For the next 35 days, Donald J. Trump will remain one of the very most powerful men in the world. At his disposal is the entirety of the U.S. military — Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force — the most expensive high-tech killing machine ever devised. Within the gears of this war force are specialists — snipers, SEAL teams, missile techs — whose only job is to make people dead before they know they’ve had an accident. The thousands of nuclear weapons coiled in their various lairs — also subject to Trump’s orders — speak entirely for themselves.
The might of the federal government is Trump’s to deploy, which he has done at least once, against peaceful protesters for a photo-op outside a church at Lafayette Square. ICE is practically his private army at the border. While his relationship with his own government has been dicey at best through these four long years, FBI Director Christopher Wray and whoever is going to warm William Barr’s seat at the Justice Department until January 20 will answer the phone if Trump calls, as will the IRS, CIA and DEA.
Politically, Donald Trump remains a juggernaut within the Republican Party. More than 71 million people voted for him in November, an astonishing number until you note the 80 million votes given to his opponent, Joe Biden. Despite all of his lethal failures amid the blizzard of challenges facing the nation, Trump still holds the GOP in a vise grip because of those voters, and specifically because of his core base within that count, who would still turn out to vote for him en masse if he ate a live puppy on the White House lawn.
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For a time anyway, Trump will still be able to bathe himself in the adulation of his maskless followers. They will fill aircraft hangars, halls and stadiums to hear him vomit his scattershot grievances into the COVID wind, and they will roar, because his grievances and grudges are theirs, because they are his. Authoritarian systems do not focus on party, policy or moral priorities. They focus on the person at the apex of the pyramid, and in Trump they have found their golden calf. Irony and hypocrisy elude them, as it ever eludes all who cleave to racist nationalism under the bleeding banner of a white Christ. They love him so. They will always love him so.
“Sic transit gloria mundi,” as they used to say in Rome. So passes worldly glory.
In 35 days, Donald Trump has some problems to contend with. Past presidents, upon completion of their terms, have returned to their homes in varying degrees of triumph. Even Richard Nixon was able to return to San Clemente unharmed by the consequences of his failed presidency.
This president? Not so much. After Trump voiced his intention to live at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, his would-be neighbors started working diligently to bar the door. “Next-door neighbors of Mar-a-Lago, President Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Fla., that he has called his Winter White House, have a message for the outgoing commander in chief: We don’t want you to be our neighbor,” reports The Washington Post.
Back in the early 1990s, when Trump was going bankrupt again, he flipped Mar-a-Lago’s residency status from a home to a club in order to avoid paying millions in maintenance for the grounds. There are rules in place regarding use of a private club as a permanent residence, and nearly 30 years later, his Palm Beach neighbors hope to forever end the incredible disruptions that come with having Trump next door. “Basically he’s playing a dead hand,” neighbor Glenn Zeitz told the Post. “He’s not going to intimidate or bluff people because we’re going to be there.”
But hey, it’s not as if this soon-to-be ex-president is without options, right? That monument to money laundering known as Trump Tower still stands, but Trump may find it a lonely estate. The two people closest to him in the world — daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared — are finding that they have earned the unending hate of the Big Apple’s hoi polloi. For now at least, the couple is instead bunkering in across the river in New Jersey, where the jeers and insults of their former friends can’t be heard, mostly.
Trump can look forward to more company than he’d like in five weeks. New York State Attorney General Letitia James isn’t waiting for him to depart (or be thrown out of) the White House, and has dropped the first of what I expect will be many subpoenas on the Trump Organization, this one seeking documents regarding a shady real estate deal (I know, shocking). Also lurking is Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who literally has the receipts and is ready to do some big game hunting in his back yard.
And then, of course, there is the debt.
The recent revelations within Trump’s tax documents show him more than a billion dollars in the hole, with half of that coming due in the next couple of years. “He hasn’t turned the White House into his personal ATM machine because he loves money like any good capitalist does,” I wrote back in September. “He’s doing it to stave off looming financial disaster; he’s looting the Treasury not simply because he can, but because he absolutely has to if he wants to avoid getting pauperized by his own horrid business instincts. He’s using gobs of our cash to plug the gaping holes in his sinking ship.”
There is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest Trump’s little Alamo number after the election is all an act to allow him to keep fleecing as many of those 70 million voters as are willing to write a check. If he concedes, the money stops. This has led to some genuinely hilarious friction within the GOP, specifically regarding the two Senate runoff elections in Georgia.
“President Donald Trump couldn’t make it any clearer: He needs his supporters to fork over cash for the all-important Georgia Senate runoff elections,” reports Politico. “‘We MUST defend Georgia from the Dems!’ he wrote in one recent text message. ‘I need YOU to secure a WIN in Georgia,’ he said in another. ‘Help us WIN both Senate races in Georgia & STOP Socialist Dems,’ he pleaded a few days later. There’s just one hitch: Trump’s new political machine is pocketing most of the dough — and the campaigns of the Georgia senators competing in the Jan. 5 races aren’t getting a cent.”
That, right there, is some bare-knuckled grifting. When the movers come to clear all things Trump from the building next month, they better count the spoons.
In a way, however, that move has already begun. After the states handed in their Electoral College votes earlier this week, nailing down a Biden victory that was never really in question for those who deal in facts, Trump’s little matchstick soldiers in Congress began to topple. Yesterday, no lesser light than Mitch McConnell finally congratulated “President-elect Biden” for his victory, eliciting howls of bitter protest from the Oval Office.
This was Mitch claiming the mantle of party leadership from the slowly fading president. Trump still has the great powers of his office, and retains the snarling devotion of his mob… but the truth of real power is that it resides where people believe it resides. McConnell, with that one statement, swept Trump’s pieces off the board in full view of Congress. Any Senator who thinks to join in an elector challenge on January 6 just got a memo from the real boss: Nope.
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” reads the beloved verse from Shelley’s classic poem. Yet the poem is incomplete without its final following lines: “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Sic transit gloria mundi.