In his over-the-top bombast and grandiosity, President Donald Trump has always evoked one of the iconic characters in American entertainment.
The “great and powerful” Wizard of Oz ultimately got unmasked as an impotent poseur. After Dorothy’s little dog Toto pulled back the curtain, he shame-facedly called himself “a very good man, but…a very bad wizard.”
With six weeks left in Trump’s term, events have pulled the curtain all the way back on him. It has not revealed redeeming qualities.
The 45th President has not indicated any capacity for shame, or at least its display in public. And he no longer pretends to perform the job to which voters elected him four years ago.
Trump ignores the metastasizing coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 275,000 Americans, addressing it mainly to seek credit for vaccine breakthroughs by scientists. Staggering toward the end, Trump scars the country with his pettiness, dishonesty and self-interested abuses of power.
Seeking to hobble the man who defeated him, Trump delayed the transition to President-elect Joe Biden’s administration as long as he could get away with it. He has moved to strip civil service protections from thousands of federal career officials, easing the way for him to fire members of what he derides as the “deep state” before leaving office. His Treasury Department seeks to move $455 billion in unspent coronavirus relief funds out of the incoming president’s reach.
The President is mulling holding a public appearance signaling a 2024 presidential campaign on the very day America celebrates the peaceful transfer of power with Biden’s inauguration.
Trump’s farcical claims to have actually won the election serve a different purpose. They shield his ego, and his image in the eyes of supporters, from the humiliation of defeat. He mostly presents that false front from the safety of his Twitter feed and pre-recorded statements, ducking live interactions with journalists who challenge his fantasies with the truth.
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The demise of his claims in court and the forward march of state-vote certification processes make it a difficult act to sustain. So he escalates the scale of his lies.
In the process, Trump undercuts America’s faith in democracy and endangers state and local officials honestly performing their election administration duties. Neither abstract national values nor risks to others give pause to a politician pre-occupied with himself.
As the pandemic claims an average of more than 1,700 deaths every day, and threatens to throw the economy back into recession, Trump scrambles to secure his own future. One crucial tool: the awesome power of the presidential pardon, which he can wield for six more weeks to shield himself and close associates from the threat of federal prosecution.
Trump has already used it to protect his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who lied to the FBI about conversations with Russia. Because Flynn declined to tell special counsel Robert Mueller all he knows, Trump’s pardon of Flynn serves to protect himself.
No one expects it to be his last. Pardons for former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and political adviser Roger Stone, who also withheld information from Mueller, would have the same effect as Flynn’s.
Trump has discussed clearing Rudy Giuliani, who assisted the unsuccessful effort to smear Biden that led to Trump’s impeachment. He has publicly asserted his ability to take a step no predecessor ever has by pardoning himself.
Claiming a stolen election provides a rallying cry for future political endeavors. The voting base it inspires could become a customer base for a president who returns to private business facing hundreds of millions in debt. Early in his term, for example, the Trump Organization explored launching an affordable hotel chain.
The interests of the party that has consistently protected him pose no constraint. Trump attacks his own Cabinet members and Republican governors as readily as Democrats once they decline to violate their duty by subverting the law or the will of voters for his benefit.
“Your governor could stop it very easily if he knew what the hell he was doing,” Trump said at a Saturday night rally in Valdosta, Georgia, with Republican candidates for the state’s January 5 runoff, which will determine control of the US Senate.
One enduring question is whether feverish delusions or ice-cold cynicism drives him. During 2016 Republican primaries, one Republican rival discerned a blend of both.
Sen. Ted Cruz had called Trump a “pathological liar” who, “whatever lie he tells, at that minute he believes it.” Like most figures within the GOP, Cruz now bows to Trump’s enduring power over the voters ambitious Republicans need.
That power represents Trump’s greatest feat of wizardry. His presidency has brought supporters no border wall financed by Mexico, no health plan to replace Obamacare, no manufacturing or coal-mining revival to restore lost blue-collar earning power.
His extravagant promises never withstood critical scrutiny. But as he launched his presidential bid in 2015, Trump brazenly insisted there would be no Oz-like unmasking.
“I will not let those people down,” he told me at Trump Tower back then.
The 74 million people who voted for his reelection plainly don’t think he did. Most tell pollsters they believe his election fraud lies.
Not only that, Trump has persuaded them to keep sending him money. His campaign, his new political action committee and the Republican Party say they’ve collected $207.5 million since Election Day.
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