One fake president
Sadly, the United States last week became the laughing stock of the world.
It is important to admit this: that the nation which has led the world in advancing the democratic principle for so long seemed to unravel, and on live television. In some fledgling democracies and failing states around the world, I am sure some officials were enjoying popcorn refills.
The US is the world’s best-documented nation state: even last Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol as the country’s legislators gathered to affirm the election of its incoming President and Vice-President, was documented on live newsfeeds and streaming services.
Think about it: for weeks, President Donald Trump had spoken darkly about the January 6 date. If all else failed, Congress’ certification was going to be the last opportunity for him to seek to, well, “remain” president.
The night before, the nation was distracted by a preparatory event in Georgia: the Senate elections which would determine its control. If the Republican Party won at least one of the two seats, the party would retain control.
By midnight, the numbers showed that the Democrats would snatch both seats. That meant that at breakfast in a few hours, it must have become clear to Mr. Trump that the worst had happened: in his four years he had managed to lose the Presidency, the House and the Senate.
But Trump had always had one thing going for him: people ceding to him the benefit of the doubt. It was how the GoP itself somehow found him credible in the first place in 2016. It was how enough Americans contrived to elect him. It was how, ordinarily intelligent and responsible members of the party fetched him firewood for his fire for four years.
The benefit of the doubt: It was what the country also gave to him last Wednesday as he put his arson plan into play. He had announced the rally, but the security agencies uncharacteristically did not move a muscle. He had invited the members of his infamous base, telling them by Twitter on December 19, “Be there, will be wild,” but nobody moved. How wild, they seemed to smirk.
The benefit of the doubt: Even as scared members of the Washington DC community began to board up their homes and businesses ahead of the obvious conflict between the work of Congress and the so-called protest, nobody addressed the security of the Capitol community.
The benefit of the doubt: As Congress began its presidential election certification Trump was telling his raucous crowd to show strength in fighting to give him an electoral victory he had neither earned nor won, lying that he would march with them on the Capitol, but nobody—apart from him—seemed to think that one had anything to do with the other.
And so, once again, the American leader walked through what Americans call “left field”: the blind spot of a nation which seemed to believe nobody in American leadership could conceivably select the ugliest option, particularly during an official event in which the Vice-President was presiding.
Not Trump. By the time it was over, four persons were dead, many policemen injured, and the Houses of Congress ransacked and desecrated. Within two days, one of the injured policemen had also died.
Images emerged from the deepest corners of the Capitol as to just how egregious and cynical the attack had been…and Trump’s entrancement of a nation which had exposed itself to him seemed to be broken.
To begin with: Trump did not actually follow his savage animals into the Capitol as he had promised as he revved them up from behind bulletproof plexiglass and as his most besotted supporter, former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani, called for “trial by combat.” Instead, the American royalty-wannabe retreated to the White House from where he reportedly enjoyed the event on television.
It was the point at which the entire nation appeared to recoil in disgust about the evil their leader had engineered. Republicans and Democrats shrank from him. The Mayor of Washington DC declared a curfew. Allies broke with him.
That, and after incoming President Joe Biden had made a presidential intervention on television, was when Trump saw it fit to do something remotely respectable. “Go home,” he told his invaders. “We love you, you’re very special.”
By the following morning, White House and administration employees had begun to resign. Analysts, journalists, citizens and members of Congress were openly discussing how to bundle him out of office without waiting for January 20, just two weeks away.
That led Trump to reach for his latest working falsehood. He went on television and called on Americans for “healing and reconciliation.’’
He was reading someone’s words on teleprompter, of course. He lied about how, as the riot had emptied into the Capitol the previous day, he had “immediately deployed the National Guard” to “expel the intruders.”
And then he threw all of them, all the people that only the previous day he had called “great patriots” and encouraged to be strong in snatching a new presidential authority for him—like the mace off the Speaker’s desk—under the bus.
“You do not represent our country, and to those who broke the law, you will pay,” he declared?
Our country? The law?
But it is this triumph of ambiguity that Trump fed on for four years to create what has turned out to be two countries in one, the crisis being that Trump lacks loyalty to the one he swore to serve.
As last week came to an end, he was making it clear that although he had recognised he could not stop the Biden administration from being inaugurated, he would not be a part of that historic event.
Of course not. Mercifully, it is merely a ritual and not a necessary condition, that leaders of previous administrations who are still alive gather at the inauguration of a new one. The practice breathes energy into the new and affirms continuity.
Real Americans attend, even when they are not physically present. Some losers sulk on a golf course or eat French fries on the couch.
The patriotic inauguration ritual is the reason why Al Gore, who won over 500,000 more popular votes than George Bush but lost the 2000 election, presided over Congress’ certification of his own loss and then attended the Bush inauguration. Hillary Clinton, who beat Trump by nearly three million votes, attended his inauguration in 2017.
It is remarkable that Biden has no such handicap. He thrashed Trump not only by over seven million votes, but in the Electoral College as well. Sadly, Trump’s childish inability to take his whipping like a man—an ailment he self-diagnosed long before the election—became America’s sickness.
But let us not forget that that is exactly how it all began: one racist real estate pretend-billionaire being unable to accept one colour: black. As in black Barack Obama becoming US president.
But suddenly now, the world can look from Obama to Trump and back to Obama and the truth is clear: anyone can be an American president, but not every American President is really an American.