Until yesterday, I had never heard of Gabriel Sterling, a member of the Georgia Secretary of State’s office responsible for managing the state’s voting system. It is my honor to post the remarks he made yesterday. Even if you have already heard them, they are worth listening to again.
No one that has read these pages for any length of time can doubt the antipathy I have for President Trump and his hoard; I consider him to have taken us to the brink of authoritarianism, and despite current indications that his treasonous activities to undermine our democracy are losing steam, I frankly won’t breathe entirely easily until I see President-Elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr., actually take the oath of office in January. That said, despite the understandable outrage now felt by anyone with a shred of interest in justice about Mr. Trump’s recent pardon of former Trump Administration National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – and the prospect of a steady stream of pardons in the coming weeks of Trump collaborators including his wife, his children, Trump Organization executives, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone (this time a full pardon), etc., etc., etc., probably ultimately culminating in an attempt by the President to pardon himself – I would suggest that if Mr. Trump makes promiscuous use of his pardon power, he may be unwittingly assisting Mr. Biden’s attempts to tone down our current hyper-partisan atmosphere.
Given our nation’s need to uphold the rule of law, the depth of hostility that perhaps the majority of Mr. Biden’s supporters feel about Mr. Trump, and the fact that Mr. Trump obviously has no intent to retire from the world stage when he leaves the White House, I don’t see how, unless Mr. Trump makes broad untoward use of his pardon power, the Biden Administration will have any choice but to thoroughly investigate the activities of and if appropriate pursue criminal convictions against various members of the Trump cohort including Mr. Trump himself. At the same time, such activities, however justified, will carry the tinge of political persecution and require establishment Republicans to close ranks behind Mr. Trump when they are probably quietly thrilled at the prospect of seeing his outsize influence within their party gradually dissipate. Mr. Biden has pledged to try to unify our nation, and as perhaps as unlikely as that might be in a hyper-partisan environment stoked not only by Mr. Trump but an alt-right media complex whose profits are driven by broadcasting ever-more-outlandish conspiracy theories, any prosecutions of Trump principals by the Biden Administration will undoubtedly merely serve to aggravate the divisions among our citizens and cripple Mr. Biden’s attempts to effect moderate change that the majority of Americans, if they can be made to look at policy through other than a rancorous partisan lens, might support.
So if advising Mr. Biden, I would actually counsel: let’s hope Trump actually does a broad and thorough job of pardoning his entire band. Let’s hope he actually tries to pardon himself. He’s doing you a favor. The more justification your Administration has for ignoring Trump – for not letting him hold center stage – the better for your presidency and the nation. Let the natural survival instincts of establishment Republicans – some of whom harbor their own presidential ambitions, and want their party back – and Fox News – which undoubtedly realizes that the more it pumps Trump, the more it is assisting an undoubted media competitor — kick in: they want Trump to fade. After January 20, Trump will hold perhaps half of the 70 million people that voted for him for a while; and while 35 million people is far from nothing, it still only amounts to about 10% of the population – which is about the percentage of crazies we have always had with us. As Mr. Trump ages, his ardent following – demonstrably having short and easily-distracted attention spans – may well become attracted to some other shiny bauble.
A President cannot pardon those who are convicted of state and local offenses. It seems highly likely that the Attorney General of the State of New York will chase Mr. Trump. Let the then-former president be distracted by challenges not attributable to the Biden Administration as the Administration seeks to address the myriad of daunting challenges facing our nation. If nothing else, the recent election results demonstrate that the country is not as liberal as progressives proclaim, and that some of the growing demographic constituencies that Democrats have been projecting to sustain them in the future are not as monolithic as they had supposed. The Democrats’ best hope to hold the White House in 2024 is for Mr. Trump’s continued machinations to ultimately divide the Republican Party between its establishment and its crazies.
Inasmuch as the death throes of the Trump Administration will undoubtedly include the President’s granting a number of distasteful pardons – perhaps including an attempt to pardon himself – this seems an appropriate time to recall the Constitutional law instruction of our greatest fictional President, regarding the limits of his Article II pardon power.
Have a wonderful and safe Holiday.
As part of the Armistice that ended World War I in 1918, Germany agreed to sharply curtail its military establishment. Over the years following Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933, he undertook a military buildup in flagrant violation of Germany’s WWI agreements, correctly calculating that neither England nor France – each having the military might to easily stop Germany’s unauthorized buildup in its early stages — would have the will to do so. And then … it was too late.
To historians the world over, the word, “Munich,” is synonymous with, “appeasement” – an agreement concluded in Munich in September, 1938, by Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and France that provided for “cessation” of part of another sovereign nation, Czechoslovakia, to Germany. It was an attempt by the U.K. and France to avoid a war with a now militarily-muscular Germany by appeasing Adolf Hitler. While widely acclaimed at the time, Winston Churchill called it, “… a most grievous consequence of what we have done and of what we have left undone in the last five years – five years of futile good intentions, five years of eager search for the line of least resistance, five years of uninterrupted retreat of British power ….” Nazi Germany invaded Poland within a year, commencing World War II.
It is has been reported by multiple sources that Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and Michigan Republican Chair Laura Cox have written Michigan’s Board of State Canvassers, urging the Board to delay Michigan’s certification of its presidential election results – scheduled for today — for 14 days, to allow a full audit and investigation of “numerical anomalies” and “procedural irregularities.” A Republican state canvasser has reportedly indicated that he is considering supporting the delay.
This is poppycock. On Friday, after an extraordinarily inappropriate White House meeting instigated by President Trump, the Michigan Senate Majority Leader and House Speaker – both Republicans – stated straightforwardly that they knew of nothing that would change Michigan’s election outcome.
I am heartened by the Michigan legislators’ statement, and some media accounts reassuringly report that despite the national and state Republican parties’ antics, Michigan’s governing statute provides that the state election canvassers have little choice but to certify its election results, and if they don’t, certification will nonetheless quickly occur through either the authority of Democratic MI Gov. Gretchen Whitmer or order of a Michigan appellate court. That said, I remain uneasy. The Republican efforts are a blatant attempt to provide Mr. Trump time to build momentum. I’m finally there: the Trump Conspiracy is about more than undermining President-Elect Joe Biden’s legitimacy and sowing distrust in our electoral processes to enhance future media ratings among the Trump cult; it is to stage a coup.
[The irony lost on the Trump Cult amid all these thrashings: Mr. Trump manifestly doesn’t even want the job. While he had time to entertain the Michigan legislators Friday in his traitorous quest, on Saturday – with U.S. Coronavirus deaths at the highest levels since last summer – he chose to play golf rather than attend a G20 “Pandemic Preparedness” event.]
Something that it took me some time to realize in the miasma of Mr. Biden’s mounting vote totals and victories, Mr. Trump’s malevolent lies, mounting Coronavirus cases, and a blizzard of state dates: the Trump Conspiracy is effectively over unless it can delay vote certification in either Michigan or Pennsylvania this week. (Note: the Conspiracy suffered a notable loss Saturday when a federal court dismissed its lawsuit to block Pennsylvania’s certification, but will presumably appeal to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals and thereafter to the U.S. Supreme Court.) When adding Georgia’s 16 Electoral College votes to Mr. Biden (given its Friday certification of his victory) to the 232 Electoral College votes that will ultimately be allotted to him from the “2016 Clinton States” he won, Mr. Biden’s Electoral College vote total seemingly now stands at a de facto 248. While neither Michigan’s nor Pennsylvania’s respective certifications will individually put Mr. Biden over the top, both states’ certifications will garner him 36 additional Electoral College votes, and mean that Mr. Trump has de facto lost. The President’s only remaining recourses would then appear to be to seditiously attempt to overturn certifications — unlikely without evidence that the Conspiracy obviously lacks — persuade Republican-controlled legislatures in states won by Mr. Biden to overturn the expressed will of their electorates by sending their states’ Trump slates to the Electoral College – seemingly a politically suicidal step that no state politician will relish — or persuade a sufficient number of Biden electors to vote for him – an incredible reach, since if all states currently “called” for Mr. Biden so certify their vote totals, the President will need 38 Biden electors to be “faithless” — and even then, such “faithless” votes might well be overturned in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Although the preceding paragraph provides some comfort, I would submit that the time for temperate responses to the President’s machinations has passed. If he can somehow delay certifications in Pennsylvania and/or Michigan – states Mr. Biden won by relatively wide margins – it does not seem unreasonable to suppose that with momentum, he may well be able to obtain certification delays in Arizona and Wisconsin, states Mr. Biden won more narrowly with Republican-controlled legislatures in which Mr. Trump is already challenging the voting processes.
While I have lauded Mr. Biden’s even response to Mr. Trump’s histrionics thus far, believing strongly that Mr. Trump wants a fight to rally his supporters, I fear that national Republicans’ approach of appeasement has enabled Mr. Trump to get up a head of steam. They keep thinking that Mr. Trump will “come around,” will “do the right thing.” He never will. Mr. Trump’s niece, Mary Trump, a clinical psychologist, called it in her book, Too Much and Never Enough:
“[Mr. Trump engages in] [w]orking the refs, lying, cheating … [He will] [c]laim that a failure is a tremendous victory, and the shameless grandiosity will retroactively make it so. … Donald takes any rebuke as a challenge and doubles down on the behavior that drew fire in the first place, as if the criticism is permission to do worse. … The deafening silence in response to [Mr. Trump’s] blatant display of sociopathic [behavior during his presidency] … fills me with despair and reminds me that Donald isn’t really the problem after all.”
For years after World War II, public policy and military scholars lamented that they had not paid more attention to Mein Kampf; in it, Adolf Hitler told the world exactly what he intended to do. We have only recently gained the benefit of Dr. Trump’s insights into the president, but in this new, post-election phase of the Trump presidency, I fear that we ignore her warnings at our peril. It’s time to use all legal means to stop him. The time for reasoning with Mr. Trump and his supplicants has passed. If there is any delay in Michigan’s certification process today, Gov. Whitmer, with the behind-the-scenes support of the Biden Transition Team, should move aggressively to promptly effect the certification through her power or in the Michigan courts. Equally energetic efforts should be undertaken in Pennsylvania if such become necessary. It is time to leave this American Munich.
Before it’s too late.
The link below attaches to clips from a famous Twilight Zone episode that recently came to mind. While the appeals for physical violence in one of the scenes, a remnant of an earlier time in American sensibilities, are to be condemned, the episode’s depiction of cowardly failure to confront iniquity has direct parallels today.
Yesterday, President-Elect Biden called Mr. Trump’s recalcitrance in accepting his defeat and obstructing the transition to the next Administration “irresponsible” – exactly the term and tone I would have suggested if advising him. Since I’m not advising him, I myself am free to characterize the recent activities of the President and his cohort – among them, Mr. Trump calling Republican Wayne County (Detroit), MI, election canvass board members and sufficiently exerting the pressure of his office on them to cause them to seek to rescind their votes certifying the County’s (heavily Democratic) election results; Mr. Trump being reported by multiple sources to have invited the Michigan state Republican Senate Majority Leader and the Michigan state House Speaker to Washington today, in an apparent effort to have the state’s legislature override Mr. Biden’s 150,000 vote victory in the state by sending Trump electors to the Electoral College; Trump clown lawyer Rudolf Giuliani’s grotesque, unsubstantiated, and patently ridiculous claims of a multi-state widespread conspiracy to steal the election from Mr. Trump – for what they are: treasonous. These activities by the President and his minions have nothing to do with vote count verification; they are efforts consciously undertaken to undo the expressed will of the American people and undermine our people’s faith in the very process that has sustained us throughout our history. These activities alone warrant Mr. Trump’s impeachment and removal from office.
By making no meaningful effort to counter the coercive activities and the spread of scurrilous disinformation designed to undermine our electoral processes, leaders of a major American political party are cravenly betraying the millions of Americans who have died over almost 250 years to protect our Republic. That said, the manner in which Republican officeholders have cowered in the face of Mr. Trump’s abhorrent behavior has, however unwittingly, brought into undeniable relief what has perhaps become the glaring weakness in our society: virtually every one of our elected officials (I am willing to make an exception for U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney) now care almost entirely about maintaining their own standing and precious little about our people or our system of government. Everybody knows that getting re-elected is a very high priority for a politician; but until observing Republicans’ silent acquiescence to – and in some instances, active enablement of — Mr. Trump’s destructive petulance, we – at least I – didn’t believe that we had reached the point that political survival was seemingly most national politicians’ only real priority. This is a nonpartisan comment; I have no illusions that if a Democratic demagogue arises in the future, Democratic officeholders will respond any better than Republicans are today.
Although Mr. Trump will not be immediately impeached and removed from office as he should be, and while it still appears that we are overwhelmingly likely to survive Mr. Trump and his cohort’s seditious schemes, we remain in a Twilight Zone of political ambition, poisonous partisanship and propaganda profiteers. We as citizens should ponder what, if anything, we can do about it.
Not long after the United States’ entry into World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt, in consultation with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, decided upon a “Europe First” strategy: that the United States would concentrate its efforts, in concert with its British and Russian allies, upon the defeat of Nazi Germany, while it maintained a “holding action” against the Japanese Empire in the Pacific theater. Although some of the heaviest American casualties came on Pacific islands while the war waged in Europe, America only turned its full attention to the Pacific after victory over Germany was achieved.
I would submit that today, we are again engaged in a two-front war, at home: against our internal divisive hyper-partisanship and the Coronavirus. I think President-Elect Biden is pursuing an effective war strategy. Although perhaps as driven by practical realities as President Roosevelt arguably was in 1942, Mr. Biden seems focused on tacitly addressing our divisiveness by (at least outwardly) exhibiting a calm inevitability while doing what he can regarding the Coronavirus.
On the Divisiveness Front, I would suggest that Election Day was much akin to D-Day in 1944. Although the war raged for months afterward, D-Day marked the turning point of the war in Europe. My personal greatest fear – that America might descend into autocracy due to the continuation of President Trump’s constitutional powers combined with his dictatorial tendencies — is now seemingly abating. All but the most oblivious Trump supporters understand that Mr. Trump lost. I have yet to find a definitive count of the number of Trump supporters at the Washington, D.C. rally this past weekend; Monday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinski mentioned 20,000. Let’s say it was 35,000. This would amount to approximately 1 percent of the votes Mr. Trump garnered within about two hours’ drive of D.C. Although Mr. Trump’s maimed psyche is currently being supported by the greedy and the cowardly – the alt-right media that profit by feeding sugar to the gullible, and the feckless Republican officials more interested in their political careers than in what is good for our nation – the Trump rally turnout hardly constituted a groundswell of rebellion. The mainstream media is turning off the Trump Show. The President’s electoral antics haven’t merited an actual front-page story in the Murdoch-controlled Wall Street Journal for days. That said, winning on the Divisiveness front has arguably moved from achieving Mr. Trump’s departure to obtaining the grudging acquiescence of the majority of Mr. Trump’s less extreme supporters. By maintaining his poise in the face of the President’s irrational provocations, Mr. Biden is enabling the air to continue to seep out of the Baby Trump balloon.
If advising Mr. Biden, I’d have only one suggestion on this front: when he speaks, continue to condemn violence on all sides. Reports of Saturday’s rally indicate that some anti-Trump groups went seemingly seeking confrontation. Mr. Biden should declare that all Americans are entitled to peacefully demonstrate, and that those that oppose the President should avoid going to pro-Trump rallies. Mr. Trump needs a fight to maintain relevance – and if none is offered, his avid support will continue its shrivel to the fringes.
On the Coronavirus Front: In all other realms of national security aside from the virus response, I’d be very surprised if Mr. Biden isn’t informally getting virtually all of the information in the President’s Daily Brief: members of the intelligence community sharing a repast with old friends outside the Administration, who in turn visit with members of the incoming Administration, and … there you have it. And/or: in addition to the fact that Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris gets briefed as a member of the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, have U.S. VA Sen. Mark Warner and U.S. CA Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic heads of the two Congressional intelligence committees, stopped by to … er … congratulate Mr. Biden in person? Maybe. Would any information passed to Mr. Biden through these avenues constitute a violation of federal law? Probably. Any likelihood of detection and consequences? Little … and none.
As to the Coronavirus response itself: while noting in his news conference yesterday that “We are a war with the virus,” when asked about the Trump Administration’s unwillingness to work with his team, Mr. Biden prodded Mr. Trump by warning that “More people may die if we don’t coordinate” and “You’d think he’d at least want to go off on a positive note,” but acknowledged that if necessary, the Biden team will “try to pull together a serious and consistent plan so we’re ready on Day 1.” It is apparent that Mr. Trump is so locked up in his own narcissistic malaise that no entreaty will move him. My guess: the drug companies and health equipment manufacturers are already sharing at least as much detail regarding their current status and projections with Biden representatives as they are with the Trump Administration. Since Mr. Trump seems intent on inaction, no meaningful federal progress will be made until Inauguration Day even if/when the Trump Administration provides all of its data and plans to the Biden Transition Team. Given comments by Dr. Anthony Fauci, I have hope that the Administration may actually have workable plans.
As Mr. Biden also noted yesterday, things are going to get “much tougher before they get easier” on COVID during the coming months. That said, we can all help ourselves. Let’s end where we started, with WWII: in December, 1944, six months after D-Day, German forces that had been in retreat staged a massive counter-offensive, resulting in what became known as the “Battle of the Bulge.” American forces in Bastogne, Belgium, were outnumbered, outgunned, and short of supplies. The Germans demanded American surrender. The American commander, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, responded: “Nuts.” Despite being surrounded and ill-equipped, the Americans held on against the German assault until reinforcements arrived. For the good of our families, our fellow citizens, and ourselves, we likewise have to do our best to hold on. The key to prevailing on the Coronavirus front is within our control – by wearing masks and limiting if not avoiding indoor social gatherings – as we wait for federal reinforcements to arrive as soon as feasible after Inauguration Day.
It has been widely reported that in this week’s Supreme Court hearing on the Affordable Care Act, a number of conservative Justices expressed sentiments which led Court observers to suggest that the Court will reject the Republican challenge. My comment: this may have become a political softball for the Court’s conservatives. The law is enmeshed in our country’s healthcare system, and to find it unconstitutional will create chaos during the ongoing COVID pandemic and wreak havoc on a huge part of the American economy. There is a legal rationale to let it stand – providing the appearance that the Court is open-minded and taking some of the steam out of partisan Democrats calling for the Court’s drastic reorganization. I’m guessing that the vote will ultimately be at least 6-3 to uphold the law, and wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a unanimous Court.
In the same vein: I’ve sensed throughout Chief John Roberts’ tenure that his most fervent hope is that “his” Court will never be called upon to decide a bitterly partisan political dispute over presidential succession such as Bush v. Gore. That said, inasmuch as the results of the Biden-Trump contest are sufficiently clear, Mr. Biden’s victory is supported by the vote in a wide variety of states, and no credible evidence of voting irregularities has surfaced that would materially affect the election’s outcome, I’m not sure that the Chief Justice, and Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, might not want to have one of the President’s bizarre legal challenges reach them – so they can vote against him. As with any Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, it will enable the two junior Justices to shed some of the partisan taint that will otherwise forever dog them and their legacies among liberal legal and public policy commentators.
As to the Republicans: As President Trump’s petulance continues with regard to an election that all – including him – know that he lost by a clear, if in some states not overwhelming, margin, I would suggest that Republicans perhaps fall into three categories:
The (somewhat) politically brave: Republican Senators including Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and Ben Sasse, who have acknowledged that Mr. Biden won. (There are a few other Republican Senators, such as James Lankford, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey and John Cornyn, who have had the patriotic temerity to suggest that President-Elect Biden should be provided access to national security information, although they haven’t acknowledged Mr. Biden’s victory.) I consider even the first group only “somewhat” brave because they have either just won re-election and/or manifestly maintain standing with their constituents apart from Mr. Trump.
The scurrilous: The political hacks pandering to Mr. Trump’s whims and putting party over country, whether due to political cowardice or deep (and frankly, un-American) partisanship. This is the majority, but I want to single out for particular mention Wisconsin’s own Senator Ron Johnson, who keeps inhaling oxygen that the rest of us could put to better use. (Below for your viewing pleasure is a link to the Talking Points Memo article, “The Award For Most Bad Faith Refusal To Acknowledge Biden’s Win Goes To… Ron Johnson.”)
Those at the epicenter: This may sound a bit Pollyannish, but I would submit that there may be some appearing to placate the President that are actually desperately striving to keep our democracy functioning at a time of continuing uncertainty. While some of those within the Administration, such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, seem to be putting up with behavior that none of us would tolerate in a 3-year old, I would offer this: we would probably placate the 3-year old if he walked into the room waving a loaded gun. That may be where we are right now. As deferential as Messrs. Pence and Pompeo appear, and notwithstanding the fact that each obviously harbors post-Trump political ambitions, former Trump Administration National Security Advisor John Bolton – himself no coddler – makes pretty plain in The Room Where It Happened that there were times that Messrs. Pence and Pompeo kowtowed to the President in order to maintain sufficient influence with him to nudge him from disastrous impulses such as withdrawing the United States from NATO. As for Attorney General William Barr, it may be worthy of note that his recent Memorandum, altering the policy of the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section’s Election Crimes Branch to authorize U.S. Attorneys to investigate voting irregularities before election results are certified, cautioned against the U.S. Attorneys’ pursuit of “specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims.” Given the lack of credible claims of voter fraud that have surfaced since the election, Mr. Barr’s Memorandum could be designed entirely to keep a childlike President from wielding his power to the detriment of the Republic.
“Only those that lived through the fervid atmosphere of those months can fully appreciate the debt the nation owes [Nixon Administration Chief of Staff] Al Haig. By sheer willpower, dedication, and self-discipline, he held the government together. … He served his President loyally but never forgot his duty to his country. His methods were sometimes rough … But the role assigned to Haig was not one that could be filled by choir boys. He had to preserve the sinews of America for its indispensable mission of being the last resort of the free, the hope of the oppressed, and the one country that with all its turbulent vitality could be relied upon to walk the paths of mercy. It is not necessary that in an hour of crisis America’s representatives embody all of these qualities so long as they enable our nation to do so. … [H]e sustained the President while moving him toward the resignation that Nixon dreaded, resisted, and yet knew increasingly to be inevitable. Haig kept the faith with his President and he kept it with the institutions of this country.”
Henry Kissinger: Years of Upheaval
Hopefully, such will be the case now, as it was in 1974.
[Full disclosure: I heard David Ignatius of the Washington Post express many of the substantive concerns set forth below on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning. I still consider it appropriate to post this because it was written yesterday.]
So much for feeling a modicum of sympathy for President Trump’s anguish in defeat.
As all who care are aware, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was relieved of his duties yesterday by Mr. Trump. Mr. Esper has been replaced by Christopher C. Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, described in some accounts as a loyalist to the President. (No confirmation as to Mr. Miller’s political sentiments here; I had never heard of him until yesterday.) While it probably matters little at this point to Mr. Esper personally, the inferences one might draw regarding the potential significance of his removal for the nation are worthy of reflection.
In a note I published last June, “The Fourth Election: Part II,” I commented in part as follows:
“Clearly Mr. Trump has considered himself unfettered since his [Senate impeachment] acquittal, and has felt free to exact revenge and pursue vendettas against those he considers to have wronged him or his entourage. Does anyone think that Mr. Trump will be more restrained if he is re-elected? Does anyone wish to wager that Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has at times displeased the president with his candid assessment of the extent of COVID crisis, or Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, who each publicly separated themselves from the President’s actions in Lafayette Park, won’t be removed from their positions if and when Mr. Trump no longer considers such removals a danger to his re-election prospects? [Italics in Original]”
I noted in these pages yesterday: “… Mr. Trump is unpredictable, and retains control the federal machinery for another ten weeks. If any of the following individuals, I would take the following steps to guard against risks to the Republic during the interregnum in the event that Mr. Trump either resists leaving office, demonstrates irrationality or paralysis as he absorbs his defeat, or otherwise conducts his office in a manner dangerously deleterious to American domestic or international interests. [:] … Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley: I’d very quietly have trusted outside counsel advise me as to the circumstances under the Military Code in which a subordinate officer can relieve a commanding officer.”
Is Mr. Esper’s removal no more than an instance of Trump retribution? Almost certainly. A portent of anything more significant? Almost certainly not. Canaries undoubtedly occasionally die in coal mines for reasons other than inhalation of poisonous gas. That said, Mr. Trump has fired the civilian in the chain of command between the military and himself who was resistant to the use of American troops against our citizens, and replaced him with an individual that at least some consider more loyal to Mr. Trump. (It would be fascinating to know whether Mr. Esper had indeed been researching rules of the Military Code relating to removal of a superior officer that I suggested yesterday that he might.) While Mr. Esper’s removal probably has little meaning other than to provide any American who has regrets about voting against Mr. Trump further reassurance that his/her vote for Mr. Biden was well entered, Mr. Trump’s future exercise of his presidential power arguably bears closer watching than all the hoorah arising from his electoral antics.
In a past note, I offered some observations as to how Russian President Vladimir Putin might react, if President-Elect Joe Biden won the presidency, during the interregnum between the determination of Mr. Biden’s victory and his Inauguration Day. There are obviously many parties with interests to pursue during the coming ten weeks, particularly since President Trump seems, at least at this point, intent on futilely thrashing about. How a number of pivotal players might view their respective opportunities and challenges:
Mr. Biden first: He’s already doing it. The President-Elect is projecting momentum, inevitability, moderation, and unity. He is executing his Coronavirus policy, and either has or will (critical: after securing the Trump Administration’s approval) publicly and privately expressing American stability to both allies and adversaries. While Mr. Biden has already alluded to a slew of Executive Orders he intends to issue on Inauguration Day (e.g., extending DACA, re-entering the Paris Climate Accord and appropriately rescinding overtly biased-based Trump Administration actions such as the Muslim ban), he should defer announcing dramatic policy reversals that don’t have a tinge of bias, such as those relating to fracking regulations and the Iranian nuclear deal.
I earlier indicated that during any interregnum between Trump and Biden Administrations, Mr. Trump’s failings will render American foreign policy at its most impotent in over a century; that said, Mr. Trump’s foibles and instability may cause many of our adversaries to tread gingerly.
Mr. Putin: I have come to the opinion that if Mr. Putin – who has yet to extend congratulations to Mr. Biden — thinks inflaming American domestic passions will make future relations with Mr. Biden more difficult, he won’t. I think Mr. Putin will be tempted to exert influence in Belarus and might probe Ukraine.
Chinese President Xi Jinping: Having recently secured the Mainland’s position in Hong Kong, and being aware of President Trump’s erraticism and that Mr. Trump may well blame Mr. Xi for his defeat due to Mr. Xi’s early Coronavirus dissembling, I expect Mr. Xi to stand very still. Although an overt move against Taiwan is undoubtedly tempting, it’s too likely to provoke a bellicose response from Mr. Trump.
North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un: Will do what Mr. Xi tells him to do. See above regarding the dangers of provoking an unstable Mr. Trump.
Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei: The Iranians undoubtedly consider Democrats like Messrs. Obama and Biden easier to work with than erratic and warlike Republicans [Note: I agree with the Republicans on this one ;)]. Mr. Trump probably hates Iran even more than he hates China. If you are Iran, this is the time to stand pat and avoid provoking Mr. Trump.
The Taliban in Afghanistan: This group is so driven by hate that it can’t get out of its own way. Although Richard Haass commented in A World in Disarray, “[D]iplomacy and negotiations tend to reflect [armed conflict] realities on the ground, not change them,” I would nonetheless venture that if it was smart, the Taliban would throttle down its violence in Afghanistan, continue its peace talks with the Afghan government, avoid provoking Mr. Trump, give Mr. Biden the psychological space to remove our remaining troops – all but a foregone conclusion if the Taliban can restrain itself — and then overrun the country. Since the Taliban has never demonstrated a shred of strategic thinking, this seems the Middle East’s, and perhaps the world’s, wildest card.
Our allies: Whether happy or sad at Mr. Trump’s defeat, these nations need the United States. They’ll seek to make accommodation with Mr. Biden. If I were Mr. Biden, I would see what if anything could be done with German Chancellor Angela Merkel – the ally most obviously thrilled at the prospect of Mr. Trump’s departure — to obstruct Germany’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project with Russia.
On the domestic sphere:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: Mr. McConnell will quietly pull the party trappings out from under Mr. Trump. Although some commentators are talking about establishment Republicans’ desire to hold Mr. Trump’s base sans Mr. Trump, my guess is that the pros realize that a movement like Mr. Trump’s needs a charismatic demagogue. They rode Mr. Trump to a lot of conservative judges; they know they can work with Mr. Biden; and … they know that Mr. Trump was never qualified to be president.
Rupert Murdoch: By far the dominant voice in the alt-right propaganda echo chamber. His Wall Street Journal and New York Post have already called the election for Mr. Biden. Some liberal talking heads are talking about “what the Fox News hosts will do.” I am surprised by that; these hosts have the platform that Mr. Murdoch gives them. If/when Mr. Murdoch tells them to shift their perspective from “The election was rigged” to regret that “Mr. Trump lost, and it’s time to look forward,” they’ll do as they’re told. Attacking Democrats will be at least as good for Fox’ business as hyping an obviously unstable and unqualified loser who is probably going to seek to become Fox’ competitor.
The following will sound paranoid, but Mr. Trump is unpredictable, and retains control the federal machinery for another ten weeks. If any of the following individuals, I would take the following steps to guard against risks to the Republic during the interregnum in the event that Mr. Trump either resists leaving office, demonstrates irrationality or paralysis as he absorbs his defeat, or otherwise conducts his office in a manner dangerously deleterious to American domestic or international interests. Almost certainly unnecessary; but precautions perhaps worth taking:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: There is undoubtedly a lawyer – undoubtedly a man 😉 – elegant, cultured, who is at the epicenter of Democratic Party power politics. Call him, “Mr. Clifford.” (If one Googles “Clark Clifford,” you’ll see the prototype.) If I was Ms. Pelosi, I would have already called Mr. Clifford, and – her lips to his ear — asked him to draft a generic Article of Impeachment for use if necessary.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley: I’d very quietly have trusted outside counsel advise me as to the circumstances under the Military Code in which a subordinate officer can relieve a commanding officer.
Vice President Mike Pence: After consulting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, I’d have trusted outside counsel advise me regarding the 25th Amendment (this last almost certainly won’t happen).
Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett: The ball is almost certainly not going to be hit to them in any meaningful way. I’d already be relaxing in a warm bath with a glass of fine wine [or in Justice Kavanaugh’s case, a cold beer ;)].
President Trump: Every one of us has suffered an emotionally crushing setback at some point or other. I would suggest, with genuine sympathy – despite the danger his instability presents — for the unspeakable anguish that the President, a man beset by crippling insecurity, is now undoubtedly experiencing, that he consider the following clip, the conclusion of the portrayal of another talented, proud, and deeply flawed man in a film that I guarantee that all men of the President’s and my vintage absorbed at the time. It provides perspective if not solace …
As I suspect every conscious American is now aware, most or all of the credible mainstream news outlets in this nation, including the Wall Street Journal (which I specifically note, given its conservative editorial bent) have declared that former Vice President Joe Biden [now President-Elect Biden ;)] has won sufficient states to claim an Electoral College victory, and thus, the presidency of the United States.
Are there Democrats that are too progressive for me? A bunch. Are there Republicans who are too reactionary for me? A bunch. Will there be pitched policy battles over the next two, and then the succeeding two, years? You bet. Are there millions of Americans who feel disrespected by the elites — on both sides of political aisle — who deserve to have their justifiable concerns addressed? Absolutely. But as I just noted to a friend … I feel that I can breathe for the first time in four years. It will come as no surprise to anyone that has read these pages, given my numerous allusions to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, that I consider President Trump to have Fascist inclinations, and that I genuinely feared that another four years of a Trump presidency seriously risked the destruction of the American Dream. I’ve been watching presidential election nights since 1960; there have been a number in which I was joyful, others in which I was despondent. Never in my life have I felt this level of exhilaration, combined with an equal sense of … relief.
Do we have immediate risks over the next ten weeks, both at home and abroad? Without doubt; Mr. Trump’s reaction to his loss – and what that will mean to our domestic tranquility and what actions it might precipitate around the world – remains to be seen. But I hope that the Lord will not consider me blasphemous if I take the liberty of paraphrasing the conclusion of the Prodigal Son parable, Luke 15:32: Today, it is right that we make merry and rejoice, for the American Dream seemed likely to perish, and has come to life; it seemed lost, but … is found.