“A ruler sows destruction. He is shot and punished according to the law and the logic of his time. But then something terrifying happens. The disgraced leader becomes even more powerful – precisely by speaking out about his disgrace, ”wrote a scholar in Trump’s Rise to Power. first Accused. “People of all times must be prepared for the terrifying possibility that even their clearest logic and harsh legal punishments cannot always end a good story,” he continued. “They could even amplify the appeal of the story for certain audiences. History shows, time and again, that once someone becomes the object of popular fascination, they can above all do what they want… ”
Mark Braude was not writing about Trump. He wrote about Napoleon. But he definitely had Trump in mind. “It was meant,” he told me this week, “to hang on to the first indictment.”
There are, needless to say, almost limitless differences between Trump and Napoleon – the latter, just to begin with, ruled a tight ship as a leader, even on Elba after being ousted as a leader. French emperor conquering the continent – but one similarity is a certain daring, practically alchemical ability to do what shouldn’t be able to be done, and get away with it. In Braude’s 2018 book, The invisible emperor: Napoleon on the island of Elba from exile to flight, Braude sketches the remarkable scene of 1815 in Napoleon’s almost daring march back to Paris when he first encountered soldiers who had taken an oath to protect this territory from enemies – including him now. Napoleon marched unarmed within 20 feet of the line of musket-armed infantry.
“Soldiers!” Proclaimed Napoleon. “You do not recognize me?
The answer was silence. Ultimately, of course, Napoleon would be beaten again, at Waterloo, and then sent to the far more remote island of Saint Helena, off the west coast of Africa. Here, however, a few hundred kilometers inland from the Mediterranean, it has come closer. Closer. Within 12 feet.
He opened his coat.
His chest was a target.
“Do some of you,” he said, “according to the biography of Andrew Roberts,“ want to kill me?
A cold wind was blowing.
No one fired a shot.
Whether we interpret or not this show as a show of bravery, madness, bald grandiosity, a staggering sense of untouchability, or all of the above, Trump has been opening his coat for years.
Even so, since the election he lost, he has done little more than bolster his guilt and legal responsibility – refusing for weeks to concede, refusing to pronounce his successor’s name, refusing to facilitate the transition from any way in the traditional way or up to meeting with Joe Biden, stirring up calamitous unrest with the prospect of doing more with his incessant and baseless speech about fraud, making phone calls to election officials in states decisive to try in vain to modify the result of the results. It has typically doubled, tripled and quadrupled. On Tuesday, he called his speech before his supporters stormed the Capitol as “entirely appropriate,” the nationwide protests for racial justice last summer the “real problem” and his new stance. on charges of “hoax” and “witch hunts”. “
“Unless you’re fully on the Trump train, you probably think he helped incite the insurgency. Which means you think there should be some form of punishment, ”Republican consultant Doug Heye told me. “He’s crater with everyone who isn’t his most loyal MAGA base,” said Rory Cooper, Republican strategist and former adviser to Eric Cantor when he was the House majority leader.
“Until now, I hadn’t thought we could count it. I always thought it was possible that he would come back. But he crossed the Rubicon and suffered the Ides of March on the same day, ”said Jen Mercieca, professor of rhetoric at Texas A&M and author of Demagogue for the president. “I think the hammer has fallen on the guy for a life of inconvenience and intimidation and he won’t be able to stop it. Even if he always stopped it before. His challenge was his fatal flaw. It helped him get out of trouble a million times, but it finally hit him.
Not so fast, others told me.
“I think Trump’s influence in the party and the Trumpism of the party are not going to change at all,” said Stuart Stevens, the main strategist of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign who wrote the book It was all a lie: how the Republican Party became Donald Trump.
“I think with the majority of Americans this will be seen as a permanent disqualifier,” said Rick Wilson, the Florida-based Republican consultant and a key member of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. And yet: “I think that trying to overthrow the legal government of the United States will be seen by its base as a badge of honor.”
Brendan Buck, former senior aide to Republican House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, who has been outspoken in his criticism of Trump, said he believes he is “still by far the most likely GOP candidate” in 2024 .
Even if he is not, that does not mean that he cannot or will not continue to exert a significant influence on Republican politics and American life in general. “The lie outlives the liar,” as Timothy Snyder, Yale historian and author of On tyranny, recently put. I have heard versions of this repeatedly over the past few days in my conversations with longtime Trump watchers and political professionals and experts. History – Trump’s story, historical period – suggests it.
“History can continue without Trump,” Braude said, drawing on his expertise as Napoleon. “The beast will continue without him.” After chatting the other night he emailed me, “Napoleon’s unique skill was to take any event (or even non-event) in any way related to him remotely. and then to become the central protagonist of said event, now presented as a fascinating story. By protagonist, I do not mean exclusively heroes. He could also play the victim.
Trump, judging by his entire life, not only could play the victim, but has and will and will.
“It’s a grievance machine,” said Pete Ditto, professor of psychology at the University of California at Irvine. “Victimization seems to be a form of weakness, but it can also be a source of power.”
“What he means to those who follow him,” said Sheinkopf, the Democratic strategist, who has known Trump for decades, “is a very simple sentence, which is,“ Look what they’ve done to us again. “And Trump is the guy who says, ‘Look what they did to me – help me finish them now.’ “
It will be true, Sheinkopf said, whether or not Trump is still president, whether he’s been impeached twice, and perhaps in a twisted way. because he is no longer the president and because he has been indicted twice.
“He will continue to have that power,” he said. “Because for his supporters he will be a victim of the powerful, who are now turning this into a racially diverse, non-white male dominated, blue collar environment. He will be the hero of those who have been stabbed in the back… by those who run the government. This is how shame and disgrace become honor and battle cry.
Arizona Representative Andy Biggs, speaking in defense of the president during Wednesday’s debate, made a version of this point. He warned Democrats, “Even if you are successful today, and if the Senate were to condemn President Trump, yours will be a Pyrrhic victory. Because instead of stopping the Trump train, its movement will become stronger, because you will have made a martyr of him.