We turn, one last time, to Hans Christian Andersen.
Over the past four years, many observers, this one included, have found one of the Danish writer’s most famous tales irresistible for explaining both Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s slavish sycophancy toward him. In “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” a monarch parades through town naked, having been convinced by swindlers that he’s actually draped in an exquisite outfit made of a fabric visible only to those who are not “unusually stupid.”
Not wanting to be thought dense, everyone pretends they can see the magnificent outfit. Then a child blurts out the obvious. “But he hasn’t got anything on!” And the crowd begins to whisper to itself, until the truth finally breaks like a shaft of sunlight through the clouds, and the whole town cries out that the emperor is unclothed.
Well, in the wake of last week’s defeat and his refusal to concede same, it’s Trump who stands naked before us, revealed for anyone who inexplicably still harbored doubt, as the liar and loser he always was. He rages against math, excoriates voting, raves about imaginary schemes to steal a victory he never won. His psychopathy is nude, his disconnect from reality is disrobed, his toxic narcissism stands bare-cheeked before us all.
And you wait for the whispers to begin, wait for the toadies and lickspittles who have long enabled him to at last blurt the obvious. And you wait. And you wait.
And there is silence.
In a political season that has produced more than its share of embarrassments, this may be the greatest humiliation yet for a nation that styles itself a beacon of democracy. At this writing, almost no one — not party elders, not young guns, not cabinet members, not the first lady, not the children — has found the courage to publicly say the truth. Indeed, some — like the invertebrate Sen. Lindsey Graham — have even encouraged Trump’s delusions, a display of political gutlessness with few, if any, equals in recent memory.
Its insistence on denying reality has reduced the GOP to a state beyond parody. Think a Washington Post report of party loyalists marching seven times around the U.S. Capitol like Israelites in the Bible around Jericho. Think the once-respected Rudy Giuliani holding a press conference in a Philadelphia landscaping supply company parking lot near a sex shop to decry fictitious election irregularities. “Do you think we’re stupid?” he cried. “Do you think we’re fools?”
It’s enough to make comedy writers obsolete.
But it’s not a joke. Attorney General William Barr, Trump’s consigliere, has authorized prosecutors to “pursue substantial allegations” of voter fraud. Even though there are none. The General Services Administration has refused to process paperwork needed to release funds for President-elect Joe Biden to begin the transition process. In other words, the machinery of government has been brought to bear to protect a boy man’s fragile ego from the truth.
Acknowledging a bitter defeat is never easy. But so many others have risen to the task with grace. Hillary Clinton did it. Mitt Romney did it. John McCain, John Kerry and Al Gore did it. The weakling Trump is uniquely unable to do it, a failure that makes you long for Jan. 20. On that day, he’ll be escorted into disgrace, still insisting that he won what he didn’t. One imagines the emperor would empathize. Even after the child cried out, he still couldn’t admit his nakedness.
“So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.”
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. firstname.lastname@example.org