As this is written, two weeks after the presidential election, the petrifying question of whether the defeat and banishment of America’s first psychopathic president would be even scarier than his original inauguration is pretty much settled. Come Jan. 20, there will be no more Trump presidency and no coup d’état assisted by either his Supreme Court, a beheaded military run by addled conspiracists or another freakish alignment in the electoral college. Joe Biden defeated Trump by a margin of more than 6 million votes.
The central trait of a psychopath is that he never admits error or losing and Trump will follow form.
It will soon become apparent to nearly everyone but Trump and the narrow xenophobic and racist cult in his following that the old pussy grabber’s defeat had nothing to do with fraud by Democrats, socialists or child molesters but with the recognition by most Americans that he was, as Sen. Lindsey Graham once put it, “unfit to be president.” In his first three years and 10 months on the job, never once did the Gallup Poll show that even half of Americans approved of the job he was doing.
A loser in school, the military draft, marriage, business and most of his initiatives as president, Donald Trump is now and forever a Loser.
Declaring war, capitulating and then declaring victory worked every time for Trump, at least with his base, but that is over. As he often said about his opponents, reporters, former aides and Cabinet members, generals, prisoners of war and dead soldiers — perhaps prophetically, in hindsight — no one can love a loser.
Trump won’t be considered the Real President by many and, despite all the conjecture about his maintaining firm control of the Republican Party, he won’t be its nominee again in 2024. If he is half as smart as he says he is, he may avoid criminal sanctions with the help of his vice president and big Supreme Court majority and that is the best that he can hope for. He will need all his Supreme Court justices and appellate judges to also avoid civil penalties. A bunch of his female victims are still coming after him, Paula Corbin Jones-style. They have DNA. His years of business corruption and tax avoidance, already exposed by family members and accounting sources, will before long finally be in the hands of prosecutors.
That is what will face him in the fading hours of Jan. 20 after he skips the inaugural gala at the Capitol. It ought to be much worse, but more about that in a moment.
Trump’s manifold legal troubles are not what will wither his popularity with either his fanatical followers or the sizable segment of his voters who are just reflexive Republicans. Reflexive Democrats probably make up the same percentage of Biden’s voters. They just won’t vote for the other party.
No matter how much trouble Biden will have achieving anything in a bitterly divided government or the level of Trump’s legal and financial troubles, the vanquished president’s vanishing support in the months and years after the inauguration will not be a politically driven phenomenon but a natural one, given who and what Trump is — his peculiar personality disorder, to put it kindly.
When Trump forced his way into public life in the 1980s through the New York tabloids and celebrity publications like People, he wanted to be celebrated as one of America’s richest men, a risqué playboy who had his way with wives, models and glamorous dames. I followed his exploits in the New York papers with amazement at his bravado and amorality.
He wanted the magazines that annually calculated the richest people to count his aging daddy’s vast wealth as his own. As The New York Times wrote several years ago after being given old Trump company records, Donald and each of his siblings, thanks to daddy’s manipulations, were millionaires by the time they were 8 years old.
The celebrity thing took over his life, although his obsessive personality seemed to be almost a birthright. He became a protégé, as he sometimes said, of the famous crook and Joe McCarthy collaborator Roy Cohn, who lived in town. Cohn taught Donald that you never, never admit that you lost, lied, erred or that anyone was your superior. Trump’s only criticism of Bill Clinton, at least in the old days before his wife opposed Trump, was that Clinton ever admitted that he misled his family and the country about messing around with Monica Lewinsky. Cohn taught Trump that if you stick to your lie in the face of everything they will never get you.
When Trump got the British GQ to run a big photo shoot of his naked Slovenian mistress, Melania, posing provocatively and handcuffed to his gold-inlaid briefcase on board the Trump private jet at New York’s LaGuardia airport, Trump said he arranged it to help the poor girl’s modeling career. GQ’s headline on the layout was “Sex at 30,000 Feet.” Melania had a link to the big photo spread on her webpage until the Hollywood Access tape surfaced during the 2016 campaign. You remember it. Sen. Ted Cruz’s super-PAC, trying to seize the lead from Trump, glamorized the photo spread with a link to it that invited viewers to “Meet Melania Trump, Your Next First Lady.” Cruz was trying to stem Trump’s growing popularity with Mormons.
Trump struck back at “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” and warned that he would “spill the beans” on Cruz’s wife, Heidi. Trump had already suggested that Cruz’s father had helped assassinate President Kennedy. Cruz called Trump “a sniveling coward” who was unfit for the presidency. “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” became a daily tweet, Trump won the bout and Cruz, like Lindsey Graham, became one of Congress’s most absurd Trump toadies.
Colossal and persistent lies, combined with power, always prevail — at least that was the theory credited to Hitler’s pal Joseph Goebbels, although there was never proof that he actually said it. Hitler himself talked about The Big Lie in “Mein Kampf,” though he credited Jews as the origin. It is the key to autocratic rule.
The degree to which the public — Trump’s substantial share of it — bought all his lies or at least a substantial share of them can only be a matter of conjecture. For most people, lying was just not a very big deal. Everyone lies. Trump did it proudly and with flair. Aside from his early dog whistles about a Black man being legally unfit for the presidency and dark-skinned Latinos and Arabs overrunning the country, Trump’s greatest political asset was calling people dirty names — loser, crook, pimp, trash, sleepy, creep, crazy, shithead, goofy, fraud, lowlife, phony, flake, total flunky. A class of Americans, including, strangely, evangelical Christians, like rough language like that, especially when it is applied to women. It is a sign of strength.
Out of power, however, it becomes the nonsense of a loser, a demonstrative psychopath.
Trump’s great luck when most of his screwy investment decisions began to turn sour was that his pursuit of celebrity paid off with his getting stardom in the “reality” TV show “The Apprentice,” in which he played a savvy businessman who followed the script and at the end barked “You’re fired” at some pretty contestant. He parlayed the fake role into a presidential campaign.
Now, his only hope is to land a spot on Fox News or some rightwing conspiracy network, but it will be nothing like the candidacy or the presidency.
A psychopath without the cudgels of power becomes a dismal and harmless flake. That is the ultimate future of Trump and Trumpism, along with whatever legal and financial troubles await the man from all the criminal and civil investigations of his deeds in and out of government.
Those should include the crimes against the country that Congress and the hapless Democrats pursued either ineffectually or not at all. They include the crime that brought Trump’s impeachment — the third president in history to be impeached — and his acquittal by all but one Republican and the minority Democrats in the Senate. Using taxpayers’ money and a lawful appropriation to blackmail an allied government into helping his reelection is a crime and now must be tried in a court of law.
The same is true of Trump’s earliest crime, using his power to thwart the Department of Justice’s criminal investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to undermine the American election in 2016. It was an open-and-shut case. The president fired James Comey, the FBI director, because Comey, a lifelong Republican, would neither swear the personal loyalty of the FBI to Trump or stop the investigation of efforts by Russian agents and Wikileaks to corrupt the election. The Republican special prosecutor who took over the investigation in spite of Trump’s protests ultimately said the investigation brought powerful proof of obstruction of justice by the White House. Trump admitted publicly and in a meeting with Russian officials and Kremlin journalists that he had halted the Russian investigation by canning the FBI director.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blocked an impeachment effort because it would be pointless given Trump’s iron control of the Senate, make Democrats look weak and maybe even embolden Trump. But it could be argued that the House’s inaction was a green light for the Trump administration to violate the law and democratic norms with total impunity. It may have led directly to the Ukrainian venture.
If violations of the law are allowed to stand in these flagrant instances (and perhaps also violations of the emoluments clause), how can any president in the future ever be held responsible for criminal deeds? It is a vital moment for American democracy and the rule of law.
Trump may be pardoned by Jan. 20, either by his own hand or a briefly tenured President Mike Pence. But at least it would be a tacit admission of responsibility and that the rule of law was still a basic principle.