Here’s a sentence most living Americans never expected to read:
While the odds of a coup d’état in the USA seemed to have abated over the past few days, the situation remains fraught.
In fact, if you want to get technical about it (and I do), we are literally in the midst of a coup right now according to the dictionary definition of the term: A defeated president is refusing to leave office, insisting that he won an election that it is clear he lost, and refusing to hand over the reins of power to his successor as duly chosen by the people.
Folks, that is a coup. Period dot.
The fact that it now appears that Trump will not carry this much further is not the point. Inside sources report that he is morose, and knows that he lost, and intends to comply with the transition once the vote is certified by the states, even while refusing to concede out of juvenile pathology. (Big of ya, Don.)
But what he is doing now, as endless pundits have noted, is still grievously damaging to the long term bedrock of our democracy. In the short term it is putting US national security at risk by denying the incoming administration crucial access to intelligence. (Luckily, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee where she gets classified briefings, which helps somewhat.) Moreover, in case you forgot, we’re in the mist of a historic pandemic that has already killed a quarter million of our fellow Americans; the hampering of a smooth transition will kill untold more as the new administration is shut out of the early planning stages of the vaccine rollout, among other seminal tasks.
Trump’s reasons for resisting have been well established: because he’s a petty little child, because he craves the adoration of his base the way a crack addict craves the rock, because he hopes to position himself for his post-presidency media career and/or as a Republican kingmaker, or—Grover Cleveland like—for another run in 2024. (As if this behavior will help. Then again, in our dystopia, it might.)
Above all, he is doing it because as long as he disputes the results, he can squeeze filthy lucre out of his idiot supporters, lucre which is very likely going directly into his pockets. The contributions, ostensibly for the legal fight to question the election, are allowed by law to go toward the RNC and to Trump’s new PAC, unironically known as “Save America,” a scheme which the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank flatout called a “slush fund” for Trump’s personal use.
A donor would have to give more than $8000 before any money goes to the “recount account” established to finance election challenges, including recounts and lawsuits over alleged improprieties, the fundraising disclosures show. The emailed solicitations send supporters to an “Official Election Defense Fund” website that asks them to sign up for recurring donations to “protect the results and keep fighting even after Election Day.” The fine print makes clear most of the money will go to other priorities.
“Other priorities” indeed. Paul S. Ryan, the vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, told Milbank, “It’s a straight-up bait and switch….There is no limit to how much Donald Trump can pay himself or any member of his family under Save America.”
For with Trump, even more so than the rest of humanity, the best investigative technique is always to follow the money: cui bono indeed.
And they are suckers to the end, MAGA Nation.
But I don’t really give a shit why Trump continues to deny the rightful transfer of power; that he is doing it at all is the issue. Once again we see that Donald Trump does not care a whit about this country, or anyone or anything except himself and his own interests. He would happily let the US burn to the ground if he thought it would gain him a penny, or burnish his ego.
As always, the most stomach-turning thing is that the GOP is going along with it.
Even now only four Republican Senators have bothered to congratulate Biden: Romney, Collins, Murkowski, and Sasse. Some GOP congressmen, governors, and other figures, like George and Jeb Bush, have done so, while a few others, like Pennsylvania’s Sen. Pat Toomey, have more obliquely acknowledged his win.
A handful of Republican Senators, like Lindsey Graham, have grudgingly said they see “no problem” with Biden getting intel briefings while Trump pursues recounts and lawsuits (and slanders the electoral process), a bare minimum acknowledgment of basic civics that we are supposed to praise as courage and heroism.
Two cheers, guys.
(Graham, meanwhile, has problems of his own, such as calls for him to resign the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee over his strongarming of Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State to conduct an improper hand recount.)
Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee for Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, somberly informed us that if Biden did not begin to receive the PDB this week, he was going to rip off his shirt Clark Kent-style and intervene, but to my knowledge he has not done that, and is still just a mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Stormer. Lankford later backed off his boast, while claiming he did in fact intervene with the GSA, and was satisfied with its response. But CNN reports that as of this writing Biden has not yet begun receiving intel briefings.
Truly, their cowardice and venality knows no floor. Just when you think they’re reached rock bottom, they find a shovel and begin to dig.
As noted before, the GSA’s chief administrator, a Trump appointee named Emily Murphy, is a one-woman heart blockage in this process, personally preventing the transition from taking place by refusing to “ascertain” (to use the term of art) the results of the election. And here is the heart of the GOP lie in defending her actions: citing “the contested 2000 race between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush as their North Star, pointing out that the GSA chief appointed by Bill Clinton waited for a resolution before passing the transition torch.”
The vast difference, of course, is that that was an election in which the result was genuinely in doubt. This is purely a case of petty—yet incredibly dangerous—partisan obstructionism that is corrosive of the entire American democratic system, in which the peaceful transfer of power—like the vote itself—is a cornerstone, in case anyone in the GOP still cares about that. (News flash: they don’t.)
Can you believe we’re even in this situation? I refer you back to mid-2016, when Trump became the presumptive GOP nominee, and Republicans assured us that all the “hysteria” over how bad he might be as president was wildly overblown. Now we are in a position where he is flatly refusing to leave office—the most dictatorial imaginable behavior, and an attack a fundamental tenet of a democracy. Yet not only do they not decry it, they cheer it on.
NERO GOT A BAD RAP, DON’T YA THINK?
The daily reports of Trump’s mood, and the horserace prognosticating about if and when he might surrender to the obvious and the inevitable, are maddening. It’s absurd that even now we’re at the whim of this petulant manchild.
The truth is: we’re not, and we ought to stop acting like Trump has any ability—short of actually mobilizing a violent insurrection—to forestall Joe Biden’s inauguration as 46th President of the United States. (Or 47th, if Pence gets to be president-for-a-day in order to pardon Trump on the morning January 20, 2021.)
All Trump can do now is trash the country on his way out. And he is most definitely doing that.
In the Guardian, Judith Butler invoked Hitler’s so-called “Nero decree.”
(T)hough Trump is not Hitler, and electoral politics is not precisely military war (not yet civil war, at any rate), there is a general logic of destruction that kicks in when the downfall of the tyrant seems nearly certain.
In March 1945, when both the allied forces and the Red Army had vanquished every Nazi defensive stronghold, Hitler resolved to destroy the nation itself, ordering a destruction of transportation and communication systems, industrial sites, and public utilities. If he was going down, so too was the nation. Hitler’s missive was called “Destructive Measures on Reich Territory” but it was remembered as the “Nero Decree,” invoking the Roman emperor who killed family and friends, punishing those perceived as disloyal, in his ruthless desire to hold onto power and punish those perceived as disloyal.
We have already seen him purge the Pentagon and Intelligence Community leadership that he sees as disloyal or inconvenient. We have seen him spitefully shut Biden out of planning he will need to handle the COVID-19 pandemic going forward. He recently asked the major oil companies to tell him which parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge they want to buy from him before he leaves office. There is even speculation that he might sell top secret information to help pay his debts, and/or simply out of sheer greed, because he can.
There is also the legitimate fear that Trump will order the destruction of crucial presidential records on his way out in order to cover his tracks and hide his crimes. This not nothing new, since as Jill Lepore notes, “Governments that commit atrocities against their own citizens regularly destroy their own archives.” That’s appalling, but did it prevent us from learning about the crimes of Nixon, the Khmer Rouge, or the apartheid regime of South Africa?
Donald Trump will try, but he will not be able to run from the judgment of history.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE CAN WE BOMB IRAN NOW?
Explanations continue to emerge for Trump’s national security purge—orchestrated by a disgraced 30-year-old former college football player, we’re told—ranging from sheer vindictiveness (always a strong contender) to a desire to declassify cherrypicked intelligence to support his obsessive claim that Putin didn’t help him in 2016, to an effort to keep Biden’s eyes off intel that would incriminate Don and his family. It’s likely all of the above, but machinations ahead of a coup seem to have largely faded from consideration.
Another reason for that HR massacre, reportedly, is Trump’s mulish desire to pull all US forces out of Afghanistan before he leaves office, a prelude to a humanitarian catastrophe and returned rule of the Taliban in that sorrowful country. That move—in connection with proposed withdrawals from Iraq and Somalia—is opposed by every credible foreign policy and military expert in the national leadership, Republican ones very much included, even Mitch McConnell, in a rare break with his White House partner in crime.
Reportedly Trump has also inquired about attacking Iran before he leaves office, to punish it for resuming its nuclear weapons program, only to be dissuaded by the likes of General Mark Milley, the brand new acting SecDef Chris Miller, SecState Mike Pompeo, and snowcapped fly-breeding host Mike Pence.
How Trump squares his “America First” neo-isolationism in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia with his desire to start a ginormous and wholly unnecessary war with Iran, I dunno. But when hawkish shitbags like Pence and Pompeo are the voice of reason, you know things are bad.
Of course, the irony is that Iran has only restated that nuclear weapons program—and was only able to—because in 2018 Trump capriciously pulled the US out of the painstakingly negotiated JCPOA, the world’s best hope for containing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, simply to spite Barack Obama. Much to his chagrin, Trump is now finding, as I wrote in these pages back then, that brute force is generally a pretty useless tool in the world of non-proliferation, a hard lesson learned (or not) by many a hawk since 1945.
But hey, what do I know? It’s not like I used to host a game show on NBC.
But as volatile the foreign affairs realm is, the pandemic is where Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the peaceful transfer of power is doing the most drastic and most immediate damage.
On that front there is nary a more vile figure than Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist and archconservative fellow at the Hoover Institution, who within the White House has usurped Dr. Anthony Fauci as the most influential voice on the coronavirus. Atlas’s policy advice is arguably responsible for some of the worst aspects of the Trump administration’s sadistic response to the pandemic, but he topped himself this week when he tweeted:
That is absolutely criminal and I do mean that literally. Fourteen individuals were just arrested for plotting to kidnap and murder Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and only weeks later this cretinous medical doctor—who already has the blood of the botched pandemic response on his hands—tweets to the people of that state encouraging insurrection?
No two ways about it: that is incitement to violence in the midst of a volatile, incendiary situation and he ought to face legal consequences for it. People lose their jobs for lapses of judgment infinitely less than this. (Stanford has already tried to distance itself from him.)
Atlas later tried to walk it back, saying he hadn’t intended to imply violence when he wrote of “rising up,” but his claim is risible and he knows it.
“I’m not very good at Twitter and I take responsibility for what I tweeted,” Atlas told Fox News. “I didn’t mean anything, I think, that people are inferring from that and I clarified it right afterwards.”
Yeah: I guess we can’t expect a published author and presidential advisor involved in public policy, with a degree from the University of Chicago and a job at Stanford, to be good with, ya know, like, words.
It seems clear now that not only is Trump not playing twelve-dimensional chess like Beth Harmon, but that he has no grand plan to ensure his survival whatsoever. He is just flailing from one desperate idea to another. But it’s still horrifically damaging.
So, Don: I don’t really care if you go away mad….long as you go.
Much as I would have liked to have seen him convicted in his impeachment trial, as the facts and justice demanded, in some ways seeing him repudiated by the voters is sweeter. Then again, if Congress had done its duty and removed him over Ukrainegate, or even earlier, based on the Mueller report, we might have been spared the disastrous COVID-19 non-response, and more than a hundred thousand Americans might still be alive today.
On Facebook, the author Michael Gruber writes:
The suspense before the phony denouement is of the essence in reality TV, which is the only form of artistic expression, besides WWF wrestling, that Trump understands. It’s his last one, so he’s going to drag it out until state certification and beyond. He’ll give a speech in which he graciously allows the transition to continue, even though the Dems stole the election, because he’s a true patriot and doesn’t want the country to suffer. But he can tell you that Sleepy Joe will ruin America so much that Trump will win in the biggest landslide in history in 2024. Meanwhile, no one should cooperate with (Biden’s) illegal coup administration.
Such will be the even-more divided America we will occupy post-Trump. As George Packer writes in The Atlantic:
There’s no escaping who we Americans have become: This is the election’s meaning. We are stuck with one another, seeing no way out and no apparent way through, sinking deeper into a state of mutual incomprehension and loathing. The possible exits—gradual de-escalation, majority breakthrough, clean separation, civil war—are either unlikely or unthinkable. We have to live and govern ourselves together, but we still don’t know how. Winning in this state becomes a chimera. Whoever takes the presidency, all Americans will remain the losers.
Photo: Trump at his golf course in Sterling, Virginia this month. (Reuters.)