Methinks it was President Gerald Ford who, after being sworn in to replace the disgraced Richard Nixon, wearily pronounced in his 1974 inauguration, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”
It would be tempting for President-elect Joe Biden to say the same thing but: a) it would be poor form and would deepen the already profound divisions that threaten the nation and b) it would be just plain wrong.
When Nixon boarded Marine One and lifted off from the White House lawn some 46 years ago, we could rest assured that the unindicted Watergate co-conspirator would slink away quietly to rehabilitate his image and, thanks to Ford’s pardon, escape the clutches of federal prosecutors sharpening their knives and lying in wait.
The nation won’t be so lucky this time around. The long national nightmare of what’s left of the Trump presidency will continue like a dreadful reality TV show that networks refuse to cancel because it attracts lots of eyeballs.
There are so many unanswered questions here: Will Trump concede? Will he cooperate with the transition? And, of course, the one concern on everyone’s mind: Where will the Trump presidential library be located and what will be inside it?
Worse yet, unlike Nixon, Trump will surely need a legal defense fund. It is not hard to imagine that Trump will resign shortly before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration and that, after being sworn in for the briefest presidency in history, Vice President Mike Pence will pardon his ex-boss preemptively. But that won’t stop local prosecutors such as New York Attorney General Letitia James, who said only a few days ago that she is continuing an investigation into the Trump family and the Trump Organization “related to financial impropriety.”
Furthermore, there is bound to be a barrage of civil lawsuits, in which case Trump cannot invoke the Fifth Amendment and will be forced to testify. Imagine the ratings. So no, our long national nightmare is anything but over. It’s merely transitioning to the next hellish level.
Notwithstanding the complex web of problems confronting our nation, the reasons for Trump’s demise itself are actually quite simple. Defeating an incumbent president is a terribly difficult feat to accomplish. The last time it happened was George H.W. Bush in 1992, and before that, Jimmy Carter in 1980. Unlike Trump, both Bush and Carter were weakened by credible primary challenges. Prior to 1980, the last time an incumbent president had been denied a second term was Herbert Hoover in the throes of the Great Depression in 1932.
Throwing out an incumbent president is a high hurdle not only because of the power of incumbency but because the vast majority of successful politicians understand the art of addition. They realize they need to build on their core group of supporters in order to have a more successful term in office and thereby grease the skids for re-election.
Trump, on the other hand, has practiced the science of subtraction. In his four years in office, he has made little effort to reach out to people who did not support him, though it’s worth noting that he did a little better this year with black males and Latino males than in 2016.
Be that as it may, Trump not only throws red meat to his followers at rallies and on his Twitter feed, but he routinely slaughters an entire cow and hurls it out to his salivating fans, while offending others who held their collective noses and voted for him four years ago. And his poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic spoke directly to the question he asked wary voters in 2016: “What the hell do you have to lose?” The question has now been answered.
You can’t belittle and insult entire groups and classes of people, blow up institutional norms, provide atrocious leadership in a crisis and then expect love in return. Politics doesn’t work that way and neither does human nature.
Think about all the presidents and other political leaders and the inclusive language most of them try to use in their speeches. Have you ever heard Donald Trump say, for example, the aforementioned “My fellow Americans … ?”
Trump has done a disservice to the nation by deepening the urban-rural divide. No matter who had emerged victorious, 40% of the country will still despise and resent the other 40% for the foreseeable future.
On the state level, Trump was soundly rejected in Connecticut by a margin of nearly 58-40%, losing six out of eight counties, winning only—you guessed it—the most rural: Litchfield and Windham.
The five members of the state’s U.S House delegation—Democrats all—won handily. Democratic candidates for General Assembly celebrated gains up and down the ballot, as Senate Dems solidified their majority and their colleagues in the House appear to have done the same. The only questions now are whether Sen. Chris Murphy winds up in the Biden administration, and whether Gov. Ned Lamont, who will be 67 in January, will run for a second term.
State Republican Party chairman J.R. Romano, a strong Trump supporter, is packing it in, opting against pursuing a second five-year term. Good luck finding a replacement. It will likely be a thankless job.
“Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end here and now,” Biden said in his victory speech. “I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but unify.”
I’m rooting for him and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, whose historic election is a story in its own right, but Biden will be pushing up daisies before this grim era ends. The nation aches for their success.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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