In a Veterans Day speech, Donald Trump didn’t limit his comments to honoring those who, unlike his draft-dodging self, served this nation to protect its democracy. Instead he went full-on fascist as he vowed to “root out’’ those he assailed as “the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country.’’
A week later, after it was announced that Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady, had entered hospice care, Trump took a swipe at President Biden during a rally — by mocking former president Jimmy Carter’s White House tenure.
And Trump kept gobbling on Thanksgiving as he reveled in a pause in his New York civil fraud trial gag order while others reveled in the coziness of family, friends, and food. In a post on his failing social media site, Trump wished a “Happy Thanksgiving to ALL,’’ including New York Attorney General Letitia James, who he called “racist,’’ Judge Arthur Engoron, whom he branded as a “psycho,’’ and Engoron’s “corrupt’’ law clerk.
Every breath Trump takes comes with a barrage of insults against his expanding list of perceived enemies, threats against democracy, and continued lies about a presidential election he soundly lost to Biden more than three years ago. It’s a greatest hits medley for his most ardent followers, but it’s also the empty flex of a petrified 77-year-old man in more trouble than he ever could have imagined.
It’s the season of “It’s a Wonderful Life,’’ the beloved film starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a kind but disconsolate man considering suicide on Christmas Eve — until Clarence, an angel, intervenes and ushers George through a dark reimagining of what the world would have been like without him. He then discovers how he has enriched the lives of those he touched.
In his increasingly un-wonderful life, Trump has spent his years enriching only himself and has toiled to remake the world in his own misbegotten image. Now he’s facing the possibility that he could end up like the original “Teflon Don,’’ another ruthlessly ambitious, attention-addicted son of New York’s outer boroughs — mob boss John Gotti. After years of trials and acquittals, Gotti was finally convicted in 1992 on various charges, including murder, and sentenced to life. He died in prison in 2002.
What ultimately got Gotti was his longtime partner in crime, Sammy “The Bull’’ Gravano, who ratted him out. And as much as Trump loves to talk about numbers when they favor him, such as polls showing his sizable lead over fellow Republican presidential candidates, the figure on his mind these days is probably four — as in the four coconspirators in the Georgia election interference case who’ve cut plea deals with prosecutors in exchange for testimony during the upcoming trial, including against the former president.
Conspiring with Trump is one thing; risking your freedom by continuing to promulgate his lies is quite another. And notice that he didn’t trash them as he is James, Engoron, and Jack Smith, the special counsel prosecuting Trump’s trials for mishandling classified documents and federal election interference. He recognizes that those who’ve flipped on him can do serious damage to him.
You can see the impossible weight of it all in the hunch of Trump’s shoulders as he lumbers to the stage at his rallies. His perpetual scowl, even when he bares his teeth into something approximating a smile, personifies the motherly warning that echoed through many childhoods: “If you keep making that face, it’s gonna stay that way.’’
When Trump’s supporters talk about the 91 felony charges he’s facing from four indictments in four jurisdictions as if they’re just water bouncing off a duck’s back, it’s hollow boosterism. They want to portray Trump as a strongman whose might makes him immune to morality, laws, and the Constitution.
What they refuse to see is a man diminished. Trump is being stalked by something he has dodged for decades — accountability. Now he has to deal with Tuesday’s surprising news that the political network founded by Charles and David Koch, the ultra right-wing and diabolically powerful billionaires, has endorsed Nikki Haley for the Republican presidential nomination. It’s a clear attempt to prod the party beyond Trump who, at least to the Kochs, has outlived his usefulness.
With the Iowa caucuses less than two months away, it’s another unexpected jolt for the former president whose cult of personality might not be as durable as it once was. Despite his public bravado, he’s old, miserable, and desperate. But as the world witnessed at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, a desperate Trump is also a man unbound and at his most dangerous.
Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @reneeygraham.
Image Credits: Stefani Reynolds – The New York Times