Michael Wolff’s landslide is a compelling tale of the ‘last days’ of Donald Trump’s presidency
“He’s not gone, has he?” asks Harry Potter, about The One-Not-To-Be-Named.
“Call him Voldemort, Harry,” replies Dumbledore the wizard. âAlways use the proper name of things. The fear of a name increases the fear of the thing itself.
The United States has had no problem naming Donald Trump for decades, citing the agent of its own degradation. But since Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20 of this year (or even January 8, when Twitter suspended its most notorious user), Liberals have been in Harry Potter’s predicament: knowing Trump can return, and fearing what will happen if he does.
Michael Wolff has been the Trump obsessive columnist ever since Fire and fury became the best-selling record of a presidency in 2018. Unlike the less flamboyant journalists of yesteryear, Wolff’s eventful style lives up to Trump’s carnival style. A wild card with instincts for melodrama and the most purple prose, Wolff has good sources in government and stories you couldn’t make up. Landslide, the follow-up of Fire and fury, is a compelling account of the “last days” of Trump’s presidency – at least those of his first term – and exposes the risk that American liberals get so lost in the subplot of Trump’s election that they won’t not prepare for what is to come.
Surprisingly, Trump continued to speak to Wolff even after the reporter could no longer claim to be the kind of courtier the president demanded of his circle. Wolff undoubtedly confirms that Trump attempted what Latin Americans call a “self-help” – a seemingly legal and indefinite extension of power by a sitting executive before his term in office – starting even before the election. November 2020. Trump launched in the hope that someone would save him from his impending defeat. The failure of the self-coup, which was to take place through processes such as questioning the legitimacy of the election and overturning the results by friendly judges and lawmakers, n left that the possibility of a real coup to save Trump.
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Wolff adds that Trump’s continued descent into his signature weaknesses sparked the denouement. In this critical period, as the elections approached and the consequences unfolded, it was, he writes, a “one-on-one White House.” After banishing anyone willing to interrupt his fantasies, with underlings rushing in like servants of George III indulging in his quirks, the weak president became even less powerful than he always had been. All Trump had was his obscure connection to the core of followers he had built up through his anti-elitism, misogyny, and racism. Along with the performative antics, it allowed him to more completely convert American politics into entertainment.
The self-coup that Trump so desperately wanted never froze, according to Wolff’s account, into a definite plan. Instead, there was an anarchy of “independents” undertaking crackpot schemes that regularly fizzled out. Part of the irritation (or pleasure) of Landslide is the parade of non-entities Wolff leads through his tale, the story of a giant planet and almost infinite minor satellites whistling in its orbit.
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Wolff observes that the âstop the flyâ rhetoric – denouncing the illegitimacy of the vote – itself arose out of a decision not to contest the election for political reasons. Trump, Wolff says, hoped the election was “not necessarily a winning or losing proposition” but “a roadblock or a technicality to be circumvented.” The United States is lucky Trump lost the election because he didn’t really try to win it. Fanatically devoted for months to the mystical idea that running in person is the only legitimate way to vote, Trump has probably dealt the biggest blow to his campaign.
After recounting the agonies endured by Trump’s staff members on election night, November 3, 2020, Wolff reveals that the plan to wrest victory from the last was as much chosen as it was suffered. From the start, Trump had opposed postal voting, although those votes may have helped him win the election. After losing, Trump nonetheless attempted to disparage the practice, hoping it might spark enough skepticism that the self-coup might work.
Three days after the election, Trump’s campaign manager and his own son-in-law Jared Kushner told him there wouldn’t be enough votes to “find” to alter the results in the states that mattered. Trump refused to give in. But the big national news networks, pushed to wait to announce the result, finally called the elections the next day. The loss was now irreparable.
Rudy Giuliani, the grizzled former mayor of New York – once popular for his charisma in the days after 9/11 (and known for his overzealous policing of African Americans) – has taken the lead as the public face of the Trump’s wacky âplotâ. âRudy is Rudy, and Donald is Donald,â commented Roger Ailes, no less, the sultry founder of Fox News, in 2016. âTogether, it’s an equation that adds to a loss of contact with most other rational people, if not reality itself.
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The rest of “Trumpworld” hated Giuliani and struggled unsuccessfully to keep the two men from turning the fantasy into a madness for two. The involvement of the liberals and the media in the alternate reality the two built over the following month was necessary and understandable, as ultimate power was at stake. But it also gave their idiots more credibility. Despite this, Trump’s attorney general William Barr, who had tolerated the president’s idiosyncrasies in his quest to protect the executive branch of the leader’s office, “officially left Trump’s circle,” Wolff wrote, announcing on December 1 that ‘there was no electoral fraud.
There may never have been a real chance that Trump’s confused dreams of a coup would come true. An impartial review of the evidence shows that Trump hasn’t even come close – blocked mostly by his own factotums and Republican Party officials across the country, including the right-wing judges he has appointed.
The capture of the Capitol on January 6 was also not symbolic of some sort of victory for Trump. The crowd that entered the Capitol building was made up of “radically faithful”, a motley group of laughable and frightening people. Unlike the tens of thousands of people involved in the most famous Communist and Fascist coups of the past – the October Revolution of 1917 or the March on Rome five years later – Trump’s endgame was marred by military opposition to his plans, which were foiled by his powerful supporter. allies in the executive and the legislature; not only Barr, but also then Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
McConnell had timidly waited to interfere with Trump’s musings, which led to disaster planning for a scenario in which Congress – without any evidence – could act to invalidate the election when it met on the 6th. January to certify the results of the Electoral College. It wasn’t because he loved Trump. Wolff writes that “it was impossible to exaggerate the hatred” McConnell had for him – this tension being “a central, albeit unheard of, drama of the Trump years.” On December 15, McConnell congratulated Biden as the next president. The following month, he and Pence refused Trump’s flattery and ultimately certified Biden’s victory. McConnell emerges as the institutional winner of the presidency, fighting Trump’s attempt to change America’s military position by withdrawing his troops while securing both the tax cuts and reactionary justice that mattered most to the senator. , before helping to deliver the coup de grace to the coup d’etat. We now know that a Conservative agent devised a plan for Pence, in his role as Speaker of the Senate, to prevent the election from being certified. Pence chose not to, despite the award being the end of his political career.
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âPolitics can’t be a whim or a joke, can it? Wolff wonders seriously, as if his own style of journalism hasn’t done much to draw attention to precisely these dimensions of Trump’s reign. Even so, Wolff is correct that Trump is not gone. He will run for president again, the myth of the “theft” having survived its easy eruption the first time around.
Yet since Biden took office, Democrats have mostly transcended any obsessive fascination with the scene Wolff summoned. In a divided country, Trump could come close enough in 2024 to the presidency – or win it. If so, the key is to take the sources of your appeal seriously. The question is whether the Democrats will go far enough, because their own coalition is not taking drastic steps to rethink the social contract. Removing Trump’s platform helped Democrats, but not so much that it gave them an unassailable electoral majority.
Generations of ill-conceived politics fueling civic divide, leading to endless war and inequality, are the Horcruxes – the magic items – that fuel and protect Trump. The imperative is to destroy them before it’s too late, and before Trump’s comeback ends in a very different way than Harry’s defeat of Voldemort.
Landslide: The Last Days of the Trump Presidency
Small, Brown, 336pp, Â£ 20