UNRAVELLING OF TRUMP
Fading reality TV star bunkers down in unreality of his holodeck
These are heady, unsettling days for the transition from the Donald Trump administration to that of the incoming president. The incumbent president is doing his level best to erode national faith in the US’s democratic processes.
These days, the White House is a hub of activity. Unfortunately, that activity has little to do with actual governing by the president or his senior staff – let alone those not at work because they have been quarantined due to exposure to Covid-19 or testing positive themselves. Instead, it has to do with creating and continuing a totally unreal universe that only vaguely resembles the real one the rest of us live in. That, unfortunately, has real implications for the universe most of the world’s people live in.
It is almost as if, deep in the bowels of the executive mansion, just down the corridor from that now-infamous secure bunker, there is a secret chamber housing a Star Trek-like holodeck, accessible only by those in the know and who have access to the secret entry code. There, the president and what is now a slowly diminishing band of Bittereinders such as press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and former presidential bag carrier and now effectively the head of personnel for the White House, John McEntee, can spend hours parsing out the final two months of Donald Trump’s presidency.
But that is in a universe much more in accordance with their vain hopes, dreams, and fantasies than the real one that exists outside the room. Even at this late date, with just two months left in Trump’s administration, McEntee seems in charge of the defenestration of any political appointee in a senior executive position such as former defence secretary Mark Esper, who has been deemed insufficiently personally loyal to Trump.
Or perhaps it was New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, citing historian Michael Beschloss’s approach, who offered an alternative way of seeing this increasingly sad and deeply embarrassing phenomenon. As Dowd wrote, “Many see a wannabe despot barricaded in the bunker, stubby fingers clinging to the levers of power as words that mean nothing to him – democracy, electoral integrity, peaceful transition, constitutionality – swirl above.
“One presidential historian sees something different in Donald Trump’s swan song. Michael Beschloss has been tweeting pictures of Hollywood’s most famous divas, shut-ins and head cases.
“Norma Desmond watching movies of herself, hour after hour, shrouded in her mansion on Sunset Boulevard as ‘the dream she had clung to so desperately enfolded her.’ Howard Hughes, descending into germaphobia, madness and seclusion. Greta Garbo, sequestered behind her hat and sunglasses. Charles Foster Kane, missing the roar of the crowd as he spirals at Xanadu, his dilapidated pleasure palace.
“The president and his cronies are likely to do real damage and major grifting in the next two months. But in other ways, the picture of the president as a pathetic, unraveling diva is apt. Trump has said in interviews and at rallies that two of his favorite movies are the black-and-white classics about stars collapsing in on themselves, ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘Sunset Boulevard’.
“In ‘Sunset Boulevard,’ Max the butler and a camera crew conspire to make the demented silent film star believe she’s getting her close-up when she’s actually just being lured down the staircase to answer for her sins.
“The Republicans enabling Trump’s delusion are like the camera crew, filming a scene with the disintegrating diva that is never going to be seen.”
Even less benign (and maybe more unnervingly accurate), of course, are the final scenes from the film Downfall to serve as a model for the White House’s present agonies. This film portrays the final, drug-fuelled, increasingly hallucinogenic days inside Adolf Hitler’s claustrophobic bunker beneath the Berlin streets, even as the Russian troops come ever closer to capturing Berlin. In that bizarre world, Hitler issues orders to deploy wonder weapons and military units that do not exist in order to win a battle in a war already lost. Sounds familiar, eh?
In the days after the election, as the vote count neared completeness, Donald Trump was away without leave from the country’s business for days, except for inevitable golf rounds at one of his clubs. Eventually, he reemerged, to preside – unsteadily – over public announcements about the progress with the Pfizer Covid vaccination.
The president’s remarks were a combination of his typical braggadocio about wondrous anti-disease weapons and a brief moment of some uncharacteristic tentativeness about whichever administration is in charge, come spring when the vaccine (two doses and stored and delivered in subzero cold chains) is finally available. (In a tweet over the weekend, the president half-admitted his defeat but blamed the big fraud, saying, “He won because the Election was Rigged”. In later tweets he began dialling back even that admission.)
Meanwhile, back at the White House, or perhaps on the holodeck or in the movie that runs in his head, Trump was railing about the duplicitousness of Big Pharma and the “deep state” inside the US government’s Food and Drug Administration. Per Trump, they had cynically been keeping this joyous news from the nation just long enough to avoid announcing it in the last few days before Election Day.
Needless to say, there simply is no evidence that the timetable of information release was warped to avoid giving the Trump campaign the one bump it needed to scratch out a win on 3 November. But never mind, it all fits the narrative of that vast coalition of forces working overtime to overthrow the valiant Donald Trump. However, there has been no public messaging from the president to reassure the nation over Covid-19 or the economy, or to lead it in the face of a growing, monstrous third wave of Covid infections and fatalities. Nada. The presidential message really seems to be: “Nope, not in my job description, sorry.”
On the transition front, the president’s lawyers have been persisting in pursuing court rulings that would disallow collections of mail-in ballots or end vote counts that came in after 3 November. (Or, contradictorily, in one or two states, insisting that all his votes were not being counted.) So far, no judge – federal or state – has blessed any of these efforts (including nine cases tossed or withdrawn so far).
He only won in the eyes of the FAKE NEWS MEDIA. I concede NOTHING! We have a long way to go. This was a RIGGED ELECTION!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2020
Moreover, several of the big law firms that had been carrying the president’s water on this front have backed out from even acting on behalf of the campaign. And every state election office has said there had been no fraud, corruption, cheating, rigging, legerdemain, transubstantiation, or other crimes with the ballots. The national government’s Department of Homeland Security has essentially said the exact same thing. There is no there, there. The Trump campaign now is trying to argue some super-secret, mysterious force managed somehow to alter millions of votes cast, but even that evidence-free fairytale has been completely rejected by senior federal officials. Poltergeists at work there, perhaps. On social media, figures like Newt Gingrich and actor Jon Voight have also been feeding a false narrative that a stalwart Republican president was stabbed in the back, in a manner sadly redolent of the post-World War I rhetoric that Germany’s defeat was due to a secret stab in the back.
As the political commentator Fareed Zakaria wrote on this topic the other day: “But Trump is attacking, defaming and delegitimising US elections in a manner unprecedented in the country’s history. His obstructionism won’t keep him in power, but it will deeply wound America’s democratic culture. He is whipping his base into a frenzy about a stolen election, and few of them are going to change their minds because of court decisions and recounts. The conspiracy theory of the stolen election of 2020 is here to stay….
“The historical parallel that seems most appropriate today is a very dark one. After Germany surrendered at the end of World War I, ultraright-wing groups concocted the myth that Germany was actually on the verge of winning the war in November 1918 but surrendered because of a conspiracy to destroy the country plotted by certain communists and Jews. In his book, ‘The Death of Democracy,’ historian Benjamin Carter Hett explains why this ‘stab in the back’ theory endured: ‘The trauma of defeat left millions of Germans believing a particular narrative about the war not because it was demonstrably true, but because it was emotionally necessary.’ Adolf Hitler often raised the topic during his rise to power. During a 1922 speech, he said, ‘We must call to account the November criminals of 1918. It cannot be that two million Germans should have fallen in vain and that afterwards, one should sit down as friends at the same table with traitors. No, we do not pardon, we demand – Vengeance!’
“Today, Newt Gingrich says, ‘I think [Biden] would have to do a lot to convince Republicans that this is anything except a left-wing power grab financed by people like George Soros, deeply laid in at the local level…. It’s very hard for me to understand how we’re going to work together.’ Trump retweeted a video of actor Jon Voight saying, ‘This is now our greatest fight since the Civil War, the battle of righteousness versus Satan. Yes, Satan, because these leftists are evil, corrupt and they want to tear down this nation…. Let us fight this fight as if it is our last fight on Earth.’”
Oh great, it’s a religious war too.
The transparent nonsense of allegations about fraud and stabs in the metaphorical back hasn’t stopped the Trump campaign from gearing up a so-called “Million Maga March” (goosed along by Roger Stone, Trump’s long-time, favourite second-storey man) that lurched into Washington, DC, on Saturday. Some thousands of the true believers brought their banners, signs, and chants; and, by nightfall, they could be found engaged in minor scuffles with knots of anti-Trump marchers.
Meanwhile, back among the adults, the president-elect, Joe Biden, has been setting up an unofficial transition office – unofficial because the Trump administration continues to be unwilling to allow the General Services Agency to issue the necessary memorandum to fund the president-elect’s efforts, per law and tradition both. But Biden does have nearly half a century of federal government service as a senator and vice-president and he obviously already knows many of the people he will want to appoint to senior administration positions. In fact, he has already named a Covid working group, and Democratic Party and White House veteran Ron Klain as his chief of staff. But they cannot access CIA briefings for Biden and Kamala Harris; they cannot send in transition “landing parties” to all of the government departments; and they are unable to get the security clearances for transition staffers or would-be appointees. This is entirely new territory for a peaceful transition between chief executives.
Some Republican leaders are beginning to label this Trumpian intransigence as the early stages of grief, and that left alone to come to terms with this, Donald Trump will leave the holodeck, come out from the bunker, and stop watching the old films in his mind. Those are the films that show him as the leader of a movement of patriots against a vast conspiracy of evildoers intent on turning the country over to radical socialists and antifa wreckers. Joe Biden as a radical socialist – really?
Regardless of the holodeck, a growing number of foreign leaders have sent their congratulations to the president-elect, including the Chinese government. The one big nation still holding out in sending formal congratulations is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Perhaps in the Kremlin they are trying to calculate just how much benefit there is for them in singling their willingness to embrace a peaceful change of government and transfer of power in Washington. As realists, they are undoubtedly not dwelling in their version of the holodeck. Instead, they appear to be moving on, expanding their efforts to stake out further influence in the fringes of the Middle East, for example, as with news Russia is developing a naval base on the Red Sea coast of Sudan. A range of other developments around the globe like that will confront the incoming president, right from the starting gate, whether or not the transition process goes smoothly, or even if Trump harrumphs his way to refusing to attend his successor’s inauguration and being led out of the White House almost under duress. DM
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