Ibram X. Kendi: The American nightmare
Trump wanted to bring down the hammer, but he couldn’t get his people to actually do it. To put it in terms the president would understand: Weak!
The country has seen this feckless command over the executive branch before, in a different context. The Mueller report is stuffed full of examples of Trump ordering aides and officials to take actions that range from corrosive to downright illegal and those people either refusing or simply not bothering to carry out his orders. Trump couldn’t get his people to drum up a baseless investigation of Hillary Clinton, fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, or falsify evidence to cover up Trump’s own wrongdoing. The result was a portrait of a president both menacing in intent and buffoonishly ineffective at accomplishing the menace.
But today another kind of weakness is at work too: An election is coming up, and it’s one that Trump seems more and more fearful he will not win. He’s not wrong to be worried. Trump is running consistently behind Joe Biden in national polls, by anywhere from three points to more than 10. He’s looking decidedly weaker as well in the battleground states. Democrats are running significantly ahead in generic opinion polls about control of Congress. The Senate suddenly seems to be very much in play. And while Trump’s own approval rating remains at the lower end of the narrow range in which it has traditionally fluctuated, it has seen a perceptible decline over the past couple of months.
Much of this poor electoral performance stems from the reality that, as we argued back in March, Trump’s playbook is deeply ill-suited to the current crises: a virus that can’t be intimidated, economic fallout that won’t correct itself in response to Trump’s personality or bullying, and now protesters who don’t go away when he plays the strongman. So in addition to being a weak leader who can’t get his people to break the law or crack down on protesters, and in addition to being electorally weak, Trump now looks ineffectual, even ridiculous, in the face of circumstances that just aren’t cooperating and can’t be ordered around.
Read: The enormous scale of this movement
All of which makes this past week an important cautionary tale for the election itself if Trump does, in fact, lose. The authoritarian instinct will still be there, of course. So will the flailing weakness, we suspect, and the effort to get his administration to take wildly inappropriate, even illegal steps. His degree of panic will presumably be even higher then than it is now, as will the stakes—which will be nothing less than the peaceful transition of power. We can only hope that, once again, the weakness will overwhelm the authoritarianism, the ineffectuality will triumph over the menace, and the president will emerge as a figure of contempt and ridicule, rather than of fear and consolidated power.