I have been trying to think about what the possible motivations could be for Trump’s bizarre behavior in continuing his futile quest to remain in office and have come up with four possibilities, presented here in no particular order.
1. The scorched Earth theory
This theory says that Trump knows he has lost and must leave the White House and what he wants to do, out of sheer spite, is make life as hard as possible for the new administration by refusing to allow the transition team the normal access to information, firing people left and right, filing lawsuits and raging against the integrity of the elections to sow doubt among his supporters as to the legitimacy of the Biden presidency, and possibly even bombing Iran.
The idea is not unlike that during wars when the retreating population burns their crops and homes so that the invading armies cannot use them. In this case, he wants to leave an administration in a shambles. Even if it results in the pandemic raging out of control and needlessly causing excess deaths in the order of tens of thousands, he does not care if he can gloat from the sidelines that things have gone to hell since he left.
He must be smarting from the fact that the stock market has gone up since the election despite his warnings that a Biden win would tank it, and that new vaccines seem to be appearing by the. day. He of course thinks that the vaccine companies conspired to not release this news until after the election because they too are working against him
2. The positive thinking theory
Norma Vincent Peale was apparently a family friend of the Trumps and is the creator of the theory of The Power of Positive Thinking that he published in a best-selling book that even I was familiar with back in the day in Sri Lanka. This argues that relentlessly positive thinking that you will succeed will enable you to achieve your goals. This nonsense resurfaces over and over again in various forms, as we see in the form of the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ which claims that if you believe firmly enough and pray hard enough, your god will grant you your wishes. More recently it appeared in the form of another best-selling book The Secret pushing something known as the “The Law of Attraction”. The Australian sketch comedy show The Chasers War on Everything explained what this rubbish is about.
The idea is that Trump was strongly influenced by Peale’s ideas and so he refuses to acknowledge the possibility that he has lost and keeps insisting that he has won because expressing doubt would be a sign of insufficient faith and not lead to success.
3. Trump as the cult leader who starts believing his own con
In most cases, the people pushing these ideas in #2 are grifters who are playing the believers for suckers, not unlike cult leaders who manage to harness large numbers of people to their cause and then bilk them of their money. But it may be the case that after awhile, the bubble they live in and the sycophants they are surrounded by who keep feeding the delusion may result in these leaders starting to believe their own con and enter an alternative reality. Since they died, we do now know if cult leaders like Jim Jones, David Koresh, the Heaven’s Gate leader, and others like them ended up believing the story they told their supporters, but it is possible.
This theory says Trump actually believes that he was the victim of a vast conspiracy to defraud him of an election that he actually won. In an interview, Jeff Sharlett, who studies the role of religion in American politics, traces the influence of an ancient heresy known as Gnosticism whose gospels talk about “hidden truths” and says that in a late August interview Trump had with Laura Ingraham of Fox News, he saw disturbing signs that Trump seemed to have actually bought into his own con and now believes that there are dark forces arrayed against him. That discussion begins at the 7:30 mark where, in response to a question from Ingraham about who is behind Joe Biden, Trump warns her that they are “people that you’ve never heard of, people who are in the dark shadows … people that are on the streets, people that are controlling the streets.” He says that Trump was not making these statements with the kind of winking, smirking look he adopts at his rallies that suggests that he knows it is nonsense, but that was saying it in a flat voice and not even making eye contact with Ingraham.
If that is the case, then it means that we now have a dangerously deluded president for the next two months.
4. The fear factor
Reporter Jane Mayer in an long article titled Why Trump Can’t Afford to Lose that was published in the New Yorker the week before the election, explained that Trump knows that once he loses the protective bubble of the presidency, all manner of legal and financial problems will swallow him up and desperately wants to avoid that.
Two of the investigations into Trump are being led by powerful state and city law-enforcement officials in New York. Cyrus Vance, Jr., the Manhattan District Attorney, and Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, are independently pursuing potential criminal charges related to Trump’s business practices before he became President. Because their jurisdictions lie outside the federal realm, any indictments or convictions resulting from their actions would be beyond the reach of a Presidential pardon. Trump’s legal expenses alone are likely to be daunting. (By the time Bill Clinton left the White House, he’d racked up more than ten million dollars in legal fees.) And Trump’s finances are already under growing strain. During the next four years, according to a stunning recent Times report, Trump—whether reëlected or not—must meet payment deadlines for more than three hundred million dollars in loans that he has personally guaranteed; much of this debt is owed to such foreign creditors as Deutsche Bank. Unless he can refinance with the lenders, he will be on the hook. The Financial Times, meanwhile, estimates that, in all, about nine hundred million dollars’ worth of Trump’s real-estate debt will come due within the next four years. At the same time, he is locked in a dispute with the Internal Revenue Service over a deduction that he has claimed on his income-tax forms; an adverse ruling could cost him an additional hundred million dollars. To pay off such debts, the President, whose net worth is estimated by Forbes to be two and a half billion dollars, could sell some of his most valuable real-estate assets—or, as he has in the past, find ways to stiff his creditors. But, according to an analysis by the Washington Post, Trump’s properties—especially his hotels and resorts—have been hit hard by the pandemic and the fallout from his divisive political career. “It’s the office of the Presidency that’s keeping him from prison and the poorhouse,” Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale who studies authoritarianism, told me.
It’s hard to imagine a former U.S. President behind bars or being forced to perform community service, as the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was, after being convicted of tax fraud. Yet some of the legal threats aimed at Trump are serious. The case that Vance’s office, in Manhattan, is pursuing appears to be particularly strong. According to court documents from the prosecution of Cohen, he didn’t act alone. Cohen’s case centered on his payment of hush money to the porn star Stormy Daniels, with whom the President allegedly had a sexual liaison. The government claimed that Cohen’s scheme was assisted by an unindicted co-conspirator whom federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York referred to as “Individual-1,” and who ran “an ultimately successful campaign for President of the United States.”
It’s possible that New York’s legal authorities will back off. Even a Trump critic such as Scaramucci believes that “it’s too much of a strain on the system to put an American President in jail.” But a former top official in New York suggested to me that Vance and James are unlikely to abandon their investigations if Trump loses on November 3rd, if only because it would send an unwanted message: “If you’re Tish James or Cy Vance and you drop the case the moment he’s out of office, you’re admitting it was political.”
If Mayer’s theory is right, then Trump is really desperate and may be stalling for as long as possible and threatening chaos so that he can try to negotiate a deal that will protect him once he leaves office, though he really has no leverage at this point, other than the threat to do even more damage before going.
I tend to expect people to behave rationally and so I would normally think that theories #1 and #4 are the most probable. But with Trump, I cannot rule out the possibility that he really has lost touch with reality and thus elevated the likelihood of theories #2 and #3, as hard as they are to believe.