11th November 2020
President Donald Trump is many things, but there are many things which he is not.
He is not, for example, a billionaire businessman, but instead a person who tells the story that he is a billionaire businessman.
And he has not been a successful or accomplished president, but instead someone who tells the story of having been a great president, perhaps the greatest ever.
Trump is, in short, a story teller.
Even the things for which he was famous before becoming president were exercises in story telling.
The Apprentice TV show is, for instance, not about how to be successful in business but about giving the impression of being successful in business.
(Indeed, many of the figures people most associate with being ‘successful business people’ are usually deft brand promoters, their brand being they are successful at business.)
But Trump tells other stories, and knows well the power of stories.
The ‘birther’ phenomenon was about casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election as president of Barack Obama.
It did not matter to Trump that the story was untrue: the subversive impact of the story was the point of it.
Political stories that undermine legitimacy are, of course, not new.
And now Trump is telling a new story, the story of the stolen election.
Trump and his lawyers and advisers know that the election is lost.
As this blog set out yesterday, the presidency of Trump will end on 20 January 2021 by automatic operation of law, unless something extraordinary and unexpected happens.
Yet for various reasons, it is expedient for Trump and his supporters to affect that this is not the case.
In an extreme example, the American Secretary of State even said in a formal setting that there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump term.
“There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, one week after Trump lost the election to President-Elect Joe Biden pic.twitter.com/G8JwYWZN1I— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 10, 2020
Pushing this narrative may be to create political leverage, or to raise funds, or to mobilise supporters, or whatever.
The motive is less important that the fact that the story is being told.
Yet, Trump is not the only important story teller at this political moment.
Joseph Biden and his campaign team are also promoting a narrative.
They have posited an ‘Office of the the President Elect’.
They are publishing summaries of conversations between Biden and world leaders.
Today, President-elect Joe Biden took part in separate congratulatory calls with the leaders of France, Germany, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. pic.twitter.com/vCyAVVF3qw— Biden-Harris Presidential Transition (@Transition46) November 10, 2020
The Biden campaign are, in essence, telling the story of political stability and a return to normality.
This is a more sensible and refreshing story, compared with the subversive story being promoted by Trump and his supporters.
And any sensible person will support Biden over Trump in this.
But it is still a battle of storytelling, like a contest of meistersingers, or an eisteddfod, or a rap battle.
And what is at stake is the sense of legitimacy of the election.
It was not enough, sadly, for Biden to win the popular vote and to win more electoral college votes.
There is now a second battle as to the legitimacy of the election, notwithstanding that Biden had an emphatic electoral victory.
Unless Biden prevails in this second contest, the Trumpite narrative will linger: Biden in a warming-pan, the American nation stabbed in the back and so on.
It will not be enough for Trump to be defeated, he must be seen as being defeated.
And, in this, one should not underestimate Trump.
For he is a great mendacious political storyteller, perhaps one of the greatest ever.
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