There’s a lesson to be taken from Donald Trump’s lame attempt to steal the US election: don’t skimp on your coup.
As the Trump Epoch slouches to a conclusion, it’s becoming more and more evident just how badly everyone overestimated him. After years of being assured by an endless parade of factotums, toadies and Russian Twitter bots that he’s actually playing nine-dimensional chess and that the true reckoning of his brilliance is right around the corner, it’s looking like there’s not going to be any twist ending and that maybe, just maybe, he really was the doddering dotard of our first impressions.
And to be fair, it’s not that Trump didn’t want to be an autocratic fascist despot. He’s been absolutely fine with usurping norms, abusing his position for personal gain, weaponising the office of the president and encoding white supremacy as a guiding principle, but the last couple of months have shown him in his truest form: sulking and golfing.
In a way, it’s kind of disappointing. Remember how everyone was convinced he was going to steal the election and carry out his threat to remain in power for multiple terms? Remember how scared we all were when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died and it seemed like nothing would stand between Trump and the Supreme Court ratifying his election win regardless of the result? We were girding ourselves for civil war, dammit, and instead, we’ve got the odd half-arsed tweet and bits of Rudy Giuliani’s dead soul leaking from his head. It looks like we forgot two things when preparing for a diabolical Endgame.
Firstly, that Trump is a very, very lazy man. Say what you will about Vladimir Putin or Jair Bolsonaro or Rodrigo Duterte, they seem like energetic fellows who get (terrible, horrifying) things done.
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Trump’s time in office is characterised by things he didn’t do, from not appointing key staff to not building a wall on the Mexican border to not remotely controlling the spread of a deadly pandemic, and with hindsight, it all looks less like brilliantly owning an institution he promised to transform and more like a man who wasn’t going to let running a country interfere with watching TV.
Secondly, successfully carrying out a coup requires more than an iron will, boundless energy and other qualities Donald doesn’t possess: it also requires a cadre of co-conspirators who are up to the task, and in November 2020 the world realised that Trump’s inner circle is almost entirely made up of idiots.
I don’t think I was the only one whose concern about the flurry of lawsuits seeking to overturn the election results evaporated into blissful relief within minutes of Giuliani’s press conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping car park.
For it was then that I was reminded that Trump’s main criterion for hiring talent has always been “how long will it take them to realise they’re never going to get paid?”
We even reached the point where Trump had to pretend that Sidney Powell, one of his “Elite Strike Force” lawyers, wasn’t actually involved in his case following her spirited defence of the president which involved implying that Republican candidates had been involved in rigging the election for Joe Biden for… um, reasons?
And that maybe doesn’t make much difference to the result if you’re dealing with a naive tiler refurbishing a casino bathroom, but at this point in the timeline the Venn diagram of “lawyers expert in arcane sections of state and federal electoral law” and “lawyers dumb enough to work for nothing” are two separate, non-intersecting circles. On different pieces of paper. In different bits of the state.
In fact, we even reached the point where Trump had to pretend that Sidney Powell, one of his “Elite Strike Force” lawyers, wasn’t actually involved in his case following her spirited defence of the president which involved implying that Republican candidates had been involved in rigging the election for Joe Biden for… um, reasons? What she said wasn’t significantly madder than anything that leaked out of Rudy’s perma-clenched jaws, but maybe even Trump felt that suggesting that former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was involved in the plot to install Biden, despite having been dead for seven years, was a conspiracy too far.
On Tuesday Australian time, Trump had permitted the transition process to begin while simultaneously asserting that he was confident that his legal challenges would prevail, which stretches the very fabric of mixed messaging. And he’s been maintaining that line ever since, in a move which increasingly looks less like projected strength and more like pathetic delusion. Sad!
But who can blame him for retreating ever further into aggrieved fantasy, when every day brings more insult to the electoral injury. Despite warning that the stock market would plummet catastrophically in the event of a Biden win, it rallied to new heights after the transition was announced as investors of every political stripe breathed a sigh of relief and went “oh dear god, it’s business as usual, then!”
Ultimately the lesson of the last almost-month is that it’s so hard to get good help these days.
Especially when everyone knows that you plan to ignore their invoices.