Sound and fury
While Trump’s attempts to cling to the White House collapse into farce, malevolent efforts to aid him set the stage for troubles to come
Good evening. Voting in the 2020 presidential election ended 15 days ago. The inauguration happens in 63 days.
The chief dynamic this week has been a perverse one: as President Trump’s exit from power has become increasingly unavoidable, efforts by campaign and Republican Party officials to hold onto the presidency have become increasingly undemocratic — and farcical.
Just in the last 48 hours, Americans have seen:
an attempt by election board officials in Wayne County, Mich., to block the certification of votes from Detroit, Michigan’s largest city;
a shambolic court appearance by the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, in a challenge to the apparent election result in Pennsylvania;
a statement by Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs acknowledging a wave of threats — instigated, she argues, by the president himself;
an attempt by Georgia’s Republican Party chairman to assert that Biden’s victory in the state resulted from a massive miscount in a majority Black county;
the president’s abrupt firing-by-tweet of Christopher Krebs, who headed the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), for describing the election as the most secure in the nation’s recent history;
news that Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) insinuated to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) that he should exclude absentee votes from some state localities over unsubstantiated signature-matching issues;
a Trump campaign effort to nullify Nevada’s election result, or award the state’s electoral votes to Trump.
Whew! That’s a ton of news.
To riff on one of Shakespeare’s most enduring lines, though: the denouement of the Trump presidency amounts to a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Despite what he keeps tweeting, Trump lost the election. Worse for him, but better for the country, he lost by enough to place the result outside the margin of theft.
We should bear in mind, however, that Hamlet — the Shakespeare play where one can find the line above — comes with a body count. Even as he thrashes in defeat, Trump’s paroxysms of anger, and Republicans’ invertebrate acquiescence to them, have taken a toll. Among the casualties:
An orderly transition of power. President-elect Biden continues to forge ahead with meetings, plans, a public schedule, and staff announcements — but federal funding and access for the full changeover of administration remains latched inside the office desk of General Services Administration chief Emily Murphy. Murphy still insists that the election outcome remains incredibly — in the literal sense that one cannot believe her — hard to discern.
Trump’s scapegoats. As mentioned above, threats and harassment have rained down on a number of public officials — and other people, such as the Nevada elector below, have become collateral targets of Trump’s ongoing rampage through the nation’s courts.
Faith in U.S. democracy. Trump handily lost the popular vote, but minor shifts in a mere three states could have put him in position to bully his way to a second term. Republicans appear to know that, and appear to have lost all compunctions about restraining the anti-democratic impulses that many (including myself) would say have coursed through the party for some time.
Giving a glimpse at our future if American politics remains this polarized: the Elders, a group of former world leaders — who voiced tart concerns this week about the U.S. president’s refusal to respect the result of a democratic election.
Leading the Conversation
“Since 2016, America’s international reputation has been transformed. No longer the world’s most admired democracy, our political system is more often perceived as uniquely dysfunctional, and our leaders as notably dangerous. Poll after poll shows that respect for America is not just plummeting, but also turning into something very different.’”
“As the 2020 election approached, I kept asking Chenoweth whether, in their expert opinion, American democracy would survive. In response, Chenoweth gave me names of activists to talk to. Mass uprisings may seem like harbingers of chaos, but many civil-resistance scholars argue the opposite: countries with a stronger culture of nonviolent resistance tend to be more equitable and democratic. Chenoweth said, ‘If the systems hold, it will be because organizers held the systems to account.’”
Jill Lepore, at The New Yorker: “Will Trump Burn the Evidence?”
“What might be missing, that day, from file drawers and computer servers at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is difficult to say. But records that were never kept, were later destroyed, or are being destroyed right now chronicle the day-to-day doings of one of the most consequential Presidencies in American history and might well include evidence of crimes, violations of the Constitution, and human-rights abuses. It took a very long time to establish rules governing the fate of Presidential records. Trump does not mind breaking rules and, in the course of a long life, has regularly done so with impunity. The Presidential Records Act isn’t easily enforceable. The Trump Presidency nearly destroyed the United States. Will what went on in the darker corners of his White House ever be known?”
Jonathan Mahler, at The New York Times Magazine: “Can America Restore the Rule of Law Without Prosecuting Trump?”
“The stakes of prosecuting Donald Trump may be high; but so are the costs of not prosecuting him, which would send a dangerous message, one that transcends even the presidency, about the country’s commitment to the rule of law. Trump has presented Biden — and America, really — with a very difficult dilemma. ‘This whole presidency has been about someone who thought he was above the law,’ Anne Milgram, the former attorney general of New Jersey, told me. ‘If he isn’t held accountable for possible crimes, then he literally was above the law.’”
What You Can Do
For an inside update on developments in Wisconsin, join ‘All In Wisconsin—How We Move Forward Together,’ a virtual event TONIGHT at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central, supported by Opportunity Wisconsin, BLOC, Progress North, SEIU Wisconsin, and A Better Wisconsin Together, with special guests U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin & Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes. Sign up here.
Interested in serving as a political appointee in the Biden-Harris administration? The transition team has put up a general application form — view it and submit your qualifications.
Your Moment of Catharsis
Tired of endless, pointless, groundless challenges by cranks who seem to attribute Biden’s victory to the Election Fraud Fairy? So was Wayne County, Mich., Board of Canvassers member Ned Staebler, who had the time on Tuesday night to tell off two colleagues for trying to block certification of Detroit’s votes. This is well worth watching, if you haven’t yet.
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 (*knock on wood*) 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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