahead, the prospective departure of a President with fascist instincts and the arrival of Coronavirus vaccines truly offer reasons to be hopeful for a better 2021.
Happy New Year.