A Mostly Peaceful Transition of Power
Many will be disappointed, but history tells us exactly what President Trump will do from here on out. And it doesn’t end in a bang.
Political fan fiction dies harder than Bruce Willis in a Christmas movie, it seems.
For four years, the RESIST! folks have longed for Trump to be driven from the White House, preferably in handcuffs, or — depending on the variety of daydreaming you are doing — forced out at gunpoint by the military. Since the election has gone sideways, the MAGA Militia folks have harbored (and by harbored we mean post all over their social media) fantasies of a red hatted Trump Army manning the barricades around the White House to protect their president from the deep state globalists who tried to cheat him out of his rightful place as God Emperor of the United States of Trump. A whole bunch of folks in the commentariat class are wringing their hands and writing their comments about how we aren’t going to get the traditional peaceful transition of power. Media seeing the coming end to the sugar high of having the outlandish Trump to cover 24/7 would have no objection getting a few more ratings squeezes out of the outgoing 45th president.
They will all be disappointed. History tells us exactly what President Trump will do from here on out. And it doesn’t end in a bang.
For his part, President Trump has spent most of his time since election night maintaining a low public profile while keeping his highly vocal and divisive social media presence cranked to 11. That was, until Sunday when the president’s Twitter account went silent for almost a full day before dropping this nugget Tuesday evening:
The same Emily Murphy who, earlier on Tuesday, had blown off her scheduled appearance before a house committee as she continued to delay the formal transition of power process to President-elect Biden. Which was a lovely little tempest in a tea cup; Murphy should either do her job or resign, not this silly song and dance at the behest of the president, and now she’s made enemies of congress and a laughing stock of herself to boot. The tweet is pure Trump: graciously granting someone to do what they are supposed to be doing anyway, trying to take credit for the mundane workings of government, not conceding a thing while totally conceding that very thing to those who know how to speak Donald, never give up, never surrender…except when you are and making sure it doesn’t look like it.
This is stage three of the Four Stages of Trump Decision making.
Stage one is do something outrageous to get a reaction. Stage Two is double down on stage one to get even more of a reaction. Stage three is, while everyone is still reacting to stages one & two, start modulating to whatever course of action you are actually going to do. Stage four, wind up at a relatively conventional position without acknowledging steps one through three ever happened in the first place and declare a great victory.
We’ve seen this over and over again. For years. This is not a surprise to anyone. This is how it was always going to go down, because this is how Donald J. Trump does just about everything. Let’s call it Bluff Bluff, Give.
Obama birth certificate: ‘member that?
In the spring of 2011, as the Republican primary got under way, Trump embraced the birther theory wholesale, wielding his trademark innuendos and falsehoods. Fox News then picked up the crusade, devoting hours of airtime to his insinuations.
“He doesn’t have a birth certificate. He may have one, but there is something on that birth certificate-maybe religion, maybe it says he’s a Muslim; I don’t know,” Trump told Fox News in late March of that year. “I have people that have been studying it and they cannot believe what they’re finding,” he told NBC in early April. “I may tie my tax returns into Obama’s birth certificate,” he suggested later that month. Trump rose sharply in the primary polls, but never formally ran, instead endorsing Romney, who gushed, “It means a great deal to me to have the endorsement of Mr. Trump.”
The episode appeared to conclude with the 45th president successfully forcing the 44th to show his papers. On April 27, the White House released Obama’s “long form” birth certificate. This temporarily embarrassed Trump and led to a dip in the number of Americans questioning Obama’s birthplace. At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner that year, Obama mocked Trump as he sat and seethed, red-faced, in the audience.
Fox News, foreshadowing its essential symbiosis with the Trump campaign, and later the Trump presidency, framed the reality-show star’s crusade as a great victory. “It legitimizes his candidacy,” Dick Morris told Bill O’Reilly in April 2011. “It empowers Trump,” O’Reilly agreed. Here was a glimpse of the future, in which the reality-show star would make some outrageously false claim, and the whole of conservative media would rush to make that falsehood true through rote repetition.
But Morris was missing the big picture there. It wasn’t just the conservative media hyping up the outlandish claims that kept fuel on the fire, but the overreaction of Trump’s opponents to everything he did that gave him cover to operate in the very chaos he likes to thrive in. Rhetorical escalation from condemning the president’s many bad policies and often worst behavior into declaring every single thing he did to be the imminent end of the Republic was just as useful to Trump as the parroting supporters were. Sucking almost all the oxygen out of the media room meant everything continued to revolve around Trump.
So, the pattern that began with the Bluff Bluff, Give of the Obama birth certificate — and the subsequent, in his face humiliation that Trump used as fuel for his own rise to the White House, is well established. From things like troops in Syria, to the hiring/firing of various officials, to the wall, to more recently demanding ICE kick out all foreign students that weren’t on online only before relenting, Bluff Bluff, Give is the default Trump setting. The posture is “he fights” but really it is “he picks his spots,” and those spots usually including taking the convenient exit from the scuffle while folks aren’t paying attention and moving on to the next thing.
Which brings us to the peaceful transition of power. Just for fun, you can watch for folks who will attribute a George Washington quote to that phrase, but it’s a fake — though that’s probably fitting in 2020 politics. Let’s go to a more recent example though: Ronald Reagan during his excellent Ken Khachigian -penned first inaugural address:
To a few of us here today this is a solemn and most momentous occasion, and yet in the history of our nation it is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place, as it has for almost two centuries, and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every-four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.
Well, this transition of power isn’t going to be normal, but what has been normal this year? Or the last four, for that matter? The President’s current ostentatious course of action means many things, almost all of them condemnable to one degree or another, but they are the bluffs before the inevitable give. There will be no coup. There will be no troops enforcing the end of one administration and the start of the other. Along with his tweet about the GSA, there will be other statements and tweets where the left hand declares victory while the right hand does the bare minimum that is required. It will be chaotic in comparison because the chronically under-staffed and poorly administrated Trump years have been exactly that, and aren’t going to magically become competent in the protocols and machinations of government. The rhetoric to keep the online faithful primed to give money and attention will continue while the actions will be closer to the norm. The former is all bluff, the latter is the give.
The left hand of Trump will keep up with the unsavory ridiculousness of multiple Randy Quaid tweets — perhaps the lowest point in presidential interpersonal communication since then-President George H. W. Bush fainted after vomiting in then-Japanese Prime Minster Miyazawa’s lap — but unbecoming as that is, it’s just noise as the machinations of government and the right hand of Trump begrudgingly start packing boxes.
On January 20th, probably without the participation of Donald John Trump, Joe Biden will become President of the United States in whatever ceremony Covid allows to take place. Donald Trump will tweet about victory, crow about fairness, and spend the rest of his life making money off both. But he will do so as a private citizen. No bluff in the world is going to change that. More importantly, Donald Trump isn’t going to change. We have a few more weeks of bluffing, of driving the media and his opponents into a frenzy while stoking his own followers.
But Donald Trump, as he signaled with that tweet, knows the game’s up. He gives.
Originally published at https://ordinary-times.com on November 24, 2020.