As unequaled as this is in the 245 years of the country’s existence, there are, however, rough parallels from other areas and eras around the world—tainted, brought-down kingpins, cast off to often island elsewheres. A defeated Napoleon was sent to Elba and then again to Saint Helena. Chiang Kai-shek went to Taiwan. Ferdinand Marcos made off to Hawaii. But none match the current moment with the resonance of Benedict XIII.
Manipulative and unabashed, he worked to cling to the trappings of power, sapped the sway of his counterpart popes and complicated attempts to mend the crippling split in the Roman Catholic Church called the Western Schism. Monarchs, clerics and other popes, his most potent adversaries, tried diplomacy, force and outright excommunication, ultimately stamping him a heretic—but they could never make the uncompromising Benedict altogether disappear. And there was an unexpected twist to Benedict’s intransigence, one Trump’s many high-ranking opponents would do well to heed: The harder and longer he held out, the more he was seen by some as a victim or a martyr, abidingly admired precisely because of his obstinacy and unwavering audacity.
“History never repeats itself; man always does,” said Voltaire, and Trump last Wednesday departed a rattled, armored Washington, pledging to “be back in some form.” Unwilling to acknowledge the legitimacy of his loss, he left town before the inauguration of Joe Biden—without having invited him to the White House, or congratulated him publicly, or even so much as mentioned his name. No longer roundly welcome in his native New York and all but chased from D.C., Trump jetted toward Florida, his habitual winter weekend getaway turned paramount political stomping grounds—the site of some of his biggest, most important wins; the bastion of a governor he helped get elected, two Republican senators and the House member who’s maybe his most fervent minion, plus a roster of media accessories and grassroots boosters; and America’s notoriously fact-flouting fantasy land, a hundred-year haven for hucksters and hustlers, outsiders, refugees and retirees, a sandy, sweaty Shangri-La of second chances, where Trump is now intent on concocting a papal-like court, a coterie of officeholders and wannabes, hangers-on and aides-de-camp, ring-kissers and the wholly beholden.