House Democrats are inching closer to a formal impeachment inquiry, as if that’s how best to exorcise Donald Trump from the body politic. Mark Sanford just became the third Republican to announce a 2020 primary challenge and to dream of a successful insurrection against an emperor whom most of the party meekly obeys.
And 10 Democrats will take the stage on Thursday night for the party’ next presidential debate, each determined to present himself or herself as the surest route to the far side of Trump.
So now is as good a time as any to state what should be obvious to anyone who has considered Trump’s psychology, registered his megalomania and taken full account of his behavior to date.
We will never, ever be rid of him.
Oh, sure, we may remove him from the presidency, which is no small thing. But that won’t get him out of the nation’s bloodstream. It sure as hell won’t shut him up. If you think he has demolished all the norms of what it means to be the president of the United States, just wait until you see the sledgehammer he takes to the traditional role and restraint of former presidents.
He won’t be at an easel in remote Texas, like George W. Bush. He won’t be biting his tongue and taking big, deep, centering breaths, like Barack Obama.
A foundation devoted to good works? Been there, done that, and it was a perfect mirror of the man, which is to stay a complete sham. It’s under investigation by the state of New York.
No, he’ll be tweeting, bleating, ranting and raging in precisely the manner that he is now, just without the nuclear codes. And if that transition happens after November 2020, he’ll declare the election suspect, fraudulent, the result of a media crusade against him, the fruit of illegal votes. He pressed that narrative in 2016 even though he was declared the victor. A winner that sore is poised to be an epically nasty loser, and I have an easier time imagining a “Thelma and Louise” remake starring Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin than I do the Trumps graciously beckoning the Warrens across the threshold of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The post-Trump landscape — or, rather, the impossibility of one — is on my mind in part because of a prediction by Brad Parscale, the manager of the Trump 2020 campaign, at a California Republican convention last weekend. “The Trumps will be a dynasty that will last for decades, propelling the Republican Party into a new party,” he said in a speech to delegates.
Then The Atlantic published a riveting cover story by McKay Coppins that in some ways raised the same prospect, reporting that Ivanka and Don Jr. are jockeying to be their dad’s rightful political heir and noting that the Trump progeny are genetically wired to wring every last droplet from their father’s celebrity that they can.
Flashing back to the night in November 2016 when the family watched the election returns, Coppins wrote that they were in shock, because Trump “was supposed to go down in a spectacular blaze of made-for-TV martyrdom that all of them could capitalize on. Ivanka had a book coming out. Don and Eric were working on a line of patriotically themed budget hotels. And preliminary talks were underway to launch a Trump-branded TV network that would turn disgruntled voters into viewers. Now they needed a new plan.” Apparently it’s one modeled after the Kennedys and the Bushes, only with a much bigger budget for hair and makeup.
Best of luck, Trumpkins. I just don’t see it. Ivanka — or, as I like to think of her, Our Lady of the DMZ — has shown a shocking tone-deafness during her White House romp. And Don Jr. was the nitwit emailing ecstatically and then lying badly about that June 2016 meeting with the Russian, um, adoption evangelists. These two have all of Dad’s gall but only a scintilla of his guile.
Trump won’t hang around by proxy, in a next generation of opportunists with his surname or agenda. That would negate the whole point of his pivot into politics. It wasn’t to promote ideas; it was to promote himself. Health permitting, he’ll move heaven and earth to maintain his omnipresence in American life, by which I mean he’ll be as outrageous as he must to stay in the news. And we in the media will confront a decision: Give him what he wants, or let go of him and all the eyeballs he draws?
Even if we let go, there’s the strong possibility, as Coppins noted, that he’ll establish his own media enterprise, with a network where the news really is fake, adulation doesn’t hinge on nuisances like the ballot box and Sean Hannity isn’t the model for Trump veneration. He’s the baseline.
From that coddled perch Trump can take out his big black Sharpie and write higher vote counts over his actual, official ones. He can draw horns on John Bolton and a halo over William Barr. He can sketch a second White House adjacent to the first one but taller, with gold trim.
That’s where he’ll be living, his power fictive but his presence ineluctable, snappily ever after.
Frank Bruni c.2019 New York Times News Service