I’m just old enough to remember Watergate. I was 14 when Nixon resigned, and I recall reading an op-ed in Time or Newsweek a few days after Nixon was removed, marveling about how here in America there were no tanks in the streets. The author was celebrating that, because of our exceptionally exceptional exceptionalism, we as a nation could pull off this sort of regime change via bloodless legal mechanisms.
At the time this struck me as an odd claim. A child’s world is very limited: to me it was simply a normal part of life that sometimes the president was forced to quit, because otherwise he would be removed by the impeachment process, which was something I had been watching on TV quite a bit since the Senate Watergate hearings the previous year.
I understood that in historical terms this process was rare, but I had been conscious of the existence of the political world for about five years, and it had happened during that time span, which was the more relevant fact in terms of developing my sense of the normal (I can only imagine what sense of the normal children of similar age have developed over the past few years).
45 years later, I’m a little worried about those tanks this time around.
Donald Trump makes Richard Nixon look like the picture of psychological good health. A malignant narcissist of the most extreme kind, Trump has, for the last four-plus years, been like the proverbial lab rat who keeps compulsively hitting the lever that dispenses little doses of cocaine. In his case the cocaine is (probably) metaphorical, and comes in the form of media attention.
The lever are things like his Twitter account, which he uses to make the world on his TV, aka the Chauncey Gardiner Experience, pay attention to Donald Trump again at this very instant. Putting somebody with the most florid imaginable case of narcissistic personality disorder in the Oval Office is just that rat-cocaine experiment, except the rat has access to several thousand nuclear weapons.
All of which is to say I think it’s a touch optimistic to assume that Donald Trump is going to, on any level, accept an electoral loss next November. If he loses a close election that will of course prove it was stolen from him, and if he loses in a landslide that will prove this even more definitively.
As David Frum noted yesterday, a key fact about Trump is that he seems genuinely (to the extent that word can ever be used in a sentence about him) delusional about how popular he is. Or to put it another way, he’s psychologically incapable of dealing with even the idea that he isn’t extremely popular with everyone but the losers, the haters, the Mexican rapists, the shiftless Negroes, the old ugly fat women, i.e., all the people who don’t count by definition, because they don’t recognize the greatest president who has ever lived for who he is, which is the most powerful and important and richest and handsomest and best golfer in the world. [ETA: See the brand new tweets at the bottom of this post]
He’s completely nuts, in other words, and I’m not saying that to be hyperbolic. He’s unhinged, addled, bonkers. It’s not some sophisticated act to hustle the rubes: In October of 2019, Donald Trump is not a well man. Among many other things, to the extent he wasn’t already, he has now clearly become the craziest man ever to hold the office, by a country mile, and it’s getting worse under the pressure he now faces, which grows every day.
What I’m saying is that I believe that Trump, assuming he’s still around, will be in the most literal way incapable of accepting, or even processing, an electoral defeat thirteen months from now.
What happens then? Anybody who claims to be sure to know the answer to that question is either a liar or a fool. Our political institutions aren’t set up, to put it mildly, to deal with anything like this. The belief that of course the relevant institutions will follow the formal requirements of the law because this is America, not some overripe banana republic or Slavic slave soul dictatorship is not well grounded empirically, given that we are dealing with a historically unprecedented situation.
I mean we elected (sort of) a crazy guy, so my bet is that whatever happens is likely to be pretty crazy.
Whether that craziness will involve the Secret Service or the 25th amendment or those big beautiful tanks is anyone’s guess (feel free to do so), but I would be surprised if things are going to go by the book, unless that book is the DSM-V.
. . . res ipsa: