“The president is an elected king. The fact that he is elected has proved to be of far less significance in the course of political evolution than the fact that he is pragmatically a king.”
– Randolph Bourne, “The State.”
Are we having fun folks? Are we there yet? On a recent edition of the NewsHour, columnist David Brooks suggested that Donald Trump was going through the five stages of grief that include denial, anger, depression and acceptance. Sooner or later, Brooks argued, Trump would accept the fact that he lost the election. But that’s not a foregone conclusion. Ordinary mortals often experience the basic stages of grief that begin with denial and end with acceptance. Donald Trump isn’t ordinary and seems to think of himself as immortal, while Brooks tends to regard himself as infallible, though he misjudged the 2020 campaign for the White House and predicted that Biden would win by a larger margin than he did. Wishful thinking. There are two kinds of people. Those who describe the world as it really is, and those who describe it as they’d like it to be.
It seems to me that liberal columnists like Brooks are part of the problem with the American political system. Instead of casting themselves as members of the Fourth Estate, which is supposed to be independent of the big power blocks in our society, columnists such as Brooks behave as though they’re a part of the government. On almost every edition of the NewsHour, Brooks tells viewers about his conversations with insiders, as though insiders know what’s really going on, and as though they tell the truth.
The truth of the matter is that insiders mostly inhabit an echo chamber where they only hear one another and repeat the same things they hear over and over again. More often than not, the outsider has crucial insights into the workings of society, whether he or she has been Ida B. Wells, I. F. Stone, Molly Ives, Alexander Cockburn or Randolph Bourne who explained in his essay, “The State,” which was not published until after his death in 1918 that, “the president is an elected king. The fact that he is elected has proved to be of far less significance in the course of political evolution than the fact that he is pragmatically a king.”
The class of professional pundits to which Brooks belongs has inherited many of the flaws of the elite, or elites. There’s more than one, though they all live in la-la-land.
I listen to Brooks and his better half, Mark Shields, every Friday on the NewsHour, but I don’t expect to hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I know I’m getting a narrative from one segement of the elite. The system, contrary to Brook’s so-called analysis, doesn’t work. It’s broken and can’t be fixed by those who helped to break it, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans. But perhaps the system is working precisely the way it’s supposed to work by so far allowing Trump to withhold the sort of vital information that outgoing presidents usually provide newly elected presidents. Biden hasn’t won until and unless Trump leaves the White House.
The current occupant will surely not go through the normal stages of grieving. He will probably go on being in denial, expressing anger and being depressed for the rest of his life, and certainly for as long as he’s a public figure, which might be the same thing. “Don’t bet against me,” he recently quipped. I’m not doing that. I don’t assume that he’ll vacate the White House willingly, and I don’t assume he’ll acknowledge Biden’s victory at the polls. Like most tyrants, he’ll continue to be belligerent, and to act as though he knows what’s best for the country. In his eyes, he’s the state. L’état, c’est moi. Louis XIV said it. Trump believes it.
Indeed, the divine right of kings has been reinvented for the twentieth-century, thanks to the Republican Party, The Supreme Court, the U.S. Senate, Fox and Trump himself. The fight is not over yet, not by a long shot. Donald Trump is still the decider, whether David Brooks knows that or not. Day-after-day and week-after-week the decider and denier has been sabotaging the democratic process and wrecking the government. My 85-year old housemate said this morning, “I’d like to see Trump arrested, tried, found guilty of the crimes he’s committed and locked up.” I told her, “So would I.” I am not holding my breath.