The ultimate entertainer was always going to provide an excellent last act. The last episode is falling somewhere between Richard III, Veep and The Bunker. The Good Wife is in the background. To help with the viewing, I have the three main plot lines for the final days of Trump: Season 1.
Theme 1: Impeachment and further violence
Vice President Mike Pence appears unwilling to try to topple Donald via the 25th Amendment, exiting the President because he is unfit. Although this means Trump will complete his term, Pence has upset some Trump supporters (who now want to hang him) because he played by the rules in certifying the election result for Biden. Despite the threat of the noose from a minority in his own party, this nimble footwork means that the majority will have just ticked Pence as the Republican frontrunner for the next election.
As the 25th Amendment will not be invoked, this leaves the Democrats the only remaining option to poke Trump in the eye for one last time: impeachment. The laying of this charge is an attack on the legacy of the President. It will achieve nothing else as it has neither the time nor the numbers in the Senate to have Trump pushed from Office in the little time that remains.
This will make great theatre, as although it will not unseat the President it will inflame his supporters. The risk of actions of violence, of lone wolves, small cells of terrorists, or orchestrated masses, should not be underestimated. If their leader is charged with insurrection, they may feel impelled to deliver mayhem as these charges will fulfil their fear that they, and their leader, are being persecuted.
This is not to suggest that he, like others who tried to undermine the electoral process should not be brought to account. They should, but this should be done very carefully, in which measured words, balanced types of charges and independent processes come to the fore. It is unknown whether such cool heads can prevail, as the provocations on one hand, and the desire for retribution on the other, build.
Theme 2: Pardons
As with so much of the chaos around Trump, trying to pin responsibility for the riot directly to him would be difficult, as he has made an art of creating distance between his words and the actions of others. With the current riot – and then linking that to an actual insurrection - while Trump's words were leading (and his taunts that a "fraud" was committed, the election was "stolen" and it was all sold through "fake news"), it was much more the words of his son, Donald Jr and his lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani that are closer to incitement. Donald Jr threatened the pro-Trump supporters if they did not turn up, "we're coming for you". He later referred to large protests that "burn it all down" as doing it right. Giuliani called for "trial by combat" and "we are going to fight to the very end". Michael Flynn was another flywheel in this machine, retweeting messages from others calling for limited martial law and fighting for Trump.
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Flynn was probably happy to do this, as unlike the others, he already has his incredibly wide-ranging presidential pardon, for "any and all possible offences". Donald Jr and Giuliani, and many other Trump supporters, do not have such a "get out of jail free" card in their back pocket. Nor does the President. This suggests that the magic sheet of pardons is probably being prepared at the moment. The President may even include himself on the list. Although the Constitution does not say self-pardon is possible, it does not say it is impossible, either.
For the long run of history, all former presidents have seen this anomaly as a red light to such actions, as to pardon oneself is to place oneself above the law: and this is the very type of absolutism that the American Republic originally fought against.
Theme 3: War
Although the biggest threat that America currently faces is from internal, not external risks, the latter still needs to be considered. This is the nightmare scenario, where the theme of the last episode goes from House of Cards to Kiefer Sutherland in 24 or Designated Survivor, or both. While an extremely unlikely outcome (as nuclear war would be bad for Trump's golf courses and any chance of the Trump: Season 2 cycling back in four years) it will still be in the background of the final days.
This backdrop is because although Trump has lost control of any domestic legislative initiatives, he still maintains maximum autonomy in foreign policy. Normally, when there is a transition of power, it is a time for foreign adversaries to cause a little chaos for the incoming administration which has not yet found its feet. That would be an exceptionally dangerous path to follow now, as the most powerful man may not take a lot of provocation to lash out where he still can.
The broad division here is between offensive and defensive types of war. Offensive wars require the consent of Congress. Defensive wars do not. The bottom line is that for any country with an axe to grind against America, this would be a very, very bad time to cause trouble, as an angry President in the last hours of his power, still has his finger on the nuclear button.
• Alexander Gillespie is a Professor of Law at the University of Waikato.