Apres moi, le deluge

After me, the flood
By Sam Patten | Jan 07, 2021

Maybe it’s because I loved the 1979 epic “Apocalypse Now” (my high school English teachers can attest), I was fascinated to read the history of Zairian despot Mobutu Sese Seko’s fall from power in 1997.

It was as if he were reading off the end of Coppola’s script when, preparing to leave his Palais de Marbe on a hilltop overlooking the capital of Kinshasa, he said “after me, the flood,” and ordered his military commander to open fire on the city.

Fortunately, for the inhabitants, the commander refused — and was executed for mutiny before the Mobutu entourage finally fled.

Vengeful at the people he believed betrayed him, Mobutu, the notorious kleptocrat (he built an airstrip in the jungle that could accommodate the Concorde, where his French champagne was flown in) tried to massacre them.

Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz echoed Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz from "Heart of Darkness," whose final instruction was to “exterminate the brutes.” The movie was set during the Vietnam War, while the book depicted almost identical characters in the Belgian Congo, which Mobutu renamed Zaire, and when he fell became Congo again.

Normal leaders give thought, sometimes too much thought, to their legacies. Mobutu didn’t care, especially when he was scrambling like a rat for his life. Donald J. Trump doesn’t care either.

Trump once misquoted "Apocalypse Now" in front of a group of Vietnam veterans, then refused to admit he was wrong, forcing those who actually served in the war to again take one for the team. It seems the only thing Trump cares about, legacy-wise, is that people are forever able to suspect the election just might have been stolen from him, just as Mobutu probably felt Zaire was stolen from him.

That means he is already committed to leaving fire in his wake.

Are we fools for ignoring the signs? My old boss George W. Bush famously quipped after Trump’s inaugural “American Carnage” speech, “that was some weird shit!” A newly-minted President Trump stood on a platform erected in front on the Capitol and pledged: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

Nearly four years later, demonstrators bearing Trump flags stormed the same Capitol building as Congress counted the electoral votes, effectively blocking a Constitutional procedure if only for a few hours.

Ask yourself this: how’s that crackdown on carnage going?

With 13 days left in the Trump administration, there is still time for things to go wrong. Now is the wrong time to strike Iran, for instance, because it will be followed by such a frenzy of apology and appeasement after the 20th that any gains made in the last four years would be instantly lost. But that presumes a president who cares about his legacy, which Trump does not.

The dramatic nature of recent events — which managed to momentarily distract from the fact the Democrats appear to have taken the Senate — is serious enough that everyone will probably now take a breath before escalating.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is unlikely to instruct police to start beating all Trump supporters, or whoever gathered for the insurrection (a Trump supporting friend is insisting to me that the man in the buffalo hat, for instance, is not a real Trump supporter).

Having been stirred up by the President, only to then be told by him to “go home peacefully,” those who converged on Washington today would be wise to wonder if anyone really has their backs.

The epic fail in leadership that was Trump also offers a useful lesson. Ordinary people usually make all the difference. Consider the unflappable electoral officials down in Georgia (who happen to be Republican).

Unseen to the outside world, men and women worked thanklessly against the chaotic backdrop of the administration to stop horrible things from happening for four years. They will probably be smeared, if not by the past then by the present actions of the man they were trying to babysit. There were those who honestly tried to make sense of it all with jumping into either camp or subscribing solely to partisan propaganda. Ordinary people held this country together, and still do.

There is too little time, and too much self-preservation to be done, for many more antics. Two Republican, soon-to-be former senators in Georgia are wondering tonight what the hell just happened to them. Less, not more, Republicans will agree that Vice President Mike Pence is a traitor for following the law. Everyone who’s not wearing a buffalo helmet is looking for an off-ramp.

It’s over, folks. Time to pick up the pieces and go home.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.

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