An enraged Donald Trump helicoptered off the White House lawn for one of the last times in his presidency Wednesday, leaving Americans chaos as a Christmas present.
The Republican was bound with his wife Melania for a vacation at his lavish Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
From Marine One, the first couple must have got a magnificent view on a clear, wintry day of the White House, decorated in chocolate box fashion with Christmas wreaths and red ribbons at every window.
But with the clock ticking to Joe Biden’s January 20 inauguration, there won’t be too many more occasions to enjoy the experience.
And Trump, consumed by election conspiracy theories, abandoned by allies and determined to take opponents down with him, is not exactly in a merry mood.
Crises engulf the man supporters call “disrupter in chief” (“chaos president” to his critics.)
What’s more, most of them are of his own making:
– Trying to overturn the result of the election.
– Unexpectedly refusing to sign a massive economic relief bill for Americans struggling from coronavirus fallout, insisting at the last moment that it be rewritten.
– Choosing to say nothing, other than to play it down, about what senior officials and members of Congress describe as a devastating Russian cyberattack.
– Vetoing just before he left for Florida the bill funding the US military.
– Declaring war on top members of his own party who dare concede that Biden won.
Yet for all his bluster, the larger than life showman who for four years held the media, his party and the entire country in thrall now cuts a diminished figure.
Normally, the departure on Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House has been a favourite stage for Trump to act out his flamboyant press conference/performance art routine.
Boasting, ad-libbing, entertaining and insulting, Trump used to love nothing more than “chopper talk” with journalists jostling to hear the world’s biggest media star against the roar of an idling military helicopter.
But since losing the November 3 election and embarking on a desperate mission to reverse the result, Trump has almost vanished from public engagements.
His last extended Q&A with journalists was a bad-tempered Thanksgiving encounter on November 26.
The once epic Marine One departures have been whittled down to the perfunctory exercise of a man catching a ride to the airport. With Covid-19 restrictions, only around a dozen journalists can attend the sessions anyway, meaning that even if Trump decides to stop and talk, the old, manic energy is gone.
Wednesday, he just walked past.
Officially scheduled meetings inside the White House — exceedingly rare since the election — are held off-camera, unlike before, when Trump routinely invited in reporters.
Even Tuesday night’s bombshell threat to nix the Covid relief package was made in a pre-recorded video posted on Twitter, out of sight of the White House press corps.
Unhinged from ‘reality?’
Many explanations are being thrown around for Trump’s extraordinary post-election behaviour.
Ardent supporters say Trump is simply exercising the legal right to pursue his claim — however far-fetched — that “IT WAS A RIGGED ELECTION!!!” as he tweeted Tuesday.
Ardent critics, citing talk by a Trump ally of bringing in the military to rerun the election, say he is a wannabe dictator.
A less dramatic appraisal is that Trump is just following his salesman’s instincts. Determined to keep his brand alive post-January, Trump is cynically doing what he does best: hogging the limelight, outraging the establishment and delighting his passionate base.
But this week an intriguing fourth option was suggested by influential, Trump-supporting televangelist Pat Robertson:
That Trump inhabits “an alternate reality” in which he genuinely believes everything he says.
“He really does,” Robertson explained Monday on the Christian Broadcasting Network.
“People say, ‘Well he lies about this, that and the other.’ But he isn’t lying,” Robertson said.
“To him, that’s the truth.”