It has been reported that one out of three adult Americans has already had at least one COVID vaccination shot; we seem well on our way toward President Joe Biden’s expressed goal of being able to provide a vaccination to all Americans who want one within, at the latest, the next sixty days. I hope that the Administration is already setting plans, assuming our domestic rollout remains on track, to make our unneeded vaccinations available to citizens of disadvantaged nations as the summer proceeds. Although our international image has taken on more than a bit of tarnish over the last four years, I would venture that these nations, if given the option of receiving vaccines from the United States, China, or Russia, will still instinctively prefer the American option: likely better quality, almost certainly fewer explicit or implied strings attached.
Closer to home, set forth below is a note I received recently from a very close friend of many decades – whose antics our adult children still well recall from their early days — who will only become aware of my intent to enter it here as he reads this post. I am confident he won’t mind; when you read the note, I suspect you will share my confidence : ).
“When I was waiting for my second shot, a young lady (30 – 35) or so was pacing around. I asked her if this was her first shot and if she was nervous. She said yes. I told her not to worry, this was going to be my second shot and it’s no big deal. You just pull down your pants, they give you the shot and you are on your way.
????!!!!! She said WHAT??? She thought you get the shot in your arm! I asked her who told her that? She said she saw it on TV. I told her that they can’t put people getting butt shots on TV plus if they did a lot of people might not get the shot. Then they called her name and I said Good luck.
Do you know she gave me the finger when she got out of the office? How rude!”
I suspect that all that read these pages either have received their vaccinations, or intend to do so when given the opportunity … while of course, keeping their pants on ;). Hopefully, many of our fellow citizens currently expressing reservations will soon resolve to do the same. In the meantime, stay safe.
[The note immediately below this post, which I published Saturday and characterized as a “Prologue” to this post — in which I elaborated on a tangential observation appearing herein that currently-reported efforts in Congress to impeach President Trump, while warranted, were nonetheless not a wise course — engendered robust contrary reactions from several learned followers of these pages. Their thoughts are worthy of exploration in the future. What appears here is the post scheduled some days ago for release today.]
It cannot be denied that President Donald J. Trump, through not only four years of fascist behavior but in his incendiary remarks last Wednesday morning, incited the ensuing riot and storming of our nation’s Capitol. I have heard a report that the Capitol police officer killed in the attack was assaulted by rioters with a fire extinguisher. A woman rioter, perhaps truly believing that she was on a quest to save America, was shot as Capitol police defended members of Congress huddled in the legislative chamber. It no longer matters whether Mr. Trump is clinically deranged, or evil; he is now beyond all doubt not only a clear but present danger to our Republic.
How we address in the coming weeks, and in the months and years that follow, the anarchy fomented by Donald Trump will determine the future of the country we want for our children and grandchildren. Until this past Wednesday, I had supposed that President-elect Joe Biden would primarily be a transition president; given his age and conciliatory manner, I expected his term to be the chemotherapy necessary to rid our body politic of the Trump cancer, and that it would be his successor who would actually begin to rebuild our strength after the necessary period of convalescence.
Now, we don’t have that luxury of waiting. That said, I would suggest that the events at the Capitol both made clear the stark nature of Mr. Biden’s challenge and present an unexpectedly fertile opportunity. I would submit that upon taking office, he will need to straightforwardly confront the greatest domestic menace to our Republic since Abraham Lincoln, because the emotional currents exploited and exacerbated by Mr. Trump run deep. At the same time, at a point when all but the most despicable segment of Trump supporters may well be feeling a bit chastened, Mr. Biden must leverage their second thoughts and genuine patriotic spirit to coax them back toward moderation.
What should occur even before Inauguration Day probably won’t — President Trump’s immediate removal from office. While reported efforts to undertake Congressional impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump are entirely warranted, I am not a fan; they will seemingly take too long given the time remaining in the Trump term, perhaps cause Republicans to recommit to the President out of tribal loyalty or self-interest just when many are looking to distance themselves from him, and keep the spotlight on Mr. Trump. Instead, Vice President Mike Pence (who when it finally came to unambiguous Constitutional duty rather than political sycophancy, did his duty in the Congressional Electoral College vote count – for which I give him no credit) should, despite his lack of backbone, follow the provisions of the 25th Amendment, obtain the signed declaration of the requisite number of Cabinet officials that Mr. Trump is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and become Acting President until Inauguration Day. Since current reports unsurprisingly indicate that Mr. Pence has no intention of taking this route, perhaps the best we can hope for is de facto protection via informal means; query whether the military might not have already formed a tacit understanding that it will not follow Mr. Trump’s orders without Mr. Pence’s concurrence, and there seems a move among some news and social media outlets to limit Mr. Trump’s ability to broadcast his incendiary and false pronouncements. If such continues to be the case, we may be able to limp to Inauguration Day without further incident, save Mr. Trump’s inevitable continuing promiscuous use of the presidential pardon power.
I do harbor hopes, given the changing sentiments caused by the storming of the Capitol, that the coordination of the respective Biden health, diplomatic and defense teams with their outgoing Trump Administration counterparts will be facilitated to speed the Biden Administration’s COVID response, and to communicate to the global community – allies and adversaries alike — that we are steadying our affairs of state and are not to be discounted during the remainder to the Trump term.
Presidents need to shrewdly play the cards they inherit. If advising Mr. Biden, I would suggest that to be effective, his leadership of our nation will need to effectively and simultaneously strike two complementary but very different tones. The primary theme continues to be that of reconciliation: continuing testaments to America’s strength and the fundamental goodness of its people, with emphasis on a more aggressive and cohesive health and economic response to the Covid crisis, racism, the environment, infrastructure, strengthening of foreign alliances, and plans to provide opportunity to those desperate and depressed parts of the nation (importantly, including those areas whose citizens primarily supported Mr. Trump). In these pursuits, a closely divided Congress controlled by Democrats will arguably enable Mr. Biden to make progress by finding common ground with moderates of both parties, navigating between the obstructionism of Republican radicals and unrealistic expectations of Democratic progressives.
At the same time, Mr. Biden must make clear not only by word but in action that seditious activity will not be tolerated. In his Inaugural Address, he should explicitly state:
Donald Trump lied to you to keep his own power. There was never any valid dispute regarding the outcome of the election, as declared by election officials of sovereign states of both parties and affirmed by judges of all political philosophies across the country. Both Donald Trump and his enablers in Congress that sought to disenfranchise millions of voters put themselves ahead of our country, and misled those of you who trusted them. (So you thought you’d be President, Schoolboy Josh? Lyin’ Ted?)
The Biden Administration Justice Department will, directly and through assistance to all other relevant authorities, be investigating the storming of the Capitol and, where the evidence warrants prosecution, will pursue to the full extent of the law all individuals that in any manner participated in or contributed to the events of January 6. (Are you listening, Donald? Rudy? Donny? Rioters, including those responsible for the death of the Capitol Police officer?)
That he will ask Congress to pass a domestic terrorism law.
That the Biden Administration will be forming a bipartisan commission to consider circumstances in which social media providers should be held accountable for false content disseminated through their facilities without limiting Americans’ right of free speech. (I haven’t explored the nuances of this, but I have heard knowledgeable experts such as journalist Kara Swisher indicate that it may be possible to reconcile these potentially competing interests. Such legislation will obviously need to be conscientiously considered and crafted; potential Co-Chairs coming to mind would be Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Mitt Romney.)
I concede that I’ve laid out no easy task for our future president: suggesting that he thread the needle between amicable national reconciliation and an appropriately robust defense of the Republic. Although by all accounts, Abraham Lincoln was, like Mr. Biden, a kindly man – we fondly recall Mr. Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address, in which he asked for malice toward none, and charity for all – he also possessed steel resolve; when his benevolent words are recalled, it is rarely noted that before uttering them he first brought about the killing of 300,000 rebels – most of whom believed in their cause as sincerely as the insurgents that invaded the Capitol. Mr. Biden must manifest a similar combination of amity and resolve. The days ahead will be difficult for him. My final piece of advice would be: look to Mr. Lincoln’s example for guidance and sustenance.
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.
Last night, we happened upon a Public Broadcasting Service Frontline repeat, “China Undercover,” which addresses the Chinese government’s persecution and suppression of Muslim Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang (officially known as, the “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region”). All who wish to be aware have a generalized understanding that the Chinese government has run – and despite its claims to the contrary, might still be running — what it calls “Re-Education Camps” for its Uyghur population – facilities that human rights organizations consider concentration camps – but for any like us that have had little more than a generalized understanding of the situation, the PBS documentary brings home the terror that China is inflicting upon the Uyghurs and its overall Muslim population. China’s tactics against the Uyghurs are in some regards stunningly reminiscent of those used by the Nazi government upon Jews. The documentary also notes that Chinese authorities are applying current surveillance technology and Artificial Intelligence to identify and move against the Uyghur population, and that it seems overwhelmingly likely that the authorities either are or will be employing these tools throughout China to identify and eliminate any individuals that it considers a danger. These are tools of oppression that Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong could only have dreamed of.
These pages have devoted a fair amount more attention to Russian President Vladimir Putin than they have to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Although this documentary refers to President Xi himself relatively sparingly, since nothing material goes on in China that Mr. Xi does not approve of, the piece makes unquestionably clear that Mr. Xi … is a bad guy.
I wanted to note this documentary today because at least on PBS Wisconsin, it will run again tonight at 10PM CT. If one doesn’t mind viewing it on a smaller screen, a link to the entire presentation appears below.
[Full disclosure: I heard David Ignatius of the Washington Post express many of the substantive concerns set forth below on MSNBC’s Morning Joethis 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 standvery 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.
[If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there 😉 ]
Russian President Vladimir Putin obviously prefers to have President Trump pull off what will be viewed as a second upset Electoral College victory over former Vice President Joe Biden, and is undoubtedly using every means at his disposal to try to help bring that result about. A re-election of Mr. Trump seems likely to lead to the emasculation if not dissolution of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and will enable President Putin to take less provocative gradual steps over the next four years to further what he views as Russia’s strategic interests. Mr. Putin has probably concluded that Mr. Biden’s succession to the U.S. presidency will make such incremental Russian advances more difficult. I suspect that Mr. Putin sees what we see: while Mr. Trump might still pull out an electoral victory, the odds – despite the best efforts of the American alt-right propaganda machine and Russia – currently remain in Mr. Biden’s favor. Mr. Putin is, as well documented by Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy in their book, Mr. Putin, a survivalist and superb contingency planner. What does President Putin do if Mr. Biden is indeed certified the winner of the U.S. Presidential election? Perhaps a few options:
American domestic relations: the use of social media and other outlets to spread incendiary disinformation among Trump supporters that the election was “stolen” from Mr. Trump, in an effort to incite violence by the Trump fringe elements and to persuade traditional Trump supporters that Mr. Biden’s presidency is illegitimate, perhaps thereby hobbling a Biden Administration’s ability to thwart Russian initiatives. A divided enemy is a weak enemy.
International relations: During the interregnum between any certification of a Biden victory and Mr. Biden’s inauguration, Mr. Trump’s narcissism, bitterness, incompetence, and erraticism will reduce American foreign policy to its most impotent state in over a century. Although Mr. Putin has certainly relished dabbling in and – due to American missteps during both the Obama and Trump Administrations – having Russia arguably supplant the United States as the most influential outside power in the Middle East, Russia’s strategic interests lie in the former Soviet Socialist Republics — referred to by Russian officials as the “near abroad” — and Europe. Hill and Gaddy report that Mr. Putin indicated in 2014 that he sought to extend Russian influence “… to all the space in Europe and Eurasia that once fell within the boundaries of the Russian Empire and the USSR.” When (given Mr. Trump’s inadequacies, adding “if” to this sentence is absurd) Mr. Putin sees American response effectively neutered during the interregnum period, these are some of the areas in which he might consider proceeding:
Create a pretext, invade and annex the parts of east Ukraine in which the ethnic Russian population exceeds one third of the overall population. Ukraine, a former Soviet Socialist Republic, is not a member of NATO, and thus, such an overture would not result in the invocation of NATO signatories’ collective defense obligations under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.
Provide troops to actively help Russian puppet Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko put down the continuing Belarusian opposition against his recent fraudulent election victory. Belarus is a former Soviet Socialist Republic. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is reported to have called the continuing protests against Mr. Lukashenko a geopolitical struggle over spheres of interest (dismissing the notion of an intra-national dispute between Belarusians). The European Union’s recent award of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought (ironically, named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov) to Belarusian Opposition Leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and her followers is almost certainly seen by Mr. Putin as an EU effort to undermine Russian influence in Belarus. Mr. Putin might anticipate that Russian military assistance to Mr. Lukashenko would receive international condemnation, but be very unlikely to trigger a more aggressive Western response in what is a non-NATO intra-national dispute.
Consider stirring unrest in the Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all former United Soviet Socialist Republics. Since all three are now NATO nations, they present very different challenges and opportunities from Ukraine and Belarus. Given the NATO Treaty’s Article 5, Mr. Putin would probably deem overt military operations too risky even with a distracted and figuratively disarmed United States. Still, covert efforts through infiltrated agents to sow discord in the Baltic States’ civil affairs might increase Russian influence and disrupt NATO relationships, provided that they can be undertaken with Russia’s plausible deniability.
Make Germany a very advantageous offer with a short acceptance window on a long-term arrangement for Russian oil and natural gas. This would cement the German-Russian energy relationship as the two nations’ Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which will provide Russia with additional distribution avenues and greater capacity to provide energy to Europe, nears completion. The project is bitterly opposed by the Trump Administration and will be by a Biden Administration. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has consistently rebuffed Mr. Trump’s efforts to kill the project, undoubtedly primarily because (whether or not correctly) she views the arrangement in Germany’s best interest, but perhaps with less heed to American concerns than she might have had five years ago given Mr. Trump’s obvious disdain for NATO, the EU and her personally. Germany is the EU’s economic bedrock. Mr. Putin understands that there are some areas in which use of military power isn’t feasible; use of energy leverage to unravel NATO and wean core EU nations away from the United States significantly furthers Russia’s interests.
Too dark? Paranoid? Perhaps; it is the Halloween Season, and I did indicate at the outset of this note that Mr. Putin is a scary book ;). That said, it is a seminal work; it enables one to see through Mr. Putin’s eyes. It seemingly behooves us to consider how well over the last 20 years a man who came from nowhere has played what was in reality a very weak hand when he came into office. President Richard Nixon reportedly once told Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev that he respected what Mr. Brezhnev said, but made policy based upon what Russia did. I submit that Mr. Putin’s record suggests that we ignore the measures he might take at our peril. I suspect that they will be sufficient to keep a President-Elect Biden awake at night.
In this Halloween Season, I’ve been reading the scariest book I’ve bought in retirement: Mr. Putin, by Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy, which is more a psychological profile than a biography of Russian President Vladimir Putin. (I thoroughly recommend it to foreign policy junkies; it makes quite a pairing with Mary Trump’s psychological profile of President Trump, Too Much and Never Enough.) [Note: the latest edition of Mr. Putin was published over a year before Mr. Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency.] Some excerpts:
“If Putin says he will do something, then he is prepared to do it, and he will find a way of doing it, using every method at his disposal….Vladimir Putin is a fighter and a survivalist. He won’t give up, and he will fight dirty if that’s what it takes to win….Putin’s tactics at home and abroad are geared toward gaining advantage against his opponents. [Emphasis in Original].”
On Mr. Putin’s handling of the Russian oligarchs: “There must be some kind of hook to guarantee loyalty, even with [those] that seem most closely linked to [Mr. Putin]….The role of money in this system is important but commonly misunderstood….[I]t is not money that guarantees loyalty …. Instead, it is the fact that the money derives from activity that is or could be found to be illegal. Participants in the system are not bought off in the classic sense of that term. Instead, they are compromised; they are made vulnerable to threats. Enforcement … is achieved … by implicit threats …. Loyalty is ensured through blackmail. … [T]he risk of loss is more important than any reward. And, as in the most effective blackmail schemes, it is not the threat of loss of money or property that frightens most people. It is loss of reputation, loss of one’s standing in the eyes of family, friends, and peers – loss of one’s identity [Emphasis in Original].”
“Viktor Yanukovych [who became Ukraine President in 2010, and fled to Russia for refuge in 2014] seemed much more interested in running Ukraine as a ‘family business’ than dealing with the business of economic and political reform. … From Putin’s perspective, the Ukrainian president’s well-documented venality was a major vulnerability that Putin could use to his benefit. It provided leverage. Yanukovych was similar to the foreign targets Putin and his KGB colleagues had set up … in the 1970s and 1980s. His greed and transgressions opened him up to reputational risk at home and abroad. They also made him relatively easy to buy off. Putin did just that — … encouraging Russian companies to place lucrative offers with industries closely connected to the Ukrainian president and his family.”
Feel free to substitute any name for “Viktor Yanukovych” you consider appropriate. To be fair: in Rage, Bob Woodward reported: “As [Director of National Intelligence, Dan] Coats had access to the most sensitive intelligence … He suspected the worst but found nothing that would show [Donald] Trump was indeed in Putin’s pocket.”
Back to Mr. Putin:
“[Into 2013] in Ukraine, Putin thought he had the situation under control with the venal and vulnerable Viktor Yanukovych in place. But he had bet on the wrong horse. Yanukovych could be blackmailed, but he couldn’t keep control of Ukraine. Once it became clear that Yanukovych had [what Mr. Putin described as] ‘no political future’ … Putin had to make sure that his backup plans were in place. Annexing Crimea and setting the rest of Ukraine on fire were contingency operations. They were prepared in advance, ready to be used if needed – but only if needed.”
“As a consequence of his [KGB] Case Officer identity, Mr. Putin cannot simply abandon an ‘asset.’”
The Mueller Report makes clear that when Russia began its meddling in the 2016 election, its primary goal was to sow discord among the American people; it shifted its efforts to a more aggressive support of then-Candidate Donald Trump when it appeared that he actually had a chance to win. Now that Mr. Trump is in power, Russia’s current effort is undoubtedly heavily focused upon spreading disinformation and attempting to hack American electoral systems to keep him there. However, one point Hill and Gaddy drive home repeatedly is that Mr. Putin is a contingency planner:
“The notion that Putin is an opportunist, at best an improviser, but not a strategist, is at best a misread. … Putin knows that unexpected events can and will blow things off course in domestic and foreign policy. The key to dealing with the unexpected is to anticipate that there always will be setbacks. This means he focuses on contingency and adaptive planning to deal with them [Emphasis in Original].”
It seems not unreasonable to assume that in addition to doing whatever he can to secure Mr. Trump’s re-election, Mr. Putin has carefully considered what steps his agencies will take in the event that Mr. Trump loses. Some of his potential avenues in Part II.