John M. Crisp: Trump's awkward exit leaves behind a big problem

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At best, President Donald Trump’s exit from the White House is ungraceful. At some point, it becomes disgraceful. And then dangerous. In fact, it already has.

For example, our nation is not in a good place with the pandemic; no one could credibly argue otherwise. Whether a different president could have done a better job of handling the virus is no longer important. What is important is a smooth transition of our virus response between the administration that got us where we are and the administration that has to see us through the pandemic. This is not happening.

But other dangerous things are happening. Hastily removing troops from Afghanistan will make the situation much more difficult for the Biden administration. Suddenly firing the defense secretary in the last two months of an administration is destabilizing, and it undermines our national security.

The most dangerous action of all, however, is Trump’s willingness to violate the essential norm in a democracy, the peaceful transfer of power based on the results of an election.

No one is saying that Trump doesn’t have a right to recounts or other legal options. But to call the election into question, based on no evidence, is to subvert the very idea of democracy itself.

Why is Trump doing this?

Others have speculated: One valuable byproduct of contesting the election is the opportunity for bait-and-switch fundraising to help the Trump campaign retire debt. This is happening.

Some suggest that Trump — forever transactional — is making a fuss in order to enhance his post-presidency. Trump’s stock-in-trade has always been grievance. Few things would generate as much oxygen for Trump’s potential media career than being cheated out of the presidency.

Or maybe Trump figures that the myth of victimization will keep his political life alive, enhancing his influence in the Republican Party and even fueling a run for the presidency in 2024.

Trump’s behavior probably reflects various motivations, but I’m attracted to the philosophical principle that says that the most likely answer to a question is the simplest one.

Trump is psychologically unprepared to see himself as the loser of the world’s biggest contest. His inability to accept the result of the election expresses itself as a desperate denial of reality. His anger motivates his revenge against those he believes have not supported him sufficiently, that is, completely.

Some have characterized Trump’s behavior as a tantrum. Children get over tantrums and the family moves on, which suggests that our republic will survive whatever damage Trump inflicts as he leaves.

Still, there’s plenty to worry about. The most ominous numbers to emerge from the election come from surveys that indicate the support that Trump enjoys for his attempt to overturn the vote. A Monmouth University poll found that 77% of Trump supporters believe that the election was fraudulent. An Economist/YouGov poll of 1,500 registered voters found that 82% of Republicans said that “Biden did NOT legitimately win the election.”

Nearly 74 million people voted for Trump. These polls suggest that some 60 million Americans believe that the 2020 election was fraudulent. How do we bring all those people back around to believing in our democracy?

It’s an awesome task. They have been gulled and beguiled by Russian trolls and social media silos. Their perception of the world is deeply skewed by dubious sources such as Fox News, Newsmax and One America News Network.

They doubt everything and believe anything. Their commitment to the status quo blinds them to the ways the country is changing demographically and reinforces their determination to resist. They don’t like what is happening so, like Trump, they deny it.

Trump did not create these 60 million people, but he understands instinctually how to exploit them. One hopes that his disgraceful, undemocratic behavior would shake their confidence in him and remind them that a democracy depends on a commitment to rules and norms and not to people. So far, it doesn’t seem to be working.

How do we reclaim 60 million Americans who have lost their faith in democracy? I do not know. But no greater task confronts us.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at jcrispcolumns@gmail.com.

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