I’m not sure when the country went through the looking-glass politically. I know that many folks will point to Donald Trump’s election in 2016 as the defining moment. But that is probably too easy. Trump was (and is) a symptom of whatever is afflicting the country, not the cause.
My guess is that it was a gradual trajectory from “normal” to whatever it is that we have today, which feels like a weird alternative universe.
U.S. politics more closely resembles a bad Hollywood screenplay than a competition to govern the world’s most important nation. And I suppose this means there could be some dramatic Hollywood ending to the 2024 presidential election. Indeed, I suppose there are several such endings.
Under the supposition that truth — especially in DC — is indeed stranger than fiction, here is one outlandish, outrageous idea that might not be much stranger than whatever is actually going to happen.
After a dramatic three-week trial on the Mar-a-Lago documents case (beamed live worldwide) the jury hands down a verdict of guilty on all counts. Trump erupts, hurling invective at the judge, the jury, the prosecution team, President Biden, and even his own legal team. The judge bangs her gavel and instructs the bailiff to take the former president into custody and remove him from the courtroom.
As he is dragged from the courtroom, Trump declares that he will still stand for the presidency, and he encourages his followers to take to the streets.
Some do, along with groups of ecstatic progressives. There are some isolated incidents of violence. It is certainly not a nationwide uprising, but once magnified through the lens of the 24-hour news cycle and social media, it is enough to raise concern about societal unrest.
President Biden watches from the Oval Office, understanding that his own polling is so horrendous that he would still lose to Trump in November. So he gets Trump on the phone.
“Donald, I have a deal for you,” Biden says. “I will pardon you. Tonight, on national television. And I will ask that all the state charges be dropped against you, on one condition: you agree to give up the campaign and never run for office again.”
Trump erupts, accusing Biden of finally admitting what Trump had suspected this was all about from the very beginning.
“This was always about you keeping the presidency,” he bellows. “It was always about keeping me down so that I couldn’t beat you. You go straight to hell.”
Biden pauses. “Donald, I know that is what you think. But more importantly, I know it is what a large segment of the population will think. It isn’t true, but you and I both know that politics is as much about perception as it is reality. That’s why, if you take this deal, I will also announce at the same time that I will not run for reelection either. It’s time for both parties to move on anyway.”
Trump pauses, and in an instant contemplates the prospect of spending the rest of his life in jail. And equally bad, in his mind, he considers the permanent tarnishing of his “brand.” He also struggles with the realization that one of his favorite half-jokes has been turned back on him in haunting fashion: it is always interesting, he has commented many times, how people can change their minds when they “realize that they are going to be the bride of another prisoner very shortly.”
Trump takes the deal.
And that’s how Biden, the dealmaker of the Senate, and the Art of the Deal Trump, move the country back onto a road toward normalcy.
This will never happen. But then, Trump was never going to be elected president. There was never going to be a violent assault upon our nation’s capitol. No administration was ever going to bring trumped-up, politically motivated, and (arguably) victimless criminal and civil charges against a former president.
Another virtue of this storyline is that it would give the two-thirds of the people in this country who say they don’t want another Trump-Biden race (not to mention large swathes of the Democrat and Republican party leadership) exactly what they want.
And face it — if it did happen, it wouldn’t be the strangest thing the country has experienced in the last few years.
Mick Mulvaney, a former congressman from South Carolina, is a contributor to NewsNation. He served as director of the Office of Management and Budget, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and acting White House chief of staff under President Donald Trump.
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