One had a sense this week that Donald Trump was retreating into some sort of cocoon of unreality following the shellacking his Republicans received in the midterm elections he vaingloriously billed as a referendum on himself.
It would have been hard otherwise to maintain the pretence that the loss of up to 40 seats in the House of Representatives was a triumphal vindication of his presidency. Even on a good day, that should have taxed this master of mendacious spin.
True, the Republicans picked up a couple of seats in the Senate, at any rate at this writing with the results in Florida and Mississippi still be determined. These wins confirmed that the party of the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, was now the party of George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama whose appeal was principally to rural blue collar whites without much education — and to the sharks, like Trump, out to monetize their prejudices, fears and false consciousness.
Never in a non-presidential election year have voters turned out in such numbers. By a margin of close to 8 percent they voted against the Trumpublicans, giving the Democrats subpoena power to make life hell for Trump and his family, both in the genetic and the Mafia sense.
There was a deranged quality to Trump’s post-election press conference. It brought to mind the movie “Downfall” and its depiction of a dictator who, cornered, had emigrated to a parallel universe.
Perhaps, though, there was a method to Trump’s apparent madness — a desperate theatrical turn for an audience he was sure would thrill to his denouncing as “racist” the African-American correspondent of a highbrow news programme when she asked what he meant by calling himself a “nationalist” and whether he meant it as a racist dog whistle.
Which, without doubt, is precisely how he had meant it — and precisely how it was taken not only by the committed Ku Kluxers and neo-Nazis who heard it but also by the larger mass of citizens open to the suggestion that black people, immigrants from Latin America, and George Soros are the cause of their distemper.
Cut next to Paris where Trump came, nominally, to mark the centenary of the armistice ending the war that many would call the beginning of the world we live in now. Would he join a score of other world leaders in showing respect for the millions butchered in the service of their predecessors’ leaders’ pride and folly? No. He would not even come out on the birthday of the US Marines to honour the heroes of Belleau Wood, the corps’ signature World War I immolation. He blamed the weather and, several days later, the Secret Service.
For any of the others, of either party, who might have been elected president in 2016, November 11, 2018, would have been the moment for a big speech about the lessons of the Great War and the botched peace that ended it, sowing the seeds of a second and, in the cold one, a third. But Trump, knowing little and caring less about history, scarpered home to brood and tweet about his electoral wounds.
He strikes me as cognitively challenged. When he speaks his vocabulary is increasingly limited. More and more, his nastiness on twitter seems instinctive rather than tactical or strategic. You can tell by the spelling and grammar when his staff has been tweeting for him.
That he has difficulty expressing himself more articulately than Tony Soprano does not mean his lizard brain is not fully functioning. He knows the Democratic majority in Congress next year will have access to the tax returns he has long sought to conceal. He knows that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is about to indict his son, Donald Jr, who makes the Godfather’s Sonny look like a stable genius.
God knows what lies ahead. Whatever else, it will be riveting.