Opinion

The decline and fall of Donald Trump

The last days of the Trump presidency aren't marked by tyranny so much as exhaustion

The story of Donald Trump's last days in the White House will never be written. Those in possession of the necessary facts, and those to whom they are likely to be disclosed, will not rise to the duty of literature. The best we are entitled to hope for is that the raw material — scraps of conversation, private correspondence, the great Rolls Series of his Twitter feed — out of which a future Gibbon might construct his masterpiece will be preserved. Until then a sketch must suffice.

The great theme of Trump's final month in office will be exhaustion. It is exhaustion — his own and that of his supporters, political allies, and enemies alike — rather than ambition that led this supposed totalitarian to give half-hearted encouragement to a mob who attempted to halt the ratification of last year's election results. It is just possible to envision a very different series of events unfolding on Wednesday afternoon: the usurper escorted by a legion of red-capped enthusiasts to the Capitol, declaring an end to the joint session of Congress and investing himself in aeternum with the imperial purple.

What might have ensued — the cooperation of a handful of Republican congressmen and senators with a coup d'état, the cheers of the assembled throng, the impromptu oration on the theme of his sacred election, the uncertainty surrounding what steps, if any, would be taken next by the Armed Forces — belongs to the febrile imagination of supporters and detractors in turn. To Trump himself it was unthinkable. Having fulfilled his public obligation, he preferred the comfort of his seraglio and the reassurance of his iPhone keyboard, live-tweeting his contempt for the vice president and offering equivocal reproaches to costumed insurrectionists. The work of dispersing the crowd of thousands fell to the supposedly ineffectual Mike Pence, who assumed, temporarily but with evident relish, the discarded Mandate of Heaven.

It is difficult to say exactly when it became clear that, in the face of adversity, Trump no longer possessed the will to govern. (I for one would suggest his Rose Garden address on March 16.) But many will fix the date on Nov. 20, 2020, when Rudy Giuliani's hair dye flowed like tears of vinegar down his face and Sidney Powell laid the blame for Trump's failure at the unguessed feet of the late Hugo Chavez.

This, at any rate, is when it became clear that Trump had become the pet of a coterie. These strange creatures — the fakirs and eunuchs of his decadent court — rose in his esteem precisely because they offered solutions that did not require exertion on his part: mandalas and magic circles, by means of which they could discover the ley-lines connecting him to his immutable destiny at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. A rational politician who understood the advantages his opponent would incur from the unilateral imposition of mail-in balloting and a hundred other changes to the laws governing public elections would have sought legal remedies months earlier, with the assistance of the ablest professionals. Entrusting his political fortunes instead to the ministrations of General Flynn and other yes-men, he tweeted about "fraud." These would-be prophecies would become self-fulfilling.

In the weeks that followed Nov. 3, he would retreat into a private world of imagination and resentment, one in which he had not only been re-elected but anointed. Thus ensconced, all opposition disappeared. Before his eyes there arose the fortifications whose construction he had long foretold; unimpeachable arithmetic heralded the unrivaled prosperity of the citizenry; invisible armies retreated before his banner; sages and philosophers of all nations marveled at his wisdom; and the factions that opposed him perished. His rule devolved into a fantastical senescence, aloof from the rapine and poverty into which the country had fallen.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, Trump was denounced by the indignant senators of both parties as a tyrant. This is almost certainly the legacy that awaits him. It will be undeserved, albeit for reasons that do him even less credit than the overweening ambition of which he is so wrongly accused.

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