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Donald Trump, America's ultimate basilisk, finally runs out of lives

For 74 years, Donald J Trump has absorbed heavy punches, pouted defiantly and kept moving forward. Kept building his empire of mythology. Kept progressing his brand. Kept grabbing more fame, money and power. Nothing has ever thwarted Teflon Don – not bigotry, bankruptcy, bureaucracy or democracy. Until today, that is. Until right now, when his authoritarian grip on the White House loosened with defeat and, just like that, America’s ultimate basilisk finally ran out of lives.

In many ways, Joe Biden is an unlikely martyr, and that such an incompetent operator should topple the Trump dynasty speaks to its stunning loss of omnipotence. Nevertheless, claims of voter fraud notwithstanding, Biden has done what few have done for generations: he has beaten The Donald, whose financial clout and legal belligerence were suddenly shorn of their coercive magic.

Donald Trump and the art of serendipity

Trump was born in June 1946. Since that immortal eve – 27,176 days ago – he has pushed the boundaries of possibility, challenged the reign of plausibility, and crushed the meaning of probability. At times, his sheer capacity to withstand trauma, hatred, scandal, vitriol and pressure has elicited admiration from legions of hero-hungry acolytes, but their race is over now, too, the loss of a presidency signalling the end of gold-plated demagoguery as a political force.

From Day One, Donald’s grandiose ego – perhaps the largest and most unrestrained in human history – was built on a rock of serendipity that remained intact until today. Fred, his father, was a real estate billionaire, and the Trump family brand gave young Donald a huge safety net in his extravagant dalliances with celebrity and big business. Donald inherited a fortune – both monetarily and in kismet - and chronic nepotism saved him on multiple occasions, perhaps to the tune of $400 million in loans and stimuli.

Right from the start, the guy was defined by a disproportionate faith in his own infallibility. Trump thought he was invincible, an unbeatable gift from god. And for more than seven decades, he was, quite extraordinarily, before his folkloric egotism was shattered by a year unlike any other.

Donald Trump has been called a lot of things in his time – from cheat, liar and narcissist to sexist, misogynist and racist. Above all else, though, his cenotaph will now be inscribed with a new definitive label: that of one-term president, the first since 1994.

The unstoppable, improbable rise of Donald Trump

Hitherto, Trump’s rise has been meteoric, exponential and inexorable, defying the laws of physics and degrading the laws of America at almost every turn. Six of his business ventures have been declared bankrupt, but still he is worth $2.5 billion. On five occasions, he dodged military drafts, but still he became Commander in Chief. Trump fudged his way through Fordham and the New York Military Academy, lacking academic profundity, yet still won election as the 45th president in US history. Fairly won or otherwise, his upward trajectory has been indefatigable. 

There have been three marriages, two divorces and innumerable affairs with lurid tabloid pinups. There has been tax evasion, economic manipulation and billions of dollars in debt. There has been crass opportunism, endless strongarming and tremendous amounts of litigation. There have even been lawsuits for racial discrimination, but still he came out fighting. Still, he brawled and bawled his way to a destiny of dictatorial iconography.

Trump has weathered accusations of sexual misconduct from 26 women. Trump has overcome his own explicit articulation of depravity encapsulated by the Access Hollywood tapes. Trump has survived the $25 million fraud of students under his eponymous – and ultimately bogus – university program. Nothing seemed to stick, and he just kept rolling along, gaining more fans along the way.

The Donald profited from ghostwritten memoirs that deduced illegitimate acumen for overzealous and bank-funded deals. The Donald devised his own political movement despite changing party allegiances on many occasions. The Donald even paid hush money to pornstars, somehow becoming a more viable leader with each salacious headline. Ultimately, he ripped a hole in the crime-failure continuum, altering public benchmarks for acceptable decorum while threatening to rule the world.

How Donald Trump hijacked Washington against all odds

Even in the political arena, Trump has long been a remarkable underdog, yet regardless of the eventual results, he has won with a regularity few thought him capable of producing. From the birther conspiracy and the Obama opprobrium to the routine endorsement of lunatics on Twitter and the denouncement of mainstream media, Trump has somehow developed a cult following through acts of self-alienation. The man is a living oxymoron wrapped inside a juxtaposition, dressed up as an enigma. There is little logic to his surge.

Yet still, that surge has continued for years, shockingly unabated. The media called him a clown, but still he ran for president. The populace called him a moron, but still he prevailed against Republican orthodoxy, beating Cruz, Rubio and Bush. The left called him a joke, but still he defeated Hillary Clinton, herself a relic of privileged hegemony. The pollsters called him a no-hoper, but still he became the most powerful man on earth.

Some people say Trump did not even want to become president, that his ego forced him to covet the White House as the only means of fulfilling a majestic, arrogant, delusional potential. He won in spite of himself, in other words, and that may be his greatest triumph of all.

Success through scandal - the legacy of Donald Trump

Even once he settled behind the Oval Office desk, the odds kept getting longer, the backlashes more vociferous. We saw claims of Russian interference in the presidential campaign. We saw the implosion of Cambridge Analytica, whose manipulation of personal data fuelled Trump’s strategy. We saw the oldest ever president hiring and firing aides with callous rapidity, turning Capitol Hill into a reality television soap opera.

For all his divisive action and bullish rhetoric, however, Trump rebuilt a stagnant American economy. For all the accusations of corruption and collusion, Trump sparked a jobs revolution appreciated by working people. And for all the talk of rampant racism and impending nuclear war, Trump brokered peace between Israel and several Middle East nemeses; destroyed Islamic State as a cohesive force; and became the first sitting US president to set foot in the reclusive climbs of North Korea.

Merely by following Obama – perhaps the coolest president who ever lived – into office, Trump was dealt a tough hand. It was a difficult act to follow, even if liberals do not like to admit the role they played in facilitating the chronic, systematic inequities that bloomed to fruition on Trump’s watch. Nevertheless, Trump still has a lot to answer for when we assess the true cost of his self-indulgent premiership.

There have been dog-whistles to white supremacists. There have been walls erected, literally and figuratively. There have been federal shutdowns and alternative facts, all awash in a relentless cycle of shock, awe and incredulity. Trump was even impeached, becoming just the third president to feel the wrath of constitutional haranguing. Even that did not thwart his monolithic advancement.

Even in defeat, Donald Trump proved some people wrong

Gaining confidence from each unlikely victory, Trump became intoxicated on the fumes of his own success. The presidential seal enhanced his self-absorbed pomposity, a concept that barely seemed possible given his bloated sense of supremacy. Even when Covid-19 came along, threatening to destroy his audacious authority, Trump bulldozed all before him, distrusting science and relying on xenophobic tropes to shift blame. 

The president even contracted coronavirus himself, requiring hospitalisation. He soon bounced back, however, launching full bore into a 2020 election campaign of unprecedented polarity. Mere days after requiring oxygen to help him breathe, Trump was dancing on stages and holding numerous rabble-rousing rallies each day, crisscrossing America with stamina belying his septuagenarian status.

Once again, the pollsters denied his chances. They said Trump had a 10% likelihood of securing a second term. Some prognosticators gave Biden a 12-point lead in their surveys, predicting a Democratic landslide, yet here we are four days after the polls closed, finding a winner only after splitting hairs in glacial fashion. In some ways, then, Trump continues to outperform expectations, even if his ability to conjure outright miracles finally came up short.

Why 2020 was Donald Trump's kryptonite

In the old days, predominantly written in Trumpian hieroglyphics, Donald would have come surging back into this race to claim a heroic victory. He would have paid somebody off, transferred a few envelopes or bullied underlings into unlawful compliance. His lawsuits would have worked, facilitated by the best lawyers money can buy, or his penchant for sensationalism would have buried the story under a fresh fiasco.

In any other era, directed by the Machiavellian messiah, Trump’s underdog status would have sweetened his contrived success. He would have made a few phone calls, brokered a few deals, and bundled his way to the next great project. Well, not this time, and not this year. There was a new outcome today, and it is anathema to all that has gone before in the fantastical world of Donald Trump. 

Hewn in penthouses, casinos, studios and mansions, the self-styled ascension of a businessman-turned-celebrity-turned-president has finally ran its course. Weaving through White Houses, gold houses, courthouses and whorehouses, the self-managed legacy of a fearless firebrand has finally met its caveat. And winding through the bruised tapestry of America, from sea to shining sea by way of rustic industrial heartlands, the self-assured importance of a riotous agitator has finally been diminished.

Donald Trump was the most loathed president America has ever seen. In parts, he was also the most beloved. Such is the dichotomy of sentiment that defines a disjointed nation, and such is the contradiction of precedence that describes the quintessential winner who finally tasted defeat.

There have been days in the past where Donald Trump looked beaten. Plenty of them, in fact, through multiple lives of decadent anarchy. Yet nobody has managed to deliver that fatal evidence or land that knockout punch. Collectively, the American electorate struck that mighty blow today. After almost three-quarters of a century watching Donald Trump run roughshod over conventional wisdom, they finally delivered his comeuppance. Only time will tell if, in slaying their tormenting basilisk, they unwittingly gave birth to an ideological Hydra.

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