If real life events can be said to contain a lesson, Watergate’s lesson might be that not even the president of the United States should be allowed to exercise power above the law. That he often does, particularly these days, doesn’t contradict that lesson, it mocks it. Sharpiegate’s lesson is less generic, more specific, more a cautionary tale than a lesson, really, but still useful to us in these, what ought to be, the final 492 days of the Donald Trump presidency. Sharpiegate teaches us that, for Trump, there is no length or depth too draconian in the service of protecting Donald Trump’s ego. In Churchillian terms, Sharpiegate might even be described by, “Never before in the history of human conflict have so many done so much for so little.” But Sharpiegate doesn’t merit a Churchillian equivalency. Historically it is a nothing, a trifle, a nontroversy. Its potential to frighten or bring to harm the people of Alabama was, thankfully, thwarted in time.
Therefore, what makes Sharpiegate so disturbing is not the thing in and of itself but the cautionary nature of what we have learned about the lengths and depths Trump will go to in order to protect himself. If Donald Trump regards as necessary spending an entire week and more covering up his misspoken warning that hurricane Dorian will make landfall in Alabama, imagine to what lengths he will go in order to thwart what is shaping up to be an inevitable loss in his next presidential election. Donald Trump lacks the requisite psychological equipment to handle a rejection of his presidency by a majority of the American voters. He will not take it lying down.
So first he will do everything in his power to prevent it happening to begin with. That will include fully cooperating with and assisting Russia in rigging the election, using the full power of the presidency to flout the Hatch Act, illegally syphoning off federal funds to his campaign effort, accepting campaign contributions from PACs funded by Russian oligarchs, convincing Bernie voters it’s Bernie or nobody, and many other things. Trump may have a double digit disadvantage going into 2020, but the power of the presidency in his unscrupulous hands could well make up that difference.
If he loses anyway, what can he do? He will have 78 days between November 3rd, 2020, and January 20, 2021, in which to try anything he likes in order to hang on to power. We have Michael Cohen’s warning that “there will never be a peaceful transition of power.” We have Donald Trump’s threat in 2016 that he would not accept the results of the election if he lost. We never had to learn what he meant by that, but he clearly will not be “gracious in defeat” no matter how resounding a defeat he is handed in the 2020 election.
Donald Trump’s recent disparagement of energy saving lightbulbs was widely seen as Trump finally admitting that his skin is unnaturally orange, and finding some humor in that. I didn’t see it that way at all. Trump said, ‘Number one to me, most importantly, the light’s no good,” he said. “I always look orange.” It’s what followed that gave me chills, when Trump said, “And so do you. The light is the worst.” In other words, Trump doesn’t just look orange, so do you, and it’s the lightbulb’s fault. These are the utterances of a psychopath in severe cognitive decline. He is America’s and the world’s biggest danger, and the clearest and most present danger in world history.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.