Fresh panic abounds in Washington, D.C., after reports surfaced of President Trump huddling with his most unhinged loyalists this weekend and spitballing a series of bananas ideas like impounding voting machines for inspection, appointing the profoundly brain-wormed Sidney Powell as some kind of special counsel to investigate election fraud, and even declaring martial law so the military can hold new elections in the critical swing states won by President-elect Joe Biden. As alarming as this all sounds in theory, even the delusional Trump must know by now that Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president on Jan. 20. Instead, the ever-vengeful president, a man with skin so thin it could be punctured by a tuft of mink fur, is plotting to do unto Biden what he believes was done to him by planting a series of political landmines for the incoming president to step on.

The president, of course, denied on Twitter that martial law was brought up in meetings attended by Powell, disgraced former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and others. But no one contests that the confabs took place, and one can presume the dead-enders present weren't throwing an innocent pizza party and talking about which wretched mess will win the NFC East. As the coronavirus continues to wash destructively over the United States, states revise their plans for smaller-than-expected deliveries of vaccines and wearied, bankrupt, lonely Americans wonder how they will survive the winter, the man still ostensibly running the country is, instead of doing his job, utterly consumed with plotting against the election results.

Why is all of this more important to President Trump than faithfully serving the American people in his administration's final days? One word: Payback. If you've spent any time on MAGA Twitter or browsing the pages of the movement's embarrassing in-flight magazine, American Greatness, you can recite the narrative by heart. In their telling, President Trump wasn't a corrupt, oafish dupe doing Vladimir Putin's dirty work but rather an innocent victim of a so-called Deep State plot to derail his presidency from the start. The Obama administration green-lit fantastical investigations into Trump and his campaign, Democrats refused to accept the 2016 election results, and the media acted as handmaiden to this dark quest to slander a man who threatened the swampy D.C. status quo. Every self-inflicted Trump scandal, from hiring a compromised goon like Flynn as national security advisor to the dramatic firing of FBI Director James Comey, was instead part of a scheme to wreck his presidency.

This is why Trump often riffed about being entitled to a third term in front of rapturous rally crowds. He wasn't really joking. He thinks he deserves to lay waste to the American republic unmolested, and that the pushback he received from democratic institutions and the American people was not just an irritating thorn in his side but fundamentally illegitimate. He believes this stuff. He thinks the Women's March was part of the conspiracy. He watches nothing but hallucinatory cable programming that tells him the Mueller investigation was a "hoax" and that he would have been much more popular and successful had The New York Times and CNN not been determined to sabotage him. At the same time — and stay with me for a second because this is how narcissism functions — he also believes he was the most successful president in American history, a towering figure of such obvious brilliance that the American people could not possibly have rejected him. His presidency was simultaneously ruined by elites while also earning him a spot on Mt. Rushmore.

Trump's efforts to overturn the election results are real, and they stagger on, zombie-like, as his revenant lawyers search for any remaining rubes to fleece for cash and file new lawsuits destined to be chuckled swiftly out of the Supreme Court. He may have harbored genuine hope that all of the judges he appointed, including the three Supreme Court justices Mitch McConnell stewarded through the Senate, would do his bidding and install him for a second term. There are very good reasons to be terrified by the malignant forces unleashed by this assault on our democracy, especially now that a series of MAGA maniacs have taken over state Republican parties and the GOP's congressional caucuses include more than a hundred people who co-signed an attempt to disenfranchise millions of Americans.

But for now the fantasy of using the courts to deny Biden his victory has washed up dead on the same rocky shoals as Infrastructure Week and a thousand other inchoate, sloppily executed Trump maneuvers. The judicial plot against democracy is so obviously cold and blue-lipped that even someone as incapable of digesting reality as President Trump must recognize it's dead. Most senior Republicans, including McConnell, want Trump to stuff a taco bowl in his mouth, pocket his meager accomplishments, and get out of the way so that the institutional GOP can get on with its mission of further enriching the wealthy.

But President Trump can't do it. People who are unable to forgive minor slights become obsessed with retribution no matter the stakes. Oh, you showed up at my dinner party three years ago without any wine? I'll do it right back to you — just you wait. They marinate themselves in daydreams of deliverance until the really good stuff trickles into their bloodstreams and the toxicity gets pumped straight into their hearts.

If he can't bulldoze his way back into the Oval Office, Trump wants the next best thing: for Biden to relive his own presidential ordeal. Trump wants Powell or some other credentialed jester haunting the early months of the next administration as a special counsel, issuing subpoenas, leaking to the press, her presidency-ending report constantly visible just over the horizon. He pictures Biden in the White House master bedroom late at night, doom-watching Newsmax and stuffing fast food down his gullet as he contemplates legal jeopardy. He wants to unleash the right-wing version of the Women's March, except armed and violent, AR-15s instead of pussy hats. He wants Biden's signature legislative priority deep-sixed publicly on the Senate floor by a turncoat Democrat. He is eager to birth an even crazier right-wing media machine dedicated to smearing Biden and Kamala Harris and every Democrat in Congress 24 hours a day. More than anything, he wants Biden to suffer and fail, to regret not sailing off into retirement for good, to not have a moment of peace from the moment he moves into the White House until the day he leaves.

To sustain the needed level of outrage against someone as stolid and fundamentally unthreatening as Joe Biden requires continuing the "Stop the Steal" charade indefinitely, short-circuiting the normal transition rituals, denying the country any kind of catharsis, whipping his cultists into a violent frenzy of conspiracy and innuendo. It means gathering the 10 stupidest people who have ever stumbled into American public life and picking their brains over and over again about how they can keep the party going. Trump's grievance bus must be kept pedal-to-the-floor at 50 miles an hour or the bomb goes off. Ownership of the libs must never be relinquished. Instead, they must be caged and tormented, just like he was by the Enemies of the People and the Radical Democrat Socialists.

The alternative is for Trump to accept that he was a dreadful president, that a decisive majority of the American people decided to fire him, that his failures were mostly his and his alone, that the hated media was telling the truth the whole time, and that all that awaits him now are lawsuits.

Which path sounds more like Trump?