It was a bit of a surprise in October when the ageing, hamburger-stuffed President of the United States of America failed to drop dead from the Covid. Possibly Mephistopheles granted Donald Trump one term in office in return for his poisoned soul, and the President was damned if it was all going to be taken from him before he was, well, damned.
Whether Hell or handcuffs await Trump the moment he steps outside the White House as a private citizen, he is putting up one hell of a fight to stave off the evil hour. A weird, menacing premature victory speech on Wednesday morning set the tone; followed by a premature victory party in the White House (though, to be fair, this was the only way Trump ever was going to have a 2020 victory party).
The Donald claimed to have won the election, which he hadn’t. He said the election was being stolen before GOP voters’ eyes, which it wasn’t. He demanded that states stop counting, which they weren’t going to do. He set fresh and unevidenced conspiracies running, to the effect that ‘ballot dumps’ of tens or hundreds of thousands of Biden votes were being pulled out of thin air to rig the vote. Proof of this troubling phenomenon being hard to come by, Trump left it to his supporter base –who like a good conspiracy– to concoct some. Dubious memes purporting to show a huge ballot dump of 138,000 Democrat votes in Michigan (in fact showing a typo by a press agency) have been doing the rounds.
In Britain, when a Prime Minister loses an election the removal men are bumping into him on the stairs of No. 10 Downing St as he goes down to face the press outside. America affords an ousted President eight more weeks (if he’s a single-termer defeated by an opponent) to skulk in the Oval Office, turning his idle hands to the Devil’s work. Trump has already started flinging writs around like confetti; filing suits in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to demand recounts.
Donald Trump’s prospects of success at law in challenging states’ vote-counting procedures are minimal, but irrelevant. He means instead to create a false (or, at best, wildly exaggerated) narrative of widespread election fraud; to disrupt democracy and remain in power by other means. It’s working. Democrats –even sensible ones– are talking about potentially violent resistance, and on Wednesday idiot armed Trump supporters stormed a counting office in Arizona, demanding an end to the count.
It shouldn’t have been this way, and the Democrats must accept some of the blame; they couldn’t have done Trump more favours. Once again, the party overlooked the statistically significant link between the competence of a candidate and the likelihood of his or her being elected.
True, Joe Biden had been a competent, amiable Vice-President to Obama, and you don’t hang around Capitol Hill for half a century without learning a trick or two. Unfortunately, as the campaign wore on it became clear he’d forgotten every last one of those tricks, plus the identity of the sitting President (at a rally, he mistook Donald Trump for some continuing emanation of the Bush dynasty). When you are brought into an American accident and emergency unit with head injuries, the first thing they ask (after your health insurance number) is “who is the President?”
Trump’s cruel ‘Sleepy Joe’ tagline hit home and did real damage, but it wasn’t only Biden’s dozy decrepitude that made a tightrope walk out of what should have been a cakewalk. Just as the British electorate was appalled by Jeremy Corbyn’s contempt for Britain, visible contempt for America from what styles itself the progressive left of the party alienated many working class Americans, including black and Hispanic voters. The sight of #BlackLivesMatter activists burning black businesses and tearing down statues of abolitionists prompted many black people –who felt their own lives and livelihoods did in fact matter– to choose deplorability over anarchy. Black men swung towards the Republicans in surprising numbers, and Biden’s failure to sway the Latino vote in Florida cost him that sizeable state.
Ironically, it was Trump’s 2016 core supporters –white, working class voters in the disaffected mid-West rust belt– who dealt his Presidency the coup de grâce, when Michigan and Wisconsin went blue. It may be that the original deplorables thought they had been suckered once and wouldn’t be suckers again, or perhaps they felt betrayed and let down when the effects of Covid-19 hit disproportionately hard in their communities. Either way, the people who swept Trump to power four years ago were instrumental in unseating him.
In Joe Biden, America hasn’t elected its best-ever President, but neither has it yet gotten shot of its worst. The immediate and troublesome imperative for American democracy is figuring out how to shift Trump and his Addams Family entourage out of the White House on 20th January, preferably without violence, or lasting resentment among GOP supporters.
If we’re lucky, The Donald may have a Plan B other than staying put: a lease on Idi Amin’s old villa in Riyadh, perhaps; or standing down in favour of Mike Pence so Pence can issue him the kind of all-in, unconditional blanket pardon that Gerald Ford gave to Nixon. Or the Devil might do us all a favour, and emerge in a sulphurous cloud on Inauguration Day to drag Donald Trump bodily and forever to the infernal abyss.