Little by little, Donald Trump is running out of time and techniques to deny the reality of President-elect Joe Biden. Trump’s refusal to acknowledge he’s a loser may be embraced by 70 percent of Republicans, some of whom demonstrated their unmasked fealty in a noisy D.C. demonstration yesterday, but that doesn’t change the election results.
Today’s anxiety comes from not knowing if the transition will move forward in a timely way, or whether we’re witnessing what some analysts fear is a slow-moving coup. Whatever the terminology, there are clear and present dangers.
The interim havoc he has started to wreak could get much worse. The next 66 days could be the most dangerous in US history with a vengeful and unstable Commander-in-Chief lashing out, sabotaging the government for personal gain.
We’ve already seen Trump’s petulant withholding of GSA assistance with transition funding and cooperation. Denying access to daily intelligence briefings is more serious.The 9/11 Commission Report said the delayed decision in Bush-v-Gore 2000 undermined our security leading up to the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Republican strategist Karl Rove have criticized Trump’s delaying the transition to Biden. A handful of others in the GOP have committed to a peaceful transfer in less forceful language, more inclined to let things play out. But what does that mean?
After two prestigious law firms litigating Trump’s evidence-free voting fraud claims withdrew their representation, the President went to the bottom of the barrel and put Rudy Giuliani in charge of the wild claim department. Trump’s handmaiden Attorney General Bill Barr has helped him by authorizing federal prosecutors to investigate unsubstantiated election irregularities.
Until the electoral College meets on December 14 to cast the votes for president, I won’t breathe easy. Federal law allows state legislatures to appoint their own electors if their states have “failed to make a choice” by the scheduled Electoral College meeting. It’s highly unlikely that GOP legislatures in states that Biden won will substitute Trump supporters as electors. But I’m not certain Trump loyalists, especially in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, will stop before trying that gambit. Democratic governors in those states could select competing slates reflecting the popular vote; the disputed delegations would go before Congress; and its decision would likely land in the Supreme Court – which is where, as Trump likes to remind us (and her), he has comfortably placed Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Even if this worrisome scenario doesn’t play out, I fear the mayhem and malicious damage that the spoiled man-child in the While House can do as a lame duck.
He can make wanton personnel changes, firing people without cause and filling hundreds of now-vacant positions with totally unqualified political appointments. They then can quickly avail themselves of opportunities to become long-term civil servants, creating a Trumpian Fifth Column if not Deep State. No surprise if FBI’s Christopher Wray, CIA Gina Haspel, Anthony Fauci, Deborah Brix and other brand names find themselves on the chopping block. We must also worry about the career scientists at the FDA, CDC, NIH and elsewhere who get axed, deemed disloyal because they followed facts and science. Also vulnerable are intelligence professionals whose first loyalty is to country, not Trump. Yes, many of these could be reinstated under Biden, but others will need to find alternative employment and reinstating them could take time. Also watch out for purges at the Pentagon, replacing even-handed civilian professionals with Trump hacks.
Worry about an even more laissez faire approach to the worsening pandemic and passively choosing a charnel house of herd immunity instead of more effective steps to curb the rampaging disease.
There’s a full menu to the Trump dystopian nightmare. He could pull troops from NATO, destabilizing relationships and perhaps sweetening his deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow. He could escalate the trade war with Europe and China in a last flourish of America First bravado, perhaps inviting China to retaliate through provocations in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
He can go wild with executive orders, further restricting Muslims and immigration, finalizing regulations to undermine health, safety, labor and environmental standards, locking in years of regulatory damage not easily undone with a Republican-controlled Senate. Some damages can be reversed, but awarding logging and mining contracts in places like pristine Alaska will do immediate harm.
Trump can pardon Bannon, Giuliani, Flynn, his family, donors and friends – and perhaps himself – , but also those in the bowels of his administration who help him violate the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act, intended to create accountability. The shredders will be working overtime in the White House, State Department, Homeland Security, Education and Commerce Departments. Do we just assume that all IRS charges against him will be dropped and all audit disputes resolves in his favor?
He can undermine national security by declassifying sensitive information including sources and methods, endangering lives of undercover agents and setting back intelligence gathering for years.
He could precipitously pull out the remaining 4500 US troops in Afghanistan, effectively turning the country over to the Taliban, and close the US Embassy in Baghdad, giving Iran long-desired victory. On his way out the door, he could bequeath Biden a war, arranging with Israel a military strike on Iran the morning of January 20, or a missile strike on North Korea.
On a different note, Trump could also spend time traveling to his ego-fueling rallies, spreading disease, wallowing in his grievances and fomenting more domestic political unrest and divisions in the country.
What if he simply moves to Mar-a-Lago for the duration of his term? He has already monetized the Presidency for millions in personal gain. Just think how much more can be added for bivouacking Secret Service agents, feeding staff and visitors and renting golf carts.
I don’t know which of the above will come to pass, but I do know that a week in politics can be an eternity, and the road to January 20 will be unlike any interregnum we’ve ever experienced. If there aren’t white supremacists and other Trump zealots violently demonstrating against the Biden inauguration, you can rest assured they will be seething in the shadows.
Notwithstanding Joe Biden’s decisive popular vote victory, we are a deeply divided country, a fragile democracy. Even absent a President Trump, the spirit of Trumpism will endure and must be addressed. Our survival and that of our children, grandchildren and the planet will depend on it.