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All the world’s a stage: What happens when Donald Trump misses his exit cue?

Donald Trump. (Photo: Stefani Reynolds / Sipa / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Somehow Donald Trump hasn’t quite got the word that he lost the election and time has moved on. He is now trying to restructure his party in his own image.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…
…And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness, and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

William Shakespeare (The Seven Ages of Man, from As You Like It)

Somehow there was an expectation we would not be writing very much about Donald Trump anymore, now that he was truly out of the White House and launched into an angry, querulous retirement — a kind of exile, really — in New Jersey and Florida. 

Ex-presidents generally spend their first years out of office easing back, settling into retirement, penning their memoirs and lining up a few corporate board gigs to keep the financial wheels turning if necessary. 

Yes, perhaps we might be required to do a story or two in the future about the ex-president’s increasingly quixotic quest for respectability and his increasingly frantic search for love from his diminishing crowd of true believers. But, inevitably, the spotlight on him would wane as he headed inexorably into the sixth and then the seventh — and final — stage of man, just as Shakespeare had explained to us four centuries ago.

Immediately after midday on 20 January, instead of being the most powerful man on the planet capable of turning North Korea into a nuclear wasteland in a heartbeat if he so chose, he was now being assailed by a growing list of investigations and potential lawsuits. 

Ultimately there may also be some real and very damaging indictments being issued from several state and federal government prosecutorial offices. In theory, those challenges would absorb what energy he had, perhaps even ahead of making his business empire thrive again after all the growing losses due to the Covid pandemic and a growing reluctance on the part of many to use his hotels and clubs, now that the ex-president was, well, an ex. 

Some of those lawsuits and indictments increasingly had the possibility of being major trouble, and even, perhaps, down the road some way, time as an involuntary guest of the government — meals and uniform included — but definitely not in the White House.

Following the 6 January riot/mob action/insurrection/attempted revolution (call it what you prefer) designed to halt Congress’s certification of Joe Biden’s substantial popular and electoral vote victory in the 2020 election, an insurrection egged on by the then president’s incendiary rhetoric at his rally, just before it became an attack on the Capitol building, something of a pushback had begun. This was the case, even if the second impeachment trial failed to return a guilty verdict. 

On the basis of his continuing recitation of all the lies about the giant hoax of a “rigged election”, the ex-president was booted off both Twitter and Facebook — what had been his prime channels for communicating to his followers. Then, humiliatingly, his stumbling, bumbling blog/website that went live once he had skulked out of Washington was a dud, getting less traffic than a dog-grooming site. The organisers cancelled it out of humiliation and embarrassment. A big ouch, that was. 

There among the Trumpians, in the past several days, leaks — real or contrived — have been emanating from what is left of the ex’s political operation that he continues to be obsessed with faux facts about the newest audit in Arizona, and finding any conceivable way to get the previously certified voting results from Arizona, Georgia (and perhaps elsewhere) de-certified, thereby allowing some kind of totally unconstitutional and thoroughly delusional return to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, a plan called by his enablers: “reinstatement”. 

That is perhaps like being allowed back into an exclusive golf club after abjectly apologising for swearing at someone’s caddy and stealing the other player’s golf balls.

Never mind that there is no mechanism for such an electoral overthrow and that five dozen or so court-based attempts have been totally ineffective in changing any votes because no evidence of real vote fraud has been presented. 

Even that Arizona recount now being undertaken by a flimflamming, right-wing, conspiracy peddling outfit that has hyped the legend of the big steal will, in the end, fail to garner a court blessing and it will all prove to be a waste of time, money and energy, even if it feeds the myth. 

Meanwhile, all this fraudulently manufactured sturm und drang continues to feed the maw of those who believe tales like the latest one now on offer: Shady Italian operatives secretly used someone’s satellite network to alter the votes already captured by voting machines. Somehow. Really, you couldn’t make this stuff up, but there it is, anyway.

Meanwhile, one of the ex-president’s formerly close advisers, the disgraced general and very short-term national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has starting pontificating on nuttier right-wing “news” channels that it would be excellent if the US were to have a military coup just like the one that took place in Myanmar recently. 

This would enable the ex-president to take his victory lap after all, and then the real winners could get back to work, making America great again. And, of course, that same ex-president continues to get breathless advice from “The Pillow Guy”, Mike Lindell, the posture-supporting pillow manufacturer who has been bankrolling some of the more bizarre investigations into the putative vote fraud in a very real, but chimerical search for a golden unicorn. 

The ex has collected a strange assembly of people as advisers who wouldn’t be out of place in a cinematic parody of contemporary political life, and this still leaves out some of the kookier lawyers feeding chum to the ex.

Never mind all of that. Despite everything, the ex-president seems to have firmly determined he will turn himself into kingmaker for the 2022 mid-term election — and then, the electoral gods willing — make a triumphal return himself as his party’s standard-bearer in the presidential election in 2024. 

This plan obviously flies in the face of the fact that several other GOP figures are already trying — gingerly — to position themselves as the possible nominee, but at least until now, none has figured out a way to elbow — or ease — the ex-president out of the way so as to gather up the Trumpian loyalists among the larger universe of Republican voters. 

Of course, there are still several years to go and many opportunities for electorally fatal miscues. And all of these potential candidates must still figure out which way the ex-president will move on his own or in someone else’s stead before they make a real move for the brass ring.

In the meantime, the former chief executive is still working hard to put his weight (and that of his diehard supporters) behind candidates in primary contests in Republican-held congressional seats. He is already busy picking people to endorse as candidates in House and Senate races for upcoming primary elections within the Republican Party for 2022. 

Part of this strategy is a recognition that the ex’s loyalists will likely number a majority of voters in any given primary race (where the total of voters is significantly lower than the number who turn out for the actual election) and that Republican voters will fall in line behind nominees backed by the ex, almost regardless of the candidates’ respective sanities.  

As a result, the ex is beginning to carry out a round of speeches at various Republican Party state gatherings of the faithful, such as the one over the past weekend in Greenville, North Carolina. Covering this event, the New York Times reported, “But when he spoke on Saturday night to the North Carolina Republican convention in what was billed as the resumption of his rallies and speeches, Mr Trump was both a diminished figure and an oversized presence in American life, with a remarkable — and many say dangerous — hold on his party.

“Even without his favoured megaphones and the trappings of office, Mr Trump looms over the political landscape, animated by the lie that he won the 2020 election and his own fury over his defeat. And unlike others with a grievance, he has been able to impose his anger and preferred version of reality on a substantial slice of the American electorate — with the potential to influence the nation’s politics and weaken faith in its elections for years to come…

“Still blocked from Twitter and Facebook, he has struggled to find a way to influence news coverage since leaving office and promote the fabrication that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

“In his 90-minute speech on Saturday, Mr Trump repeatedly took aim at China for the coronavirus, ran through a litany of conservative culture war issues and ended with an extended frontal attack on voting and American democracy in which he endorsed a long list of Republican voter suppression proposals…

“He raised fanciful, fact-free allegations of widespread fraud and ‘thousands’ of dead people having voted for President Biden, called for voting to be limited in nearly all cases to voting in person on election day, and dismissed the results of the 2020 election as a product of the ‘crime of the century’.”

According to various other reports on this speech (and thus a likely guide to what will come in all the future ones), much of the boilerplate about electoral stealing by those nasty Democrats failed to elicit much of a roar from the crowd, even if they were bullet points at the core of the ex-president’s being. 

But two newish themes did stand out. 

First was his blaming China (and bogeyman Dr Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health) for the pandemic, and demanding trillions of dollars in reparations from China for having caused it all. The second was his castigation of the academic approach identified as “critical race theory” in the teaching of American history. 

Both of those targets played well with a crowd that appeared eager to identify, then slam an enemy, and appoint a champion to defeat them. 

The first, China, was the external enemy — those malevolent Chinese are trying to wreck the country with a dreadful disease that they created and unleashed upon the world. The second was all those mendacious professors (you certainly knew what he meant by that critique) who are insistent on inserting a thorough examination of racial injustice in America’s past, and who clearly hate America and all it used to represent. 

That second punching bag is a stand-in for everything feared or disliked about the growing multicultural, multiracial norms emerging in the country — and the displacement of an earlier Wasp-led vision of the nation throughout its history. 

Given this reception at his reappearance nationally, it seems possible that history may not be quite done with Donald Trump, even if the man himself will, soon enough, be forced to face that seventh age, per William Shakespeare. 

The question then becomes: Who will become the heir to trumpism (lower case ‘t’) once the ex actually, finally, definitively fades from view? 

Will his endorsements of congressional candidates within the party have so sufficiently reshaped the party that whoever becomes the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2024 will need to stand up for the kind of personality-based, grievance and anger populism the ex-president did? 

Or will there be a re-reshaping of the party in a fightback by the remaining old guard to reflect the kinds of core conservative values once adhered to by nearly all of its officeholders? 

This will be a particularly consequential battle to watch and it will likely define whether the Republicans as now described become a permanent minority party as their core base continues to shrink relative to the ongoing demographic changes in America’s population — a nation that is increasingly suburban, college-educated and much more racially and ethnically varied than the Republicans have been able to embrace so far. DM

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  • Excellent update on what’s been happening with the thankfully discredited and should-be disgraced Donald while we were not looking. We have to thank the virus, if not his bogeyman the Chinese, for his loss of a 2nd term. Let’s not forget that. The economy was soaring at the end of 2019. Your piece is deliciously poetic if a little too long. The prospect of a Trump comeback himself, or of a clone, is beyond understanding based as it is on the Big Lie. How can his followers be so mesmerised into believing such non-sense? That ability to so twist the truth of what has happened, and to project it and inject it into a third of US adult heads, is what is really scary and so dangerous. It is therefore critical that Biden’s ambitious initiatives bite and make a difference in these four years, which will put paid to Trump’s lunacy.

    • Just a point of context. Far from soaring, the American economy was losing momentum at the end of 2019; and in the first quarter of 2020 — before any Covid effects — GDP “growth” was negative: well below zero. The economy of Trump’s bluster was in trouble before Covid.

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