What pleasure the networks must have taken when they cut off President Trump in mid-rant. For nearly five years, he has compelled them to broadcast his barrages of bluster. Now, as Biden staggers towards 270 — Electoral College votes, that is, not years of age — with the grace and speed of a laminated sloth, Trump’s enemies — and competitors, for that is what he reduced the media to — dare to approach the tottering colossus.
Anderson Cooper spontaneously imagines Trump splayed on his back, legs in the air like an ‘obese turtle…flailing in the sun’. Somewhere above, an eagle prepares to dive down, pierce the soft flesh and draw out the orange innards. ‘What I didn’t know is that it would hurt so much,’ says Stephen Colbert, spontaneously breaking down at just the right moment.
It was foolish of Trump to take to the microphone instead of leaving it to the lawyers. Better to talk about the need for recounts in a close-fought race, about the failure of many states to respond to the landslide of mail-in ballots that everyone saw coming — anything procedural, really, instead of claiming that dark forces were stealing the election.
The recourse to paranoia and conspiracy signifies the final act in the drama of the dictator and the emperor. Trump is accused of being both, as well as being a ‘fascist’. He never was any of those things, but can be mistaken for all of them, given enough bad faith — and given his insistence on giving his flaws the same airtime as his merits. He could never be a dictator, an emperor or a fascist: he isn’t disciplined enough to maintain the image. Instead he has shown his entire personality to us in a way no politician has since Jimmy Carter donned the cardigan of shame, and no one wants to see that.
The Greeks had a word for it: hamartia, the tragic flaw that leads to downfall. Trump cannot go quietly, so he will end badly. He didn’t arrive quietly, but like an emperor, with fanfares and a parade of defeated rivals: the Romneyites, the Bushae, the Hispanic satraps Cruz and Rubio. He didn’t rule quietly, either. How many Republican votes did he lose in Arizona when he insulted John McCain, allowing Biden to become the first Democrat to win there in 24 years?
In fact, he didn’t rule enough — not something we tend to say about dictators, emperors and fascists. Trump campaigned on a promise of killing Obamacare, but all he did was chop off a few heads of the Hydra’s heads. They will sprout back under Biden, and the bills will keep coming in.
He cannot go quietly. For 10 weeks, the emperor will fulminate in the darkened corridors of the palace as the Democratic mob waits at his gates. The cameras will set up and wait for the final perp walk to the helicopter. The conspiracy of NeverTrumpers, having got what they wanted by doing what they promised for his enemies, now must appeal for their reward, knowing that their fate will be that of Brutus: ‘as I slew my best lover for the good of Rome, I have the same dagger for myself when it shall please my country to need my death’. So they will prolong their conflict with Trump to defer the day when it pleases the country, or at least the Democrats, to dispense with them.
‘Can an obese turtle turn itself over?’ Slate simpers, ironizing the fact-checking crouch into which Trump forced most of the media. They want to finish him off now by starving him of coverage, like Minos refusing to send in another camera crew of young Athenians. But this will turn out to be the final instance of a hostile media doing Trump’s work for him.
If the media cut off the coverage, they save Trump from himself, and perhaps even prevent him from destroying the memory of his achievements. If they control what can be heard and seen of him, they confirm his claim that they have usurped the legal relationship between the people and the presidency. Which they have.
And this is why the media needed Trump, and why they will continue to cling to his statue even as it falls and shatters. So long as they have him as their foil, they can claim to be acting in the public interest. His enemies will miss him more than his friends will.