Making it ugly

While Trump’s efforts to cling to power plunge into farce, rhetoric from him and fellow Republicans — along with its potential to inflame violence — grows more repulsive

Good evening. Voting in the 2020 presidential election ended 29 days ago. The inauguration happens in 49 days.

The Latest

Let’s face it: we knew he would make this embarrassing.

With the last fetters of respectability drifting away from his quasi-campaign to hold onto the presidency like tissue paper in the wind, Donald Trump seems no closer to conceding defeat — and no closer to stepping back from bellicose claims that a conspiracy against him awaits exposure.

In this, as in many notable moments of his public life, Trump has stayed true to form: never apologizing, spurning the reality of defeat, and remaining latched to false claims long past the point when they cease to hold up under scrutiny. What lingers in my eye, though, is the shabby, dimestore quality of Trump’s failed coup — the aesthetics of which might remind one of a high-school A/V class, or a greeting card designed by a novice user of Microsoft Paint.

Take the telecast published Wednesday afternoon on Trump’s Twitter account, which has the staging and set quality of a low-budget TV movie’s attempt to mimic a presidential address: 

Or look again at this much discussed photo from the weekend, in which the Resolute Desk appears to have been swapped for one by Fisher-Price:

We can broaden our lens to the agitations of on-again, off-again Trump lawyer Sidney Powell and disgraced National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, whose statement calling for the imposition of martial law came emblazoned with a typeface borrowed from the menu of a faded fusion restaurant:

One would think, or hope, that the clique surrounding a president of the United States would have better aesthetic taste. In appearance as in fact, however, what we’ve seen is what we’ve gotten: a slapdash lunge for power, with no actual plan to make it work.

Even a sloppy plan, however, comes with costs. The ugliness of the president’s attempt gleams through its morals as much its visuals. An election official and longtime Republican in Georgia, Gabriel Sterling, voiced fury on Tuesday at having become a target of the moral ugliness:

If one imagined a sense of shame descending upon Trump and his enablers after that dressing down … well, congratulations are due for sleeping through the last four years. Other observers surely feel no surprise at news of Powell and fellow legal activist L. Lin Wood leading a “lock him up” chant that targeted Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp:

Back at the White House, in the meantime, the ugliness of Trump’s denial of the reality of his defeat held center stage at a Christmas party:

Sources for NBC reporter Ken Dilanian indicate that Trump will boycott January’s inauguration altogether, opting instead to deliver his own speech — potentially declaring his candidacy in 2024’s presidential election. 

For Trump, the last month has been an ugly, but undeniably lucrative grift — bringing $170 million to the coffers of a political action committee set up to do … well, no one knows what. Other Republicans seem content to stand by, with Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin the latest to join the ranks of those offering private qualms over Trump’s defiance of the election results.

With no prospect of an intervention by Republican wise men (if such people exist) in the cards as the coming presidency of Joe Biden builds momentum toward its January realization, this impasse — one between not Trump and Biden, but Trump and reality — looks ready to continue through the rest of the interregnum. As Quinta Jurecic of Lawfare wrote this week (see below), Republicans have paid no cost for playing along with Trump’s self-soothing fictions. 

Even when he leaves the White House, it seems that reality may not change.

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Leading the Conversation

Quinta Jurecic, at The Atlantic: “There Aren’t Serious-Enough Consequences for Those Trying to Break American Democracy.”

“At this point, though, even if judges or state bar associations do hand down sanctions against lawyers involved in these cases, those repercussions will be too little, too late. The president is busy creating a parallel world for his supporters in which he never lost the election and Joe Biden is not the rightful leader of the United States—what Vox’s Ezra Klein termed ‘an autocracy-in-exile.’ Already, far-right news networks such as One America News and Newsmax are profiting from this effort, siphoning viewers away from Fox News by enthusiastically embracing Trump’s claims of voter fraud. Half of Republicans already believe that Trump triumphed over Biden. ‘That press conference was the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history,’ Chris Krebs, the former cybersecurity official fired by Trump for refusing to lie about the 2020 election’s integrity, tweeted of Giuliani and Powell’s appearance last week.”

Tom Friedman, at The New York Times: “Biden Made Sure ‘Trump Is Not Going to Be President for Four More Years.’”

“Biden was careful about how he talked about McConnell, who has been careful not to call Biden “president-elect.” Biden obviously wants to keep the prospects of cooperation open — but also make clear that he may have more leverage with the American people than the G.O.P. realizes if Senate Republicans opt for full-on obstruction. … ‘Let me put it this way,’ he said. ‘There are a number of things that when McConnell controlled the Senate that people said couldn’t get done, and I was able to get them done with [him]. I was able to get them to, you know, raise taxes on the wealthy.’”

Catherine Rampell, at The Washington Post: “Trump lays the groundwork for a massive government purge on his way out the door.”

“Trump signed a technical-sounding executive order in October that invented a new category of government employees, called ‘Schedule F.’ Career civil servants whose jobs include ‘policymaking,’ the order said, should be newly reclassified under Schedule F — a designation that would strip them of long-held civil service protections and allow them to be fired with little demonstrated cause or recourse. …  This order effectively transforms large chunks of the merit-based, expertise-driven, nonpartisan civil service into political appointees who work at the mercy of the president.”

Will Wilkinson, at The New York Times: “Why Did So Many Americans Vote for Trump?

“[Democrats] should understand that there was really no way to avoid disappointment. Three factors — the logic of partisan polarization, which inaccurate polling obscured; the strength of the juiced pre-Covid-19 economy; and the success of Mr. Trump’s denialist, open-everything-up nonresponse to the pandemic — mostly explain why Democrats didn’t fare better.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board: “Trump’s Fraud Claims Hit a Barr.”

“As specific claims of fraud get knocked down, however, the broader tale of election theft takes on the nature of the unfalsifiable. ‘We won the election easily,’ Mr. Trump said Sunday. He later added: ‘It’s not like you’re going to change my mind.’ But where’s the hard evidence to convince the country? Many of the theories floating around don’t withstand scrutiny.” 

Biden Hires and Appointments

There’s no news to announce today — but if you feel called to potentially serve as a political appointee in the Biden-Harris administration, the transition team has put up a general application form. Clean up your C.V. and submit your qualifications

What You Can Do

Always listen to the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber. 

A Moment of Joy

Do I like a well-chosen ringtone? I do — and this choice was exquisite.

That’s all for this issue. See you on Friday.


American Interregnum is a pop-up newsletter covering the issues and ideas that will define the Presidential transition period from Nov. 3, 2020, through — we’re all but sure now — Jan. 21, 2021. It is written and edited by Justin Hendrix, Greg Greene, and Melissa Ryan. Have questions or comments? We love your feedback. Reply directly to this email. We read all responses and respond to most. 

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