Experts in the Trump canon have struggled to summon an analogy for his present conditions, when his words or deeds had caused things he cared about to be taken from him.
“Ivana during that first divorce kind of got back at him a bit,” Ms. Blair recalled of the amply chronicled dissolution of his first marriage, before reconsidering. “In fact, he loved that whole thing because it got him more ink.”
Tony Schwartz, who ghostwrote “Trump: The Art of the Deal” and has in recent years become a ferocious critic, said Mr. Trump’s relative evasion of consequences until now “has progressively increased his conviction that he can and should get away with anything he does.”
It is no surprise, then, that since last week, as in much of his White House tenure, Mr. Trump has proved himself capable of only temporary modulation, defaulting to defiance but snapping to attention when advisers impressed upon him that he could face legal exposure for his incitements.
In a video on Wednesday, he condemned “violence and vandalism” and held up his “true” supporters as champions of law enforcement — a message aimed, perhaps, at unnerved Senate Republicans ahead of his impeachment trial.
Yet for all the things Mr. Trump did not say — that he lost the election, that Mr. Biden would be inaugurated, that he assumed any responsibility for the state of affairs — and all the things he has said before, it was impossible to believe the president’s heart was in it, implausible to assume the words were meant to last, to hang rather than explode in the White House air.
“All of us can choose by our actions to rise above the rancor …” he said dutifully this time.
“ … to overcome the passions of the moment …”
“ … to move forward united …”
Anyone listening knew that these were just words.