Trump Is Small Now

We now can see who Donald Trump really is without the power of the presidency behind him

Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower in Manhattan. Photo: James Devaney/Getty Images

I understand — I strongly endorse, in fact! — not wanting to look at or think about Donald Trump anymore. The man took up every available ounce of oxygen in American life for more than a half-decade, which was of course the point of his whole self-aggrandizing bull rush of an experiment in the first place. (The world exists for Donald Trump only in how much it’s currently talking about him.) It’s quite reasonable if you have decided that you have had enough. Lord knows I get it. I’ve tried to do the same.

But. I cannot stop watching the video, filmed over the weekend, of Donald Trump speaking to a wedding at Mar-a-Lago.

It is not clear if Trump was specifically invited to the wedding or just decided he needed a break from 24-hour Newsmax and thus put on a tux to head downstairs. It’s fair to assume that if the wedded couple — longtime Trump donor John Arrigo and Megan Noderer, former girlfriend of late NFL player Junior Seau— had their wedding at Mar-a-Lago, they weren’t too offended by him showing up, but still: It really must have been something, on your wedding day, to watch Donald Trump yammer on and on about the election and the border for five minutes. I mean, I had belligerent old men at my wedding too, but I sure didn’t hand a microphone to any of them.

Trump’s public and media appearances have slowly increased in recent weeks, but if his plan is to inject himself back into the center of every conversation — and that is always the goal for Trump— it is not working. Elected Republican politicians may still treat him as a phantom limb, still acting like it’s October 2020 and their entire political futures rest on Trump’s approval, but it is becoming clear that the rest of us have moved on from the Trump media show. His Fox network appearances are disjointed and confusing, to the point that even Trump loyalist hosts are cutting him off. His “official statements” are absurdist burblings that don’t even rise to the level of a tweet. In photos with Republicans seeking to kiss his ring, he looks increasingly haunted. The guy isn’t breaking through.

And it’s not difficult to see why. The fact is, Trump is a fringe figure. There have been four years of his life when he was not a fringe figure: When he was president. This is not to say that all of his views, such as they are, are fringe. A lot of people voted for this lunatic. But Trump himself, the actual figure, the braying, mock-confident “personality” — that person is fringe. He was fringe his entire life before becoming a politician — well-known but weird, eccentric, mocked — and fringe while he was running for president. (The whole text of his 2016 campaign was, Wow, it is goddamned strange that Donald Trump is running for president.) None of that changed when he became president…except that he was the actual sitting president of the United States. He couldn’t help but grow in stature and import. We’ve all been listening to him for the last four years because we had to listen to him.

But now that he’s not president anymore, he’s just an old man playing golf in Florida and rambling on to anyone within earshot. He has gotten smaller. This happens to all ex-presidents — George W. Bush has become some sort of affable imp now, and Barack Obama is just another boomer Springsteen fan — but to see Trump get this small, this fast, is striking. He clearly doesn’t realize it yet, and he surely never will, but losing the aura that surrounds the presidency has made him look empty, even pale. How did this man age so much in three months after leaving the presidency? But that’s the thing: He didn’t. This is what Trump is without the power of the presidency behind him. Which is to say: This time is revealing what he was all along.

I know Trump remains a hugely powerful figure within the Republican Party, and much of the havoc he wreaked will outlive him, and maybe all of us. But the man himself is fading. You can already see the Grey Gardens phase coming. I don’t know if he’s ever going to vanish. But it’s getting easier not to see him.

Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel How Lucky, released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.

Writer, New York, NYT, MLB, WaPo, others. Founder, Deadspin. Author of four books, with fifth, “How Lucky,” coming May 2021.

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