Opinion » Letter From The Editor

The Tiger in the Bathroom

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As we enter what portends to be the week in which we will see the final death spasms of Donald Trump's attempts to overturn the results of the American presidential election, an early candidate has emerged for Time magazine's 2021 Person of the Year. That would be an unassuming political functionary named Bradford Jay Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state.

Raffensperger, a lifelong Republican, was the recipient of a phone call on Saturday from our clearly demented president, who spent the better part of an hour spewing rumors, conspiracy theories, and blatant lies, all the while haranguing, threatening, and begging the secretary of state to just, you know, change the state's election results. What's the harm?

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"C'mon, fellas," the president finally whined, "I just need 11,780 votes." It was a line straight out of Goodfellas, the closing argument of a mob boss. Just cheat a little for me, or it might not go well for you.

It turned out that Raffensperger, a Trump voter and supporter, had a spine. He was the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, the last line of defense against a would-be autocrat determined to overturn a free and fair election based on no evidence whatsoever, only a desperate, overweening desire to stay in power.

At long last, and not a moment too soon, Donald J. Trump encountered a Republican with enough integrity, with enough sand in his craw, to simply say no to the president's ludicrous kabuki horror show. "Your data is wrong," Raffensperger said. By which he meant, your "data" comes from fools on Parler and OANN. You are the emperor but you have no clothes.

After the phone call, Trump was unhappy, so he went on Twitter and blasted Raffensperger, accusing him of not answering questions, of being untruthful. And once again, Trump was rebuffed by a single man with the stones to call his bluff. Turns out that the secretary of state had receipts: A tape of the entire phone call was released to the media so Americans could judge for themselves who was telling the truth, and who was not.

Trump supporters immediately got the vapors, gasping at the audacity of Raffensperger releasing a tape to prove he wasn't a liar. A gentlemen, the Trumpers huffed, simply doesn't do such things. It was a bit like complaining that Captain Sullenberger forgot to put on his turn signal before landing a crippled passenger jet in the middle of the Hudson River.

So what's left of the Republican party after Duh Furor leaves in two weeks? You've got your never-Trumpers (Republicans who never drank the Orange-Aid). Then there are "concerned and troubled" Republicans, including Senators Susan Collins, Ben Sasse, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney, who aren't all in for Trump, but who don't speak against him without checking the wind. Next are the Trump panderers, those making the cynical political calculation to go along with whatever insanity Trump pulls out of his butt just to keep the magical "base" on their side. These are the folks who will stand up in the Senate and in Congress this week and proclaim that the election is "tainted," while showing no evidence to support any of it. This group includes Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn and fellow Trump-spawn from hell, Senator-elect Bill Hagerty.

So what's left after that? Nothing but "the base," the potpourri of anti-abortionists, evangelicals, billionaires, gun-rights nuts, assorted racists and white supremacists, QAnon conspiracists, and millions of pissed-off caucasians who love Donald Trump because he tells them their lives are screwed-up only because other people (Black and brown and Chinese) are screwing them.

When Trump leaves office, how does this disparate bowl of fruits and nuts and cynical creeps ever reassemble itself into a national political party? I don't think it does. The GOP has let itself become a personality cult. When Trump goes, it will splinter into a pile of pick-up sticks. They have nothing in common but Trump, who in 2024 — if he's alive and/or not in prison — has no chance of winning the presidency again. It wasn't even close this time. He lost by seven million votes, and his old white base is dying off.

It's more likely that the former president will keep doing what he's done all his life: get media attention by spewing whatever outrageous thoughts float to the top of his withering cortex; find suckers to grift and prop him up; and play golf as much as possible.

After Trump leaves, the Republicans will wake up like the wasted partiers in the morning-after scene of The Hangover, wondering what happened, why there's a chicken walking around, where that inflatable sex doll came from — and what to do about that tiger in the bathroom.

Bruce VanWyngarden brucev@memphisflyer.com

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