“Round the decay/Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away.” So ends Shelley’s “Ozymandias.” It shouldn’t be surprising to hear those lines quoted this weekend as Donald Trump collapses into his own wreck. What too few are contemplating, unfortunately, are those “lone and level” sands that come with the wreck. With no commitment to anything but his own ego (“Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”), Trump would rather destroy everything around him than let “his pride and his brand name” suffer.
His ego and accoutrements would suffer most, according to his apparent current calculation, by his withdrawal from the race. By staying, he can place the blame elsewhere—on Hillary Clinton, on nameless vote riggers, on the Republican Party bosses and on whomever else is conveniently near—consequences for the nation be damned. He hasn’t the sense of history that Shelley conveys, of the dust that only remains, simply the ego that’s all that’s left of Ozymandias. He doesn’t care if that’s all of him that survives.
The Republican Party was destroyed this weekend, its base peeled off from a leadership that could only follow its standard-bearer so far. For a long time, the top party managers only saw Trump as a convenient figurehead, but he’s a figurehead who also wants to con the ship (in more ways than one) and who the crew is listening to, officers be damned. A ship cannot operate that way, certainly not as it drifts into battle against a vessel of equal strength but with an experienced and increasingly dedicated crew and compliant officer corps. Not to mention its experienced captain.
The fight’s outcome is now foregone. What remains to be seen is whether the ship can limp away intact or whether the crew will seize the opportunity to toss the remaining officers overboard. The officers may be able to cobble together some sort of craft out of the debris in the water, but there will no longer be a single USS Republican Party. For his part, Trump threatens to blow them out of the water: “On Twitter, Mr. Trump attacked the Republicans fleeing his campaign as ‘self-righteous hypocrites’ and predicted their defeat at the ballot box.” As if his poorly handled ship were in any condition to do that.
It would be nice to be able to gloat about this, and I would but for two considerations. First, the destruction of one of our major political parties bodes ill for our political system, raising questions about its sustainability. Second, this could as easily be happening to the USS Democratic Party. Trump chose the Republicans, sensing the weakness of its officers (look at the field he bested—not one among them has the presence necessary for, if I may mix metaphors, sustained performance on the national stage). Only the fact that the Democrats had only one, and an extremely powerful one at that, mainstream candidate and an opponent of integrity who had already staked out the ground to the left (there was none available on the right) kept them free of Trump. Partisan politics and beliefs matter not at all, to Trump; only winning does. And only through the Republicans did he see a path to victory. Were the situation over the past few years only slightly different, we could now be facing a Bush/Trump election.
Today, however, we have a race that is falling apart due to the miscalculation of this man who felt he was more adroit and adaptable than the calcified politicians of the party elites. Not willing to lose graciously, Trump is trying to bring down the entire system or, at least, the Republican Party. In a stunt before the second debate tonight, he held something of a press event with accusers of Bill Clinton, women who charged him with sexual advances, assault and rape. This is not going to help him win—and he certainly knows that. It is simply going to further the animosities already dividing the United States and even his party.
During the debate, Trump spoke exclusively to his base, whipping up the hatred for the Clintons that has been stirred for decades by the right and recounting conspiracy theories and ‘swift-boat’ like attacks which have little relationships to actual events. That, right now, is not enough for him to win—and he knows that.
Victory, though, is no longer his goal. Self-justification is all he is about. To hell with the rest of us. To hell with the Republican Party. To hell with the United States. To hell with history.