There is something positively biblical about the last days of the Trump presidency. I imagine him, holed up in the Oval Office, the phones silent, sensing his power slipping away as even his staunchest allies seek to distance themselves from him. Looking out on to Pennsylvania Avenue perhaps he can see the bare-chested men with big beards and Davie Crocket hats, touting enormous semi-automatic weapons, but he can’t reach them as his Twitter account has been suspended, permanently. On this side of the pond, prominent establishment people who once fawned over him now openly condemn him. He is yesterday’s man. Now they court Mr Biden.
I wonder if Mr Trump seriously believes that he won the election. I think so. If you believe, not that the truth is out there, that is, that the truth is an external reality which your own sense of self cannot bend to your own will and wish-fulfilment; but if you believe that that which you desire to be so must ipso facto be the case, then you believe that you hold within you the power to define the truth. Toddlers believe they can bend the universe according to their own will, until they bruise themselves on inanimate objects, and discover there are other beings in the universe who operate according to a different agenda. “The terrible twos” is the expression of rage which marks the realisation that the toddler is not, after all, omnipotent. Mr Trump’s refusal to attend Mr Biden’s inauguration is childish and petulant, the toddler’s expression of rage.
Perhaps delusion goes hand in hand with enormous power. Is this why King Canute enthroned himself on the beach and ordered the tide to stop coming in? I have a notion that the members of any exclusive establishment or élite are to some extent deluded. They begin to believe in their own sense of entitlement. They can shape the world according to their own will. Make America great again. Over here, we will make the UK “world beaters” by wishing it to be so. Mr Gove passed that infamous remark casting doubt on the value of experts. Why let hard facts get in the way of a good narrative?
I believe one of the chief reasons why New Zealand did so well in eradicating Covid-19 was that New Zealand society does not have an élite. The New Zealand parliament does not have a second chamber, an upper house. There is no establishment. When Jacinda Ardern closed the border last March and locked the place down, everybody complied because everybody knew they belonged to a community. Of course the economy was going to take a hit, but New Zealanders are extremely self-reliant people and they were never going to starve. (I heard Ian Blackford, leader of the SNP at Westminster, on Any Questions on Friday, say that the number of food parcels being handed out by food banks in South Skye and Lochalsh had increased from 25 per month in January to 180 per week in December.) But in their reaction to Covid, the Kiwis were nimble. There was none of the obscurity and obfuscation so beloved of la crème de la crème. “Well, yes, we might try that of course, but it’s going to be very, very difficult…”
No doubt 2020 was difficult in NZ. During the pandemic, Ms Ardern owned up to a sense of Impostor Syndrome. But then she cast it aside and thought, “Just get on with it.” Élites are not very good at just getting on with it. They are too bogged down in their own vested self-interests.
Meanwhile the Trump presidency – unless the 25th Amendment is invoked – has 9 days to run. One thing we have learned in the last four years is that Mr Trump is a very unpredictable man. I have a notion that he has one last trick up his sleeve, un coup de théâtre to unveil. I wonder what it’s going to be.
I’m holding my breath.