Donald Trump’s Waterloo

Whenever the battle of Waterloo is fought as a war game the French usually win. Even so, Waterloo is often used as a metaphor for life’s undeserved hazards where even the best prepared of us are sometimes brought down by the unforeseen.

But Napoleon’s loss at Waterloo was no one’s fault but his own. He made a series of uncharacteristic mistakes, including engaging the enemy too late in the morning, failing to deploy sufficient artillery in support of infantry, failing to take seriously credible intelligence that the Prussians were marching toward him in strength, and so on. Nor is there any direct evidence that Napoleon was suffering from some debilitating physical discomfort to account for his colossal failure at Waterloo. In short, Bonaparte screwed up.

Back in July of 2006, I attended a friend’s marvellous tour of the Waterloo battlefield. Standing in the midst of the vast expanse of the place gave me a frisson of historical awe. I stood on pivotal ground where one of history’s greatest inflection points occurred. Had the French won instead of Wellington and the Allies, all of Europe would be different today, different in ways I couldn’t then and still can’t imagine.

Which brings me to my point. We witnessed another kind of latter-day Waterloo at a historic inflection point with our own eyes, the self-destruction of Donald Trump. When Trump surveyed the battleground of 2020 from the vantage point of January of that year, he was confronted with a better-than-average chance at reelection. True, it wasn’t going to be easy, but at least he had a good chance, and we had good reason to be worried — back then.

But along came coronavirus, changing everything. Handled properly, coronavirus should have been Trump’s opportunity to practically guarantee a win in November. Handled badly, it was fatal to him. I even said as much in several Palmer Report articles back in the first half or 2020. After all, if little old me could recognize an opportunity for Trump, then the property mogul he allegedly is ought to have known leverage when he saw it. Coronavirus could have been leveraged to unite the country and turn Trump into a hero in the eyes of many who were still on the fence about him.

I wasn’t trying to warn Trump, mind. I knew he wouldn’t listen to anyone. Besides, as Napoleon put it, never interrupt an enemy when he’s making a mistake. So, through a series of colossal, unforced errors, Trump took what could have been his fait accompli win thanks to the pandemic and screwed it up. In fact, Trump screwed up more thoroughly than if he had decided to lose the election on purpose.

Trump lost his battle of Waterloo and, like Napoleon, he refused to surrender. (ABBA to the contrary, Napoleon didn’t surrender at Waterloo either.) At the risk of stretching the metaphor too far, Trump is trying to come back just as impotently as Napoleon tried from Paris after Waterloo. It didn’t work for Bonaparte and it’s not going to work for Trump.

Mar-a-Lago is every inch the end of the line for Trump that Longwood House on the island of St. Helena was the end of the line for Napoleon. But the metaphor ends there. Trump is a little man and Napoleon was a great one. Whatever you may think of Napoleon Bonaparte, he was indisputably one of history’s great geniuses, the kind that only comes along every five hundred years or so. Trump is an idiot who accidentally fell into a presidency he didn’t want and clearly didn’t believe he’d win in 2016. In the final analysis, Watergate is probably more apt a metaphor for Trump than Waterloo.

But Trump has left the Republicans in an embarrassing position. Trump still yields a lot of power in the minds of Republicans in the House and the Senate. It is not imaginary power either. Millions of voters still believe in him, and for the greedy and corrupt among the GOP, which is most of them, that’s a big temptation. I am sure many of them hate Trump and wish he’d die. But he’s alive, so far anyway, and they must deal with him.

Now it turns out that 49% of Republicans say they intend to refuse to take the coronavirus vaccine. Trump has once again been given an opportunity to do the right thing when it comes to coronavirus. After all, these days he’s falsely claiming that the current distribution of vaccines into American arms is all thanks to his efforts, when in fact he all but abdicated the “last mile” of vaccine distribution and irresponsibly left distribution up to the states. (Nevertheless, Trump’s completely false narrative is actively being supported by the New York Times and the Washington Post!) So it would make sense for Trump to do the right thing and encourage these errant Republicans to take the vaccine after all. And if he comes out and says they should do it, many of them will.

Dr. Anthony Fauci also weighed in to say that he firmly believes such an effort by Trump could prove extremely helpful in encouraging recalcitrant Republicans to get vaccinated. It will also speed us all more quickly toward herd immunity and save lives. But will he? I doubt it. Trump has an uncanny instinct for getting it wrong when it comes to coronavirus — or anything else for that matter. I see no reason why this time should be any different. Given an even chance on anything, Trump will usually make the most evil choice. He particularly seems to enjoy letting people die.

I don’t want to see anyone die. But let’s just say some obituaries make me sad and some don’t, and leave it at that. But while Trump remains a pernicious force in the world he will continue to poison the well for Republicans. I think most Republicans know it too, because I think, if they were truthful, they’d read Trump’s obituary with great pleasure. They know as well as anyone that Donald Trump’s Waterloo may also turn out to be their own. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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