We now know that Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States. He narrowly excised an impacted political turd, and has inherited the whole infected American colon as a reward. Mazels to this man.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, is set to join the illustrious group of ex-presidents whose main job seems to be palling around for photoshoots and inking gazillion-dollar deals for streaming series no one asked for in the first place. Honestly, it sounds like a pretty nice life. But it’s not the one Trump wants. Which means that, absent any sort of actual political or military authority, Donald Trump the former president could wind up, astonishingly, being worse in some ways than Donald Trump the current president, by even more fully embracing his inner demagogue. He could become a modern Father Coughlin, unburdened and free to pontificate without electoral consequences.
Imagine a malignant narcissist like Trump — the man whose genetic need for attention was his main motivator well before it was given a dose of presidential super-meth — abandoning the one thing that’s given him any semblance of joy for the past four years: the screaming adulation of a MAGA rally packed to the brim. He’s never gonna give that up. He can’t. Instead, he’ll spend his waning days desperately attempting to replicate the glory days. He’ll keep holding rallies. Of course he will. He’ll whip people into a frenzy, and then abandon them. He doesn’t need their votes. He just needs to feel loved.
And things are likely to get even crazier than they already are. As president, Trump could say truly insane things about flushing toilets, killing birds, or driving trucks, and then — assuming he actually wanted to — he could do something about it. But now, without any actual power or team of advisors guiding him through the faintest motions of competence, all Trump will have left is the sound and the fury, with nothing to show for it. He’ll be like a junkie, chasing an increasingly out of reach high, shooting himself with stronger and stronger doses to recreate the same fleeting thrill from crowds who want to hear something new. He’ll drop so-subtle hints about arcane conspiracy theories and top-secret goings-on. He’ll demand that people ignore laws and lawmakers. He’ll get more overtly racist, if that’s even possible. He’ll probably start charging admission. And once attendance inevitably starts to dwindle over time, Trump will have to come up with new and increasingly frantic ways to shock people into paying attention to him. Like a soggy Johnny Assholeseed, Trump will squelch himself from city to city, leaving horned-up bigots in his wake.
This would be the sort of sad, small denouement that befits a shitty conman like Trump, were it not for the fact that, even out of office, he’ll still cast a long, stupid shadow over a huge swath of the country thanks to his continued grip on the GOP.
The modern Republican party, such as it is, has willingly thrown its lot behind Trump. He delivered the energized voters Mitch McConnell needed to install his judges and pass his tax cuts, and the GOP, in turn, covered Trump’s ass from any number of investigations and, ultimately, impeachment, and otherwise left him largely to his own devices, which turned out to be mostly golfing and watching TV.
Now that he’s out of office, however, that bargain has changed. The GOP may still look to Trump as a figurehead who can mobilize the people they need to keep themselves in power. But he’s too lazy and self-absorbed to care about the party’s dwindling ability to do anything for him in return. Does he seem like the sort of person who will push for certain legislation or policies beyond the vague platitudes he can fit in a tweet? He’ll still wield influence, but it’s hard to see him using it for anything other than his own personal gratitude. That he might deign to use that influence to affect policy would be secondary to his overarching compulsion to make himself feel good by making others feel worse — in this case, by throwing a wrench in the gears of their own political machinations, without having anything to lose regardless of the outcome. And yes, there will be plenty in his orbit who will attempt to use their proximity to him as a means to push their own policy agendas, but whether or not pursues the various offers and initiatives those hangers-on will inevitably put in front of him will be less a factor of their influence, and more of his mercurial mood at the time.
So Republicans will keep him at slightly-closer-than-arms-length for fear of angering him (and accordingly, his followers) while he in turn drags their brand further down the toilet for future generations. with every deranged attempt to personally stay in the global spotlight. It’s a downward flush that started the moment he was elected, but one that’ll crank into overdrive the moment Trump sheds the last of his official responsibilities, and whatever minimal political constraints he couldn’t sleaze his way out of while in office. Absent a Kellyanne Conway or Mark Meadows or Mike Pence to force him to at least pantomime his way through bilateral meetings, congressional horse-trading, and other less glamorous parts of the presidency, he’ll be left entirely to his own personal devices. And those devices don’t give a damn about anyone but him. Let the shit hit the fan as it will. He’s rich and people know his name. To Trump, nothing else matters.
Donald Trump isn’t going anywhere. He will continue to yell and scream and sputter his way through the next few years, leaving bullshit and racism wherever he goes. Unshackled from the responsibilities of the presidency, he’ll only get worse. And who knows—maybe he’ll run again.