In the end, Donald Trump won. Not the election obviously; that was stolen by the axis of Iranians, Chinese, George Soros and Jabba the Hutt. And not in financial terms, if the recriminations and looming business reckoning play out as he must fear. Nor even in the respect of his peers who ended up being Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and other extras from the set of Deliverance.
So no, he did not win in any normal way, but by the final measure, the one that perhaps mattered most to the orange one, he has emerged triumphant.
The Donald leaves office the most famous and talked-about man in the world, someone on whom it is impossible to be neutral — the Hitchcock of politics, a master of suspense, a man whose next move is awaited with fear and fascination. Even in his final days, there was still that frisson, that tiny scintilla of doubt over whether he had one last atrocious trick up his sleeve to steal back the White House. An indisputably consequential president who has reshaped American politics, Washington without Trump will be like Silence of the Lambs without Hannibal Lecter; we may feel safer but it’s a lot less compelling.
No other outgoing president has owned the transition so thoroughly. Trump never surrendered the spotlight. Even his final hours were dominated by the enforced military occupation of Washington and trepidation over whom he might pardon other than himself. Whom might he include? John Wilkes Booth, the original Proud Boy; Darth Vader, “a strong leader, very big on law and order”; maybe Back to the Future’s Biff Tannen, wrongly condemned for defending society from an influx of modern liberal values and flash antifa time travellers.
True, Trump may have overdone it with the assault on Congress in the season finale — that Twitter ban could really hit the publicity for the next venture. But can we be confident we have heard the last of him? He leaves his audience either wanting more or wanting confirmation that there isn’t any more. People want to know what is going to happen next, even if it is just to be reassured that he is still behind reinforced glass in a Mar-a-Lago cell.
His shadow will loom over his successor and his party. Trumpism will be a concept in US politics long after the last Trump hotel has become a Holiday Inn. As for the Senate trial, statewide investigations, bankruptcies and possible prosecutions — they aren’t exactly welcome but wow-ee that’s even more airtime.
There are reasons to hope that, out of office, he will sink into melancholy and political irrelevance, that the madness of his final days may help his party claw back control from the truly bonkers. That is definitely one possible path. His solipsism certainly contains the seeds of self-destruction. But it’s a bit early to bet on it. What is clear is that Trump remains box office and that he understands the rules of entertainment better than any politician around.
In a modern media landscape, which functions on strong emotion and profits from an outrage economy, does anyone believe that production companies are not even now vying for What Donald Did Next? Or maybe a Keeping Up with the Kardashians-style, whole-family show — Coming Up Trumps? Every one of the catalogue of grotesques with whom he will surround himself is a ratings boost. The madder he seems, the angrier he gets, the bigger the hit.
We may be into the difficult fifth season but this show has a way to run. He has a burning need for vindication as well as attention and at least one path sees him and his fanatical followers exerting a gravitational pull on American politics. Now more than ever, the line between celebrity and electability is wafer thin. No one is going to forget Donald Trump and, for a man who counted Twitter followers as validation, that may be the final victory.
The Donald’s finger may be off the nuclear trigger but his hand still hovers over our remotes.
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