Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” and co-author, with Peter Eisner, of the book “High Crimes: The Corruption, Impunity, and Impeachment of Donald Trump.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Donald Trump lost. The calmer people around him – including his daughter – are looking for new places to live, and work, and, let’s face it, recover. Others are stamping their feet – No! – right along with the boss. A lawyer advises challenging the election result in the courts – again. A retired general says call out the troops. There’s screaming and accusations. Trump wonders about appointing a special counsel to investigate his 7 million-vote defeat.
Behold the crackpot presidency nearing its end.
After years of conspiracy theories, lies, and rage, the President seems to be turning the Oval Office into a stage set for the final scenes of a Biblical quality drama – and more specifically, the tale of the super-strong Israelite warrior Samson, who declared “Let me die with the Philistines!” and in toppling the temple, died along with his enemies.
Though born to enormous wealth and cosseted in luxury, Trump has often talked as if he views his life as a battle for survival. Those who refuse to give him what he wants – governors, lawmakers, journalists etc. – become enemies. In the final days of his presidency, the enemies are united by the election outcome and the Constitution on their side. The President seems to be turning the White House into a temple of paranoia.
The People’s House has been home to some of the greatest leaders of modern times. The Oval Office is where presidents have worked to serve and save the union. If any Oval Office sessions have marked a deviation from the norm, Trump’s Friday conference with attorney Sydney Powell and retired Lt. General Mike Flynn must rank near the top, along with the time Richard Nixon and Elvis trashed-talked the Beatles and the President gave Presley an FBI badge.
At Trump’s Friday meeting, lawyer Sydney Powell, once part of the legal cadre that failed to overturn the election with dozens of court challenges, arrived with her client Mike Flynn. A retired lieutenant general who pleaded guilty for lying to the FBI, Flynn was pardoned by the President last month. Perhaps it is out of gratitude for this gift that Flynn has been talking about Trump using martial law to, “basically rerun an election,” in key states where subsequent Trump wins would give him a second term. Although Flynn has justified this action by claiming rampant election fraud in those states, no such fraud has been found.
Hardly a stickler for evidence and facts, Trump reportedly asked about Flynn’s martial law idea. The New York Times also reported that Trump entertained Powell’s talk of resuming a legal campaign to assert election fraud despite the fact that more than 50 court filings in this effort have been rejected. Even the President’s allies on Fox News have, under pressure, publicly debunked one of the most serious allegations of fraud which they themselves promoted.
Nevertheless, there was Powell in the Oval Office brandishing affidavits alleging fraud. President Trump asked whether Powell could get a security clearance to help her in her effort to overturn the election through the courts. He also asked about naming her to a special counsel position, in order to carry out this work.
Trump’s fixation on court challenges, even as the Electoral College affirmed President-elect Joe Biden’s victory last week, aligns with a litigious streak that he has shown for decades. As USA Today noted in 2016, businessman Trump used lawsuits as tools of his trade and to distance himself from failures. When the paper examined his record, they found more than 3,500 cases. Notably, he was the plaintiff – the one initiating legal combat – in the majority of them.
Although Powell’s legal pugnacity apparently appealed to the President, he heard some vigorous pushback from White House advisers who were also in the Oval Office. Counsel Pat A. Cipollone and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows were among those who raised serious objections. Powell and Flynn accused others of abandoning Trump, CNN reported, and the meeting intermittently devolved into screaming matches. “It was heated,” one source told CNN. “People were really fighting it out in the Oval, really forceful about it.”
Having seen Trump rant and rave on the campaign trail and knowing his tendency toward conspiracy theories and drama, it isn’t hard to imagine the man indulging or even orchestrating Friday’s Oval Office craziness. It’s reassuring to know some around him will intervene before he brings the temple down, but frightening to consider Trump may share Samson’s willingness to bring everything down on himself in order to destroy his enemies.
Among the many differences between Trump and Samson is that the Bible shows Samson’s enemies were real. While Trump does have many real enemies, in the case of election fraud, they are imagined. Also, Samson didn’t injure his countrymen in his act of destruction. Trump threatens damage to the majority of voters, who though they chose Biden, are among those he was elected to serve.
Trump isn’t Samson. America isn’t a Philistine temple. Thank God there are still people around the President who resist the ridiculous drama.