What began with a puckered asshole descending a gilt escalator in New York ended with his lawyer ranting next door to a 10th-rate merchant of buttplugs in Philadelphia. As far as American about-faces go, it’s about as good as we could expect and arguably better than we deserve. It’s also why fears of a Trumpist seizure of power seem unfounded. The pantomimic attempts at one are all so pathetic and ridiculous that even the incumbent’s most fanatical base seems too demoralized and spent to take them either literally or seriously.
Satisfying expectation, Donald Trump has so far failed to concede an election he insists he won “by a lot” even though he lost it resoundingly. He says there is evidence of widespread ballot fraud when the federal election commissioner has stated there is not. Apparatchiks in the GOP have either kept quiet, as wary and spent parents witnessing their toddler cycle through a temper tantrum might, or they’ve taken to the airwaves to demand that Joe Biden’s clear and unambiguous victory be deferred until all the lawsuits the Trump campaign has filed are adjudicated. This, in spite of the fact that the 10 lawsuits already filed have been dismissed by judges and credible reporting suggests the money raised to handle any more is really going to pay off outstanding campaign debts.
The long con continues, even if its dupes can’t quite keep up their end of the bargain anymore. MAGA mobs mobilized to terrorize vote-counters in Maricopa County, Arizona, vanished within 24 hours, according to a BuzzFeed journalist. In a nation “bitterly divided,” it seems, the bitterest still have better things to do for the weekend. True, the rest of the very online base continues to fulminate – at Fox News, which called Arizona for Biden early, before the other networks did. Now, the diehards say, they will only watch OANN or Newsmax for their alternate facts, making Rupert Murdoch the unlikeliest enemy of the people of this new age of paranoia. And yet, according to the latest Reuters/IPSOS poll, a whopping 80 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, believe Biden won. The other 20 percent are on Parler.
“Exiled Thucydides knew,” W.H. Auden famously intoned upon Hitler’s invasion of Poland, “All that a speech can say/About Democracy.” Yeah, well, exiled Thucydides never had to listen to Rudy Giuliani deliver a speech suggesting democracy has just been stolen through necromancy. “Joe Frazier is still voting here,” America’s Mayor told a confused press scrum in the parking lot of the Four Seasons Total Landscaping concern on Saturday afternoon, in one of the scruffier districts of the City of Brotherly Love. “Also, Will Smith’s father voted here twice since he died.” I don’t know if Rudy said this before or after he introduced a convicted pedophile sex offender to affirm that a coup was indeed underway in the nation, but it doesn’t matter.
Throughout this scenery-collapsing burlesque of defiance, Donald Trump has been golfing, binging on his usual fare of fast food, and sacking his defense secretary via tweet. All over but the shouting and business as usual, then, for the man who once claimed the election he won was rigged, not realizing (or caring) that such an accusation delegitimized his own victory. According to an anonymous friend quoted in New York Magazine, Trump secretly wanted to lose this election because he didn’t really like the gig that came with it. “He likes showing people around the White House,” the source said, “but the actual day-to-day business of being president? It’s been pretty unpleasant for him.”
Alhamdulillah, as Joe Biden might put it. That America’s first authoritarian commander-in-chief appears to be going out as “Richard III” directed by Corky St. Clair is a relief, but it’s also a testament to just how nourished Trump has been by the mere spectacle of success more than the thing itself. If there is a theme to his professional life, it’s been the kitsch transformation of low into high, mediocre into grandiose. The scion of a wealthy outer-borough slumlord who refashioned himself into a self-made brand developer in the big city. The loss-generating industrialist who duped a succession of domestic and foreign banks into lending him more money to lose on bigger and bolder real estate ventures. The tabloid divorcee and adulterer who became a messianic figure for the family values and megachurch crowd. And then, the culmination of it all, the inversion of perennial failure into enviable success in the form of a top-rated “reality” show – his one genuine accomplishment before attaining the White House on more or less the same premise.
Television made Trump. Now it has unmade him – not in a mercifully quick fashion, but slowly and painstakingly, courtesy of insomniac math nerds who probably reminded him of IRS agents. That’s why I’m grateful the race wasn’t called on Election Day. This had to be a protracted nailbiter – the sweeps week version of decline and fall. Sure, it was difficult to watch, for us, not having a declared winner right away. But imagine how painful it must have been for him, whose self-perception relies on being able to manipulate and control the only medium that counts. He couldn’t even change the channel. Fox had forsaken him. The other networks foretold of impending doom from mail-in ballots in counties he could never win. “STOP THE COUNT!” he tweeted, miserably, as the votes continued to be tallied and his numbers started to slip, like ratings, while the competition’s rose.
The spectacle of Donald Trump’s unsuccess, undergirded by real failure, left only farce and anticlimax as its inevitable aftermath: the pinstripes with their feckless complaints, the vanishing Maricopa rallies, and Rudy shouting about ghosts in the machine in a dingy parking lot.