Avner Falk
Clinical and political psychologist and psychohistorian

Citizen Trump: Alone and silent at Mar-a-Lago

On January 20, 2021, six of the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court attended Joe Biden’s inauguration as President of the United States at Washington’s Capitol, but the Court building was evacuated due to a bomb threat from Trump’s far-right fans. This was another sign of how dangerous this man had been.

The attack on the Capitol that he had launched two weeks earlier was one of the worst events in U.S. history, and Trump himself would be remembered as one of its worst presidents. By refusing to attend his successor’s inauguration he acted once again like the teen-age schoolboy who had attacked his teachers and was expelled from home. Back at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida, where a room was named after his mother, Donald Trump was like Charlie Kane, lonely, dejected, abandoned by all the people who had been close to him, with no future ahead of him either in politics, in business or on television. He was like the tragic protagonist of Citizen Kane personified in real life.

Trump had left a personal letter for Biden, which the latter characterized as “generous,” but Biden would not give any details about it before he spoke with Trump, which could take a long time. Trump had also left Biden a broken country, a sinking economy, a raging pandemic that had killed hundreds of thousands of Americans with no plans for dealing with it, and a deeply divided nation, riven by hatred. Trump himself could not feel calm in his Mar-a-Lago palace. He was the subject of legal actions and possible prosecutions. The Democrats in the Congress had not forgotten the deadly Capitol riot he had incited and were planning to try Trump in the Senate during the last week of January. However, only five Republicans would join them, which meant that once again Trump would be acquitted, absent a two-thirds majority to convict him.

Trump had wrought untold damage on his country, on the world — and upon himself. His “business empire,” which consisted of his Florida golf course, his Washington, DC hotel and his Scottish resorts was making forty percent less money than it had before he became president. Trump owed more than $300 million to his creditors. His son Eric, who had been running the Trump Organization with his elder brother Donald Jr., denied the bad financial reality, boasting that Trump had endless business opportunities and that his father “would get followed to the ends of the Earth by a hundred million Americans.” Eric exhibited the same kind of massive denial as his father. Donald Trump himself was not so much upset about the fate of his business as about his defeat, loss, humiliation and shame, and about the injustice that he had suffered, as he saw it.

Trump had enacted so many bad policies that during his first week in office President Biden had to sign dozens of executive orders reversing them. Biden renewed the international treaties that Trump had pulled the U.S. out of and reversed his economic, environmental, health, immigration and climate-change policies. Biden also had to find a quick and effective way to vaccinate hundreds of millions of Americans against the deadly Covid-19 virus, for which Trump had left no plan. During the first week of his presidency, Biden undid much of Trump’s malignant legacy. Still, executive orders issued by the President were not enough. It would take a great deal of bipartisan legislation, and a long time, to heal America and make it healthy again.

Biden spoke of a national emergency, but Trump was concerned with his own personal emergency. Not only had he been defeated, and therefore shamed and humiliated, as he saw it, but he also faced a series of criminal indictments and creditors. Letitia James, The New York state attorney general, Audrey Strauss, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, and Cyrus Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, were all investigating Trump for possible criminal activities, as was Fani Willis, the new Fulton County district attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. Karl Racine, the attorney general of D.C., and Brian Frosh, his Maryland counterpart, were still pursuing Trump in the courts for having received emoluments in violation of the Constitution. Trump’s life continued to be an endless fight, a constant battle, a never-ending struggle for survival.

The House impeachment managers and their aides had gone over hundreds of hours of recorded evidence to build their case that Donald Trump had incited his supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol, the “People’s House.” On Monday evening, January 25, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent the Article of Impeachment to the U.S. Senate, which would conduct the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, even though he had left office. Rep. Jamie Raskin, the lead impeachment manager, who had lost his son to suicide on the last day of 2020, and did not wish to lose his country in 2021, as he told Jake Tapper of CNN, read the article out loud: “Donald John Trump engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors by inciting violence against the government of the United States.”

The move divided the Republicans in the Senate. Trump had corrupted the soul of his party so deeply that most Republicans could not bring themselves to oppose him. The Republican senators were split over the constitutionality of holding an impeachment trial for a president who had left office. The Washington Post reported that “Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of Trump’s most outspoken GOP critics, stopped short of saying he would vote to convict Trump, while Republican allies of the former president continued to argue that an impeachment trial should be abandoned for the sake of ‘unity’ […] the Republican National Committee [members] also were in a heated debate over the weekend on how to respond to impeachment — and how fiercely to defend Trump.” Only four Republican senators joined Romney. Forty-five senators would continue to defend Trump even after he had launched a deadly attack on their own “People’s House.”

Trump’s second impeachment trial began with the swearing in of the one hundred senators on January 26 as judges and jury. The senators were also the victims of Trump’s assault on the Capitol, during which many of them could have been killed by the murderous rioters. Nonetheless, Senator Rand Paul at once moved to dismiss the House impeachment article, claiming that an impeachment trial of a president who had left office was unconstitutional. This forced the Senate to conduct a vote on Paul’s motion. Only five Republican senators voted with the Democrats against Paul’s motion, which was set aside by fifty-five votes to forty-five. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, voted with the minority.

This meant that only fifty-five senators would vote to convict Trump. There was no likelihood of Trump being convicted by the Senate. It would take sixty-seven senators, or seventeen Republicans voting with the Democrats, to convict him. However, Trump stood humiliated as the only U.S. president ever to be twice impeached by the House of Representatives, and he also faced a slew of criminal investigations, prosecutions, creditors, and mounting debt. It was the worst crisis in his life since his major bankruptcies and financial collapse thirty years earlier.

Deprived of his “social media” megaphone, Trump could not make his voice heard. No one invited him to a television studio for an interview. The man whose unconscious motto was “I tweet, therefore I am” could no longer use Twitter. The members of his exclusive Mar-a-Lago social club were quitting it and the town of Palm Beach, Florida, where Mar-a-Lago was situated, was reviewing the legality of Trump’s double use of his Mar-a-Lago palace as a club and as a residence at the same time, which seemed to violate a “special exception use” permit that he had signed with the town in 1993. It seemed as if Trump’s legal and financial troubles would never end, as if every jurisdiction in the U.S. that had anything to do with him was investigating him, aiming to indict and convict him.

It was eerie not to see Trump “tweet” anymore and not to hear from him. No one had “tweeted” as much as he, no one had drawn attention to himself every day in the past four years as Trump had. Donald Trump in his Mar-a-Lago palace was very much like the old and dying Charlie Kane in his Xanadu mansion. He was alone, with his young and unloving wife and their only son. His life lay in ruins around him. Ahead lay nothing but legal and financial trouble, aging, despair and death. Citizen Trump could not hope to be happy again. And, just as Charlie Kane had remembered his snow sled Rosebud to his dying day, because it reminded him of the day he was driven away from home as a child, so Donald Trump remembered his being sent away from home to a military academy at the age of thirteen by his strict, disciplinarian father. He was fortunate to have found a good father figure in a major at the academy who “adopted” him and took care of him.

What Donald Trump did not remember, but had been more crucial, was how his mother, who had almost died in childbirth, had abandoned him emotionally when he was a toddler, after the birth of his younger brother, being unable to handle two crybabies at once. This was the earliest and most powerful trauma of his life, but it remained unconscious. Trump had unconsciously repeated the rejection trauma of his early life by acting so dangerously, recklessly and irresponsibly that he was rejected by the whole world, with numerous authorities trying to punish him for his misdeeds. The tragedy of Citizen Trump was similar to that of Citizen Kane.

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