Trump’s Farewell: Shakespeare, not Hollywood
Following the lost election, the parting President concludes the drama
Trump the President has fought for four years to be recognized as a Great Statesman and to be remembered as one of the greatest Presidents in the history of the USA. Now, he is presiding over one of the most depressing departures from the White House in the country’s modern history. The fault is not in the stars — the faults of the protagonist of this American drama have been completely sufficient.
A ruthless plan behind the election fraud claims
One may even question whether triggering the violence in the Capitol on January 6 was deliberately intended by Trump. The strategy of the closest Trump circle in the run-up to the riot probably rather aimed at creating so much confusion and doubt about the election outcome that a sufficient number of Republicans in the Senate would object to the certification of the electoral college. This would have offered the state legislatures the possibility of selecting their own electors. If several states with Republican majorities in their legislatures but where Biden had won the majority of the popular vote had then decided to ignore the electorate and to choose Trump-friendly electors, the electoral college vote might have been swung in favor of Trump, at least theoretically. CNN analyst Fareed Zakaria had already considered this possible development in September 2020, while the New York Times discussed it just one day before the decisive vote in Congress.
Trump would have liked to exploit the planned protest near the Capitol to build up pressure on the Senators within in order for them not to certify the electoral college. This would have, at least in imaginary ways, opened up a path for Trump to victory and a second term — quite like the screenplays of certain American movie productions having the hero to eventually overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in his way despite all odds.
2020 — the year of bad omens for Trump
But things turned out differently. Almost the entire year of 2020 had already indicated Trump’s demise by a number of bad omens. While the President could still celebrate the acquittal in the (first) impeachment procedure and economic records at the beginning of the year, the COVID-19 pandemic then forced him into a role for which he was obviously ill-suited. As agonizing as the pandemic dragged on over the course of the election year, as merciless did it tempt Trump to present himself as the wrong President at the wrong time. His hopes into the ‘miracle drug’ hydroxychloroquine were disappointed. While he has not advised injecting bleach, his constant fights with the press took up much more room than the communication of health risks. While it is further not proven that Trump’s COVID-19 infection was caused by his negligence of the precautions, him falling ill with COVID-19 neatly fit the public’s perception that the President was not taking the pandemic seriously enough. COVID-19 cranked out bad headlines and pictures for Trump non-stop.
During the entirety of 2020, what turned out to be fatal for Trump and his political legacy were precisely the character traits and behavior patterns that both his opponents and even more neutral commentators had always criticized: Too little grandeur and poor manners, too lax handling of the facts, too risky gambling with the extremists, too little respect for the democratic institutions.
The tragic irony of the President’s downfall
The tragic irony in the tradition of an English poet here is that the same characteristics and talents that had initially enabled Trump’s rise to power later sealed his political fate and downfall. Trump has often and accurately been described as a master of persuasion. Remember that a single Twitter account was sufficient for him to communicate entire narratives about America and his policies to millions of voters and past the traditional media. His packed campaign rallies across the country offered him the possibility of testing new slogans and nicknames in real-time interaction with thousands of his supporters.
On January 6 then, Trump had not persuaded too few, but too many of his most zealotic attendees of the ‘Save America’ rally that the election was just about to be stolen in the Capitol, inciting them to prevent this from happening. The ‘alternative facts’ regarding the election outcome that Trump had been spreading among his supporters again and again since weeks suddenly took on a life of their own. The pseudo-reality of a fraudulent-but-still-savable election resulted in an unambiguous reality of violence. Regarding his persuasion talents, Trump has hence not at all fallen victim to his flagging success — he has in fact become a victim of his own success.
While Trump had called explicitly for a peaceful protest in his rally speech — besides a lot of combative and inflammatory remarks — he still carries responsibility for the violence that his zealotic supporters felt legitimated to commit and for the poor handling of the situation on January 6 overall. Furthermore, already the attempt to overturn the result of a legitimate election by pressuring lawmakers with the help of street protests constitutes a grave violation of democratic norms, even if the protests had remained peaceful.
The Trump Presidency, which derived part of its legitimacy from the promise of demolishing the predominant political culture, has now been receiving the wrecking ball treatment itself. His enemies can be content: Since the deadly riots in the Capitol, their belief that Trump has been governing as a quasi-fascist dictator from day one has been retroactively vindicated. With Trump leaving office now, the reasons for contradicting them have lapsed as well.
A very Trumpian farewell
Trump will not leave Washington, D.C. behind on a conciliatory note. Neither will he welcome his successor Joe Biden at the White House, nor will he be seen off by Biden prior to his departure into presidential retirement. Not under any circumstances, Trump will join the decorative ranks of former Presidents in the background of Biden’s inauguration. It was hard to imagine anyway.