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Biden takes his cue from Muhammad Ali as he copes with a dope

As Ali did with Foreman, Biden has let his rival punch himself out.

Photo illustration by Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe; Globe File photo

Reality has finally penetrated the fortified redoubts of the Trump kakistocracy. On Monday, Emily Murphy, Trump’s undistinguished head of the General Services Administration, finally declared Joe Biden the apparent winner of the presidential election, thereby allowing the transition to begin.

Thus ends a character-clarifying period in American politics. For three weeks, President-elect Joe Biden stayed tight-lipped and disciplined, largely ceding the incumbent the national stage. Trump used it, as Biden obviously knew he would, to make a fool of himself. This erratic interregnum is unlike anything we’ve seen in modern American politics. But it does call to mind an epic sporting event of the ’70s: The Rumble in the Jungle.


That is, the Oct. 30, 1974, heavyweight boxing championship bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in the country then known as Zaire, the fight that brought the phrase “rope-a-dope” into the American lexicon. Ali was 32 to Foreman’s 25, and thus considered a distinct underdog in a young man’s sport. At that age, Ali had ceased to be the perpetual motion machine of his boxing youth. He could no longer stay on his toes for round after round of the elusive wheeling that had kept him out of reach of countless opponents. But neither could he have met Foreman in the middle of the ring and traded blows without risking the sort of pounding that had sent theretofore undefeated heavyweight champion Joe Frazier to the canvas six times in a fight Foreman won in the second round.

Instead, Ali let Foreman catch him against the ropes and swing away, leaning far enough back to dodge or diminish the murderous head shots Foreman sent his way, leaving his frustrated pursuer to punch himself out against Ali’s arms and abdomen.

Then, in the eighth round, with the champion’s energy spent from launching countless would-be haymakers, Ali came off the ropes and threw a lightning combination that sent Foreman spiraling, almost in slow motion, to the canvas, where he was counted out.


Just as Ali leaned back and let Foreman wear himself out, Biden went systematically about the business of readying a new administration, ignoring the incumbent’s provocations, and leaving him to exhaust himself in a series of hapless legal efforts. While Trump has raged, the president-elect has announced a series of experienced, credentialed appointments for crucial posts.

It’s important to understand that what Team Trump was up to here went well beyond pursuing legitimate procedural remedies to make sure the various state voting tallies were correct. Having offered no evidence of the widespread fraud he and his team alleged, Trump was pushing local officials not to certify election results that made Biden the winner of their states. His lackeys, meanwhile, have been pushing the notion that state legislators should replace popularly chosen pro-Biden electors with legislatively selected ones who would betray the will of the voters and back Trump.

Fortunately for the country, the people whose help Trump needed to enable any such machinations possessed something he doesn’t: integrity. They put our country above their party.

Trump isn’t the only one who looks absurd here. It’s hard to think of any formerly respected figure who has revealed himself to be more ridiculous — or barking mad — than has Rudy Giuliani.


Still, there’s some good that will probably come from this period. Having for all intents and purposes conquered official Trumpdom, the truth also appears to be gaining a small foothold in the GOP grass roots. Some post-election polls highlight the small. In one, only 3 percent of Trump supporters say Biden’s victory is legitimate, while another puts that proportion at 12 percent. A Reuters/Ipsos poll, however, finds that 29 percent of Republicans recognize Biden is the rightful winner.

Whatever the precise percentage now, it should grow as time moves forward without any evidence of the widespread voter fraud or deep-seated conspiracies Trump and his camp have tried to conjure into existence. As time lends perspective, the shabby way Trump has comported himself should come into sharper focus. And that should start to erode the power of Trumpism.

Why? Because over time, Americans don’t like poor losers — and because you can’t teach an old demagogue new tricks.

Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.