“The tapes are the real man — mean, vindictive, panicky, striking first in anticipation of being struck, trying to lift his own friable self-esteem by shoving others down,” Garry Wills wrote of Richard Nixon in the 2017 preface to his book, Nixon Agonistes. Wills added, perhaps unfairly, that “Nixon’s real tragedy is that he never had the stature to be a tragic hero. He is the stuff of sad (almost heartbreaking) comedy.”
The passage comes to mind as we close out Donald Trump’s annus horribilis, during which he supplanted Nixon as the saddest figure in post-presidential politics. The January 6 committee, despite its flaws, succeeded in establishing a damning official record (largely told by his own aides) of his attempt to steal the presidency. A special prosecutor is on his case(s). His tax returns are out for all to see.
A week after a disastrous midterm election for his party and his power, he announced he’s running for president again. The party and public shrugged.
Then, he teased a “major announcement” which turned out to be a line of digital trading cards, some of which appear to be little more than Photoshopped images from Google searches with his face pasted on. What Trump described as “amazing ART of my Life & Career!” show him as, among other things, an astronaut, a sheriff and a superhero with laser beams shooting out of his eyes (causing even Russian state TV to snicker).