A classic episode offrom 1961, 'It’s a Good Life', features a telepathic, malicious six-year-old brat named Anthony who holds an entire town hostage.
Anthony transforms one adult who crosses him into a jack-in-the-box. Everybody else who wants to survive kowtows. “It’s real fine that you’ve done that, that’s real fine,” the local grocer tells Anthony after the boy gives a gopher three heads and then kills it.
Nobody musters the courage to take on Anthony, and the episode concludes with one of Rod Serling’s knowing voice-overs: “If, by some strange chance, you should run across him, you had best think only good thoughts. Anything less than that is handled at your own risk, because if you do meet Anthony, you can be sure of one thing: You have entered."
Similar to little Anthony, Donald Trump is testing us — just as he did when he rolled down a Trump Tower escalator in 2015 to announce his presidential bid in a flurry of venom and dingbatics and just as he is now by gesturing toward a coup and convincing a nation of traumatised worrywarts that he might pull it off.
Let’s let go of these fears and anxieties, shall we?
US president-elect Joe Biden will be ushered into the White House on January 20 and president-reject Trump — the man who lost the recent election by over 6m popular votes and 74 Electoral College votes — will be sent packing.
Trump is not departing without a titanic fuss, of course, and given his druthers he would be quite content burning down the house rather than leaving it intact for someone else.
However, he is not going to burn it down. And not because he does not want to, but because he cannot.
It is worth recalling that none of Trump’s grotesque and damaging behaviour of late was unexpected. He has spent most of the year telegraphing his desire to stain the US constitution and stave off relinquishing the presidency.
He labelled the electoral process fraudulent before the election even took place, and everything he has done since has been in character: deploying a squad of incompetent, tragicomically bonkers stooges led by Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, and Sidney Powell to challenge the legitimacy of the vote and continuing to threaten and corrupt the Republican Party so it enables his caudillo act.
At the end of the day, Trump at his core is who Trump has always been — a vaudevillian bully. His history is also chock full of examples of people and institutions that not only stood up to him but batted him back after he puffed his chest and swung his fists.
His parents shipped him off to a military academy when he was 13 because, as he once told me, he was “very bad” and “bratty.” None of the teachers at the school brooked his rubbish.
“They’d go pow! And smack you,” he said. “And you know, all of the sudden a spoiled kid says, ‘Yes, sir!’”
When he became the enfant terrible of New York real estate in the 1980s he tried browbeating an entire neighbourhood on Manhattan’s West Side and made ludicrous threats against the city’s mayor so he could build a sprawling development capped off by an abominable, ill-conceived skyscraper. New Yorkers and their mayor grounded the projec
When he stiffed his bankers in the 1990s for billions of dollars he could not repay, he savaged them in the media and pretended they needed him more than he needed them.
The bankers corralled him for a spell so they could use him to help liquidate his portfolio and then excommunicated him permanently as a client.
Trump spent his term as president flagrantly embracing financial conflicts of interest and abusing the powers of his office. When he tried to strong-arm Ukraine’s leader to dig up dirt on Biden, several civil servants and soldiers, including Alexander Vindman, William Taylor, Marie Yovanovitch, and Fiona Hill, fought back and helped stop it. The US House of Representatives impeached Trump for those misdeeds.
While Trump also used his time in the Oval Office to exploit racism and bigotry for his own political purposes, the Black Lives Matter movement took to the streets to protest systemic racism.
While Trump threw his hat into the presidential ring again this year, voters denied him a second term — with Black voters in big cities providing a decisive push.
He has inflicted long-term damage on public trust and leadership, visibly rendered in the nation’s failed response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but he has not managed to fashion a throne for himself despite his fascination with dictators, propaganda, and blunt force.
The end game that is afoot will not conclude well for Trump. The flotilla of ridiculous lawsuits he and his cohorts have filed claiming voting fraud have been beaten back so steadily and consistently that Team Trump was forced to change tactics.
They are now openly pushing for a coup by seeking interventions from Republican-led state legislatures to simply overturn the popular vote and Biden’s victory. However, ballot counting in the presidential election was not delayed, no ballots that were counted were subsequently tossed out, and no court has yet to postpone any state’s certification of the results.
There have been ugly machinations in states such as Michigan that give cause for alarm, but the fabric has held. Jocelyn Benson, Michigan secretary of state, has taken on Trump’s legal trolls calmly and courageously.
On Saturday, a federal judge in Pennsylvania who is an Obama appointee — as well as being a former GOP official and member of the conservative Federalist Society — dismissed a Trump lawsuit seeking to overturn the vote in his state. He excoriated the suit before punting it.
Still, Trump, who seems to have gone into hiding lately, is merely playing for time, not for a coup, and the clock is running out.
His “elite strike force” of legal misfits began fracturing Sunday night, with Giuliani and Ellis kicking Powell off their team and one Trump campaign official telling thethat Powell was “too crazy even for the president”.
Chris Christie, former New Jersey governor, Republican, and reliable Trump apologist, labelled the Giuliani crew a “national embarrassment”.
Similar to Anthony in, Trump is a dangerous and damaged punk with some unusual powers. Unlike the adults in Anthony’s fictional hometown, however, not everyone in the real world is letting Trump get away with a takeover.
He will continue to pollute the US federal bureaucracy to make Biden’s transition and early presidency painful. However, he will not be staying around.
- Timothy L O'Brien is a senior columnist for