Hit the Road, Jack
The end of an error. A big, fat, catastrophic error.
It has been four very long years. So, now, on the eve of a historic transition, let us pause to savor the ignominious, much-deserved departure of Donald John Trump, a man who had no business being President of the United States (no business in public life full stop, if you ask me), who discharged the job in the worst manner of anyone ever to hold it, and who is now leaving in greater disgrace than any of his predecessors, even that guy from California who had such enthusiasm for tape recording technology.
It will take years of effort and encyclopedia-length volumes to detail all of Trump’s horrors, and I will not attempt a thorough survey here. We know them all too well, so let’s not be masochists and subject ourselves to a review right now. Plenty of time for that.
Suffice it to say that this man has left the country damaged in almost every imaginable way, our international standing dealt a grievous blow from which we may never recover, bigots and racists given the high sign to come out brazenly into the light and parade their vile views, divisiveness at a historic worst in the post-Civil War era, the very concept of Truth and objective reality devalued, not to mention 400,000 of our fellow Americans dead—the same number killed in World War II—felled by a historic pandemic that he criminally mishandled and even actively made worse.
Oh, and also: The further demonization of immigrants; the normalization of wanton graft and corruption by elected official; the debasement of discourse and coarsening of our national dialogue; the empowerment of violent domestic insurgents to include neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and militia members; the weaponization of lies, the politicization of the military, the applauding of police brutality; the kidnaping and caging of children; the emboldening of foreign dictators; the craven surrender to the Kremlin….
I did say I wasn’t going to go into the laundry list, didn’t I? My bad. It’s pretty tempting.
In short, Trump proved to be far worse on every front than even the most dire predictions from his critics, belying the bluff confidence of condescending Republicans, up to and including perhaps the most egregious sin possible for an American president: violently attempting to oveturn a fair election, thereby interrupting a heretofore unbroken string of 240 years of peaceful transfer of power.
So in light of all that, Republicans, you’ve forfeited the benefit of the doubt until further notice. I recommend you go to your room and think about what you’ve done. We’ll let you know when you’re allowed to come out.
Pay no attention to that hammering sound: it’s just us barricading the door from the outside, Exorcist-style.
THE GASLIGHTERS’ BALL
As the brilliant Michelle Goldberg wrote in an epic piece for the New York Times:
There’s a bleak sort of relief in the arrival, after everything, of comeuppance. The question is whether it’s too late, whether the low-grade insurgency that the president has inspired and encouraged will continue to terrorize the country that’s leaving him behind.
Fittingly, Trumpelstiltskin is going out as the only US president ever impeached twice (and in a single term, no less). And don’t talk to me about how it was pointless or divisive to do so with less than two weeks left in office. Actions have consequences—conservatives used to preach that, didn’t they? Actions like inciting a violent insurrection. But IOKIYAR I suppose.
Last week, even after the attack on the US Capitol and attempted insurrection by Trump supporters at his behest, Republicans continued to insist risibly that “there will be a peaceful transfer of power on January 20.”
Sorry, guys: that boat has sailed, with Captain Queeg at the helm. (Days Without a Coup D’état: 14.)
On that point, the citizens (and leaders) of many foreign countries are rightly wondering why Trump is not under arrest. Good question. Given due process, our version of proper repercussions (at least in the short term), would be the exercise of the 25th Amendment, but it falls to Mike Pence and the Cabinet to invoke it, and they remain his allies, even as Pence was to be assassinated as part of the plot.
What we will see next is what The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins aptly describes as a Republican effort to induce mass amnesia in America.
“Republicans call for unity but won’t acknowledge Biden won the election fairly,” as the Washington Post headline tidily put it. This is the GOP gaslighting we can look forward to for the foreseeable future. We might even see Mitch McConnell vote to convict Trump as part of that attempt. I’d welcome that vote, but he ought to do it on principle (cough cough), and even if he does, it won’t begin to constitute sufficient contrition and penance.
For this is the Big Lie, the ticking time bomb Trump has left the country with.
Thanks to his efforts, and of people like McConnell who abetted him, President-elect Joe Biden will enter office with almost seven in ten Republican (69%) believing that he stole the election. (Country first, right guys?) Bear in mind that only 25% of Americans identify as Republicans (31% identify as Democrats and 41% as independents), bringing the total number of batshit possible insurrectionists down to 17%. But that is still uncomfortably scary.
Meanwhile, the vile Lindsey Graham went on Fox News this past weekend and made a straight-faced, sanctimonious demand for his longtime Senatorial colleague Joe Biden to force Chuck Schumer to dismiss the article of impeachment, in the interest of healing and moving on. (Lady G made the same demand in a written letter.) It’s the same dishonest rationale that was behind Nixon’s pardon. And do note the veiled threat by Graham of more violence if Biden doesn’t let bygones be bygones.
This from a man who was one of Trump’s chief megaphone-wielders in spreading the Big Lie of a stolen election that resulted in the insurrection of January 6th.
(Speaking to Fox’s Maria Bartiromo, Graham also blamed Nancy Pelosi for the poor security around the Capitol on that day. Curiously, he didn't have any thoughts on the culpability of those who sent those insurrectionists there. Like himself.)
So spare me, Lindsey, you spineless opportunist.
By poisoning the body politic in this way, Trump amd his enablers have ensured that the destruction he has wrought will continue to wreak havoc for years to come. Just my opinion, folks, but we ought to never never never let the Republican Party or the so-called “conservative” movement forget that they foisted this cretin upon us, and the damage he did. Because make no mistake: they are already pretending they didn’t, while out of the other side of their collective mouth continuing to pander to the mouthbreathing base that descended on the US Capitol two weeks to the day before the Inauguration.
GOOFUS AND GALLANT
Trump reportedly has not reached out to Biden (nor Melania to Dr. Jill Biden), nor offered any of the usual courtesies nor engaged in any of the protocols of a normal transition. Needless to say, he will not attend the Inauguration. CNN reports:
The Inauguration Day snub of the Biden's comes on the heels of a series of broken norms and childish behavior that comes directly from the President of the United States, who has been vocal about his disinterest in preserving any semblance of decency towards the man who will succeed him.
What a petty, pathetic little man to the bitter end. One former Trump White House official called Trump’s behavior “abhorrent”—and that’s coming from someone who thought it was OK to work for Donald Trump.
But are we surprised? On the contrary: it would have been astonishing if he had done anything decent.
(And it’s not just a matter of manners. His smallness created national security risks complicating the handoff of the nuclear football.)
“If I lost, I’d be a very gracious loser,” Trump bragged back in December, with characteristic lack of self-awareness. So says the very stable genius, with the very very large a-brain, who knows more about ISIS than the generals, and is not a puppet you’re the puppet.
But Trump’s petulant departure is the natural reaction of a man who tried to steal an election and failed without winding up in prison. (Yet.) Axios’s podcast “How It Happened: Trump's Last Stand” reports that Trump had a very clear plan for how to hang onto power “focused on the so-called red mirage.” It began with his months-long effort to delegitimize mail-in voting, and carried on with his post-November 3rd lawsuits, and propaganda campaign, and strongarming of state officials, and attempts to get Congress and even his own vice president to decertify the results of the Electoral College, all the way up to his final card, the fomenting of a violent assault to stop that process. In other words, his attempt to undermine the will of the people was not some ad hoc improvisation but a conscious, pre-planned strategy to hold onto the presidency regardless of the outcome of the vote. As Axios’s Jonathan Swan writes, “His preparations were deliberate, strategic and deeply cynical.”
Likewise, the Capitol insurrection itself—even the word “riot” misrepresents its true nature—was carefully planned, orchestrated, and financed (possibly in part by foreign powers, and through evangelical Christian fundraising networks), as opposed to the peaceful little protest that got out of hand, which some on the right would have us believe. (I watched a few minutes of “Huckabee” this weekend and nearly had to vomit.)
The GOP will continue to try to sell us this lie, but the more details that come out, the harder that will be for them. But I am confident that they will keep trying.
THE FINAL DAYS
Sources say that in the closing weeks of his administration, an enraged Trump has banned his staffers from even uttering the word “Nixon.” Don should be so lucky as to be compared to Tricky Dick, who sent 21,000 US soldiers to needless death in Vietnam, undermined the Paris peace talks, subverted the Constitution, wiretapped his political foes, and (apocryphally) called a disastrous play for the Washington Football Team in the 1971 NFL playoffs.
But there are plenty of Nixonian echoes in the images of Trump’s twilight hours.
Will he try to squeeze a pardon out of Pence, despite having tried to have him killed? Or will he leave having “secretly” pardoned himself and/or his offspring and minions, as Lawrence O’Donnell has hypothesized? I guess we’ll find out. Two days ago The New York Times ran a piece headlined “Prospect of Pardons in Final Days Fuels Market to Buy Access to Trump,” subtitled, “The president’s allies have collected tens of thousands of dollars—and potentially much more—from people seeking pardons.” Jesus Christ. That’s a fitting epitaph for America, when a headline from the Old Gray Lady blithely refers to the market to buy pardons from the president and that's not itself a national scandal.
In any case, he’s in need of some lawyers. Reportedly Trump has told his accountants not to pay Rudy Giuliani’s legal fees, causing Neal Katyal to quip that he wasn’t sure who was getting the shorter end of that stick: Giuliani, who was being stiffed, or Trump, for having Giuliani as his attorney in the first place.
Or how about the image of the nutjob CEO of MyPillow entering the West Wing to propose the imposition of martial law, without bothering to conceal his notes to that effect. (Or maybe McConnell sent him over to smother Trump.) This is who Trump has left with him in the bunker.
We recently learned that Melania hasn’t even let him sleep in the presidential bedroom for all four years, consigning him to the den like a husband permanently in the doghouse, forced to sleep on the couch. (Typical, quipped Ric Groves: an immigrant who wouldn’t even do the job she was brought here to do.)
Elsewhere in Trumpian domestic affairs, we are told that Jared and Ivanka wouldn’t even let the Secret Service agents guarding their lives and those of their children use any of their six bathrooms. (Let them eat urinal cakes!) As result, the American taxpayer was forced to shell out $3000 a month for the USSS to rent a nearby flat for when nature called.
And of course, as we speak we have more troops deployed to secure Washington DC than we do in Iraq or Afghanistan….and it’s not because we’ve wisely drawn down from foreign wars, but rather, because we’re facing a proto-civil war of our own making here at home. America First, right?
I can only imagine what Hillary Clinton thinks, watching what America has come to under the man who unaccountably bested her in 2016. Four years after his own inauguration where he railed about “American carnage,” Trump himself has laid our nation lower than any foe since 1812, as the spectacle of the nation’s capital turned into a battlefield attests.
Will you indulge me in a little overheated Stephen Milleresque rhetoric? The only difference is, what I’m describing is real. For this is America at the end of the Trump era:
Children ripped from their parents and put in cages. White nationalists armed to the teeth who feel free to patrol the streets. Economic suffering at near-Depression levels while the rich get tax cuts. Millions of Americans frothing at the mouth after being fed toxic lies. 400,000 dead from an out-of-control virus that America botched worse than any major nation (and many minor ones), hospitals straining at the seams, reefer vans brought out to relieve overflowing morgues. Our enemies gleeful as the US abdicates global leadership, dictators emboldened, and nuclear proliferation on the rise….
Sorry—got carried away again. I’ll just no-look pass it over to Barton Gellman, who observes in The Atlantic:
A healthy democracy does not need a division-size force to safeguard the incoming president in its capital. Generals and admirals in a thriving republic do not have to enjoin the troops against “violence, sedition and insurrection” or reaffirm that “there’s no role for the US military in determining the outcome of a US election.” A nation secure in the peaceful transfer of power does not require 10 former defense secretaries to remind their successor that he is “bound by oath, law and precedent to facilitate the entry into office of the incoming administration.”
This is a moment of historic fragility in America. We are a long way yet from a second civil war, but there is no precedent for our fractured consensus about who holds legitimate power.
Just checking: is America great again yet?
Donald Trump is the worst human being I can think of. Yeah, I know there are worse: pedophiles and serial killers and so forth. For that matter, one of my great grievances is that Trump is only a dictator manqué, a dangerous clown, not even a proper despot like Putin or Kim or Orban or Duterte. Not that I’d prefer that, but it’s a uniquely American humiliation to be ruled by a clueless, deranged game show host.
Yet it’s hard to think of any public figure in this country or any other who presents such an appalling combination of so many vices: greed, selfishness, misogyny, racism, dishonesty, disloyalty, marital infidelity, cowardice, bullying, laziness, hypocrisy, demagoguery, megalomania, pathological narcissism, and on and on, and always always always doing the absolute worst possible thing in almost every given situation.
Truly, this man is a human colostomy bag.
That millions of Americans flat out worship him as part of a literal death cult is about the scariest and most headspinning thing I’ve experienced in my nearly sixty years on this planet.
In his interview in this blog way back in 2017, the educator Matt Bardin derided the school of journalism he called “DTBM”—Donald Trump Bad Man. I can understand the weariness with reportage that does nothing more than repeat the litany of his awfulness without offering any insight or call to action. Then again, that weariness is part of what Donald Trump (Bad Man) counted on to abet his crimes.
It’s astounding to me all the time I spent thinking about Donald Trump since 2015. (The aforementioned Michelle Goldberg had a piece in late October titled “Four Wasted Years Thinking About Donald Trump.”) If, in the 1980s, you’d told me I’d spend that much time consumed with this know-nothing con man from Queens at a time when he was but a Spy Magazine punchline, I’d have laughed and gone back to listening to “Tainted Love,” which was playing nonstop during throughout decade. (“Take my tears and that’s not nearly all…..”)
What will Trump’s legacy be, if you can call it that? A skidmark on the underwear of America might be a better description. The Bulwark’s Jonathan V. Last opines that we already know that answer, predicting history’s verdict in one sentence:
He oversaw a disastrous response to a global pandemic, because of which more than 400,000 Americans died on his watch.
That’s it. That’s his legacy. And if he gets a second line in the history books it will be this:
He incited an insurrection on the US Capitol which led to a second impeachment.
Sadly, that second impeachment—essential as it is—will unavoidably keep him in our lives a bit longer. Jesus, we can’t get rid of this guy, even after soundly rejecting him at the polls.
But as some consolation, Trump is leaving office far more damaged—perhaps fatally—than he was just two weeks ago. Remember the talk that even as John Roberts was swearing Biden in, Trump would be holding a huge campaign rally on live TV and announcing his candidacy for 2024? The Capitol insurrection put the kibosh on that idea. We were told that Trump was going to be a kingmaker within the Republican Party, and possibly the Napoleonic kind, who crowns himself. Instead he is leaving office with his power considerably diminished, and it’s his own fault. Instead he went from being merely a lame duck to a turkey buzzard with his head dangling from a lone tendon after accidentally shooting himself with the farmer’s twelve gauge shotgun.
Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
That said, I am not writing him off. He’s defied the odds too many times (there is no God), and we’ve all seen too many horror movies where we’re led to believe the monster’s dead, only to have him pop back up in the final reel.
Here is the nub of our predicament. Donald Trump attempted democracide, and he had help. The victim survived but suffered grievous wounds. American democracy now faces a long convalescence in an environment of ongoing attacks. Trump has not exhausted his malignant powers, and co-conspirators remain at large.
The president of the United States lost an election and really did try with all his might to keep the winner from replacing him. He did his level best to overthrow our system of government, and tens of millions of Americans marched behind him. But a coup d’état in America had seemed so unlikely a thing, and it was so buffoonishly attempted, that the political establishment had trouble taking it seriously. That was a big mistake.
ON YOUR BIKE
Since the election, a number of people have asked me if I’m going to stop writing this blog. (We’ll discuss the hopeful, pleading look in their eyes later.)
The answer is fuck no. Unfortunately for all of us, the United States will continue to be hampered by grievous problems for the foreseeable future—many of them the same ones we have wrestled with throughout the Trump era—and much as I would like to retire and do nothing but watch “Seinfeld“ reruns all day, I feel compelled to bloviate about them. For as we’ve said many times, Trump is but a symptom of America’s ills, not their cause.
We have talked at length in these pages (and by “we” I mean “me”) about how we managed to wake up to find Donald Trump in the White House in the first place, and how to go about fixing the ills that led to that disaster. I’ll warn you that many more column inches are going to be devoted to that going forward, both here in The King’s Necktie and myriad other places I’m sure. It’s a long, difficult, and dangerous road ahead.
But for now, let us rejoice in Trump’s overdue departure, his defeat, his disgrace, and do everything we can to erase his legacy and repair the damage and never let ourselves be maneuvered into a nightmare like this again. And let’s give all praise dues the arrival of President Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. and Vice President Kamala Devi Harris. Even if you don’t agree with every single one of their policies, either from the left or the right, it is a welcome and unfamiliar feeling to have decent, competent, empathetic national leadership again.
So buh-bye Donald, and don’t you come back no more no more no more no more.
It’s about to be morning in America once again.
Illustration: Nighthawks (1942), by Edward Hopper
Detournment via @joeheenan / Twitter
For more essays, go to The King’s Necktie Archive.