“Despite the Left’s attempts to undermine this Election, I will NEVER stop fighting for YOU,” President Trump assured me in a fundraising email.
I don’t take campaign fundraising emails seriously (never mind literally). They’re all pretty stupid. But this one was obviously different, for the simple reason that the election is over.
Indeed, this note—one of many sent by the Trump campaign recently—was a plea for money to pay for the legal effort to reverse an election Trump lost by the same margin of electoral votes he once claimed amounted to a “massive landslide.” If you read the letter’s fine print, you’ll discover that “fighting for you” actually means “fighting for me.” Most of the money from small donors will go not to the legal effort but rather to pay down campaign debt.
In a sense, I’m grateful that Trump is doubling down on everything wrong about his presidency in its final chapter. Yes, this is embarrassing for the country. Yes, Trump’s radioactive conspiracy theory of a stolen election will have a long, poisonous half-life. But Trump is removing any doubt that his narcissistic presidency was always entirely about him.
The country is in the midst of a health and economic crisis, but Trump’s primary focus is licking his own wounds, not tackling the country’s. He has largely abandoned formal intelligence briefings and hasn’t met with the coronavirus task force in months. With the exception of a Veterans Day visit to Arlington National Cemetery and a Friday-night statement on the pandemic, he’s conducted his post-election presidency doing precisely what he’s always done — subordinating the office to his own wants and petty grievances.
Trump punctuates his brooding and sulking with pathetic tweets brimming with conspiratorial or otherwise deranged hogwash, including the repeated claim “I won the election.” He continues to insist, as he has throughout his presidency, that proof for his lies is just around the corner. On Sunday, he promised a new lawsuit showing the “unconstitutionality” of the 2020 election.
“Nixon’s real tragedy is that he never had the stature to be a tragic hero,” Gary Wills wrote in Nixon Agonistes. “He is the stuff of sad (almost heartbreaking) comedy.”
I think that’s a little unfair to Nixon, but it’s dead on with Trump.
It would take a heart of stone not to laugh as Trump finally turns on the real Judas in his eyes: Fox News (where I’m a contributor). The network, Trump tweeted, “forgot what made them successful, what got them there. They forgot the Golden Goose. The biggest difference between the 2016 Election, and 2020, was @FoxNews!”
Never mind that Fox was No. 1 in every time slot more than a decade before Trump descended that escalator in 2015. Never mind that for four years, Trump began his day with his Presidential Daily Brief—Fox and Friends—and ended it with the primetime gang. And never mind that Trump and the opinion side of the network remain in a deeply codependent relationship.
Trump didn’t get the unwavering, full-throated praise he needed, so now he’s thinking about creating a competing network, one without all the obvious anti-Trump bias!
Most presidents, if they’re remembered at all, get summarized with a single sentence. Whatever that sentence might have been before the election, Trump managed to rewrite it after the election: “He was a one-term president who was the first in American history to refuse to concede or recognize the election results.”
George H.W. Bush, the last incumbent president to lose a reelection bid, left office (after graciously conceding) in fairly bad odor on the right. After eight years of Bill Clinton, however, nostalgia for Bush was so strong, his son parlayed his patronymic name into a winning presidential bid.
If Trump had followed a similar course, he (or perhaps his sybaritic scion, Donald Jr.) might have cashed in on similar nostalgia after four years of a Biden presidency almost certain to be seen as disastrous by those on the right. Instead, he has proven that those of us who said “character is destiny” were right all along.
Let Trump continue to insist he didn’t really lose. It’s impossible to stop him, after all. Let those who believe him—or pretend to—continue to march and tweet and rant, including the many highly compensated media personalities who’ve gotten rich off the Trump train.
But for the rest of us, the one thing we won’t ever feel about the Trump presidency is nostalgia—not least because he won’t really be gone. Even after he leaves the White House, he’ll be fighting for himself—and making sure we hear him—for the rest of his days.
Photograph by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.