If there is one character in literature that should remind us of Donald Trump, it is Denethor from Tolkien’s “Return of the King”, if Denethor were much less literate and disturbingly ignorant of the world around him.
For those who may not be familiar with the reference, Denethor, Steward of Gondor, was being manipulated by Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor. To make a long story short, Denethor is old and bitter, and no longer trusts anyone around him, even those whose counsel he had valued in the past. He feels betrayed by all, even by his youngest son Faramir. As Gondor is being attacked, Denethor gives in to despair and attempts to immolate Faramir and himself as part of a personal Götterdämmerung.
No, Trump will not try to burn himself and his family down, but he does feel betrayed by almost everyone around him, with the probable exception of his three oldest children. One has to bear in mind that Trump is a malignant narcissist, and as such, it is simply inconceivable to him that he lost the election fair and square.
Think on the italicized word in the previous sentence, “inconceivable”. Most of us use it as hyperbole, as in “it’s inconceivable that Jimmy would have done such a thing.” But for a malignant narcissist, the word is meant in a literal sense. To Trump, it is inconceivable, unthinkable, flatly impossible that the election wasn’t riddled with fraud against him. Trump is mentally ill and likely has been for all his life.
So what will Trump do? He’s certainly not going to admit defeat, much less give a gracious concession speech as have all failed major-party candidates before him. He may or may not sign off on the economic aid package that Congress is trying to put together, and if SCOTUS ends Obamacare, for a week or so Trump will be the giddiest man on the planet since he was finally able to destroy President Obama’s signature accomplishment, for erasing everything that Obama did was Trump’s raison d’etre from the moment Obama mocked him at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2011. That twenty million Americans would lose access to health care (in the middle of a pandemic) is of no consideration at all to him, as long as he got rid of Obamacare. Why? Trump’s mindset has nothing to do with honor or integrity, but everything to do with spite.
Spite is what will fill Trump’s mind from now until he leaves the White House, and probably for long afterwards. Trump will not attend Biden’s inauguration (even if it’s held only virtually), and he sure as heck won’t give Biden the type of one-on-one discussion that all other presidents have given to those who succeeded them, much less leave the traditional polite letter on the Resolute Desk for Biden to read at his leisure. In all honesty, I would be surprised if Trump didn’t find some way to soil or deface the Oval Office or the presidential private quarters.
The real danger, though, is that Trump will try to take his revenge on America as a whole, because other than the three Traitor Tots…
…there’s one more person whom Trump will feel hasn’t betrayed him: Vladimir Putin. It is highly unlikely that Trump will run to Putin and tell him all our national secrets (and equally unlikely that Putin, being highly intelligent, would believe anything Trump said) or that he will try to start a war with, say, China. But the possibility is disturbingly high that Trump will start issuing a raft of executive orders intended to punish or insult those he feels betrayed him, whether foreign or domestic. To his mind, Trump has scores to settle, and will take as much revenge as he can before he leaves the White House.
There’s two issues, though, that are keeping Trump from sleeping at night (besides his Twitter feed). First is his debt, somewhere between $400M and $1B in loans that come due between 2022 and 2024. Because of his narcissism, Trump may be telling himself that the revenue from his hotels and golf courses will be more than enough, but in reality, his revenue is about to drop off precipitously. That, and even the the notoriously-low-standards-for-lending DeutscheBank (where former SCOTUS Justice Kennedy’s son allegedly helped Trump get a loan) recognizes the toxicity of being associated with Trump and is actively trying to offload his debt to whoever will take it, perhaps for pennies on the dollar. Trump will also declare bankruptcy (again), since most of his properties are suddenly going to become the commercial version of ghost towns complete with blowing tumbleweeds that look suspiciously like pillows.
But the one problem that Trump fears more than anything else is that the moment he’s out of office, he’s open to subpoenas and indictments concerning lawsuits and investigations that are currently ongoing at federal and state levels. Even if Trump were to successfully pardon himself (an otherwise-laughable notion which even the most recent SCOTUS nominee claimed was an “open question”) or were to resign just before leaving office so Pence could pardon him, such a pardon would only apply to federal crimes and investigations. The state-level investigations are being conducted in New York, and the only person who could pardon him for crimes in New York is Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Somehow I don’t think Gov. Cuomo would pardon Trump, not for all the linguine in Little Italy.
As much as many of us would like to see Trump in jail, it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever spend a day behind bars. Instead, he’ll use his small army of lawyers to delay and appeal until Trump is unable to physically attend or testify. That, or he’ll move to Dubai, which has no extradition treaty with America.
But while all that is happening, Trump is going to discover that all of a sudden, people aren’t so eager to listen to him and hang on his every word anymore. Even more than losing a billionaire lifestyle and leaving America to avoid prosecution, that will be the bitterest pill he’ll have to swallow, for he will have become a nobody. Most of us recognize this is the all-too-normal fate of most people as we grow old and increasingly ignored by the world around us, but for a true narcissist, there is no worse fate.
And as his days grow cold and short, like Denethor, Trump will rage against the utter, tragic futility of his personal Götterdämmerung, absolutely sure that all the world had conspired to ruin him, but never able to grasp that he himself the cause of his own problems.
None of us should take any joy or pleasure at the prospect. Why? For all the harm he has caused and will continue to cause, Trump does not appear to have ever enjoyed a single moment of simple joy, of altruistic happiness, or of real love as most of us understand the concepts. As far as I can tell, he has never laughed at himself, and when he has laughed, he has done so only in scorn. In fact, I am not even sure he has ever felt real sadness, for sadness requires a feeling of loss for something to which a person was emotionally attached. Trump is to my mind truly the unhappiest man on the planet.
Justice, whether through the legal process or the often harsher form meted out by Karma, will take its course. Trump’s name will become a byword for corruption, malice, and spite, and even more deeply scorned than that of Benedict Arnold. His children — and all those who bear the Trump name — will be the ones left to deal with that legacy.
Addendum: Trump’s niece, psychologist Mary Trump, has said much the same about what she believes her uncle will do.