Biden’s Curious Strategy as Trump Assaults American Democracy
Pres. Trump has launched a frontal attack on the US system of government and on the Biden presidency. Biden's tactical response reveals much about his beliefs, his strategy, and his administration.
Highlights This Week — Scroll Down for:
Biden’s Strategy: Is He Right?
When is the Election Really Final: a Cheat Sheet
Iran and the US: During and After Trump
Venezuela: The Revolution Devours its Own
Ethiopia: a Quick Dash From Nobel Peace Prize to War
Bonus Postscript: Gallows Humor
What We Learn Watching Biden in the Midst of Trump’s Assault
One of the most fascinating aspects of the drama afflicting the United States in recent days has been the way President-elect Joe Biden is reacting to outgoing-President Trump’s unprecedented efforts to overturn the will of the people and take away Biden’s victory.
Trump went from demanding that the vote counting stop, to claiming mail fraud, to arguing that a bizarre international conspiracy had stolen votes from him and given them to Biden - and now to his new strategy, pressuring local Republican officials to disregard the vote and refuse to certify the election results.
It all adds up to the most brazen attack against U.S. democracy from anyone, including America’s enemies, in the country’s history.
The potential impact is more than America’s enemies could ever dream of achieving: American democracy is debased, ridiculed, weakened; the election winner discredited, delegitimized. President-elect Joe Biden, meanwhile, is keeping his cool, sticking to his strategy, pushing forward on urgent governing challenges, while refusing to let anything alter the course he outlined when he announced his candidacy, a commitment to reunifying the country and lowering the temperature of political disagreements.
Even as Trump officials block Biden’s access to resources and information crucial to the smooth and effective transition of power, Biden has concentrated on tackling the country’s crises, while Trump and his allies put on a circus of outlandish conspiracy theories while their legal cases are laughed out of court.
The case, as laid out by Rudy Giuliani, his face dripping with hair dye, had fact-checkers’ heads spinning and late-night comics in stitches.
While Trumpworld relentlessly weaves its alternative reality, corroding the election’s credibility in millions of minds, Biden has appeared in public several times, sternly speaking of grim facts, the spiking pandemic.
His focus is well placed. As Thanksgiving brings millions of social gatherings, one in every 100 Americans is contagious, some 2,000 people are dying every day, many hospitals are full, hospitalizations are at all-time highs, nursing shortages are developing, and new cases are exploding to triple the level of the worst days of the Spring.
Biden says Trump’s sabotage of the transition is going to cost more lives. But he has made it a point to maintain his presidential equanimity, his low-key demeanor, even as the stakes grow exponentially and Trump’s attack on U.S. democracy faces little pushback from Republican officials.
A few Republican officials have spoken out, most pointedly Sen. Mitt Romney. “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President,” said Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate. Most Republicans, however, afraid of Trump, have kept quiet.
In the face of this betrayal of America’s voters, Biden has looked preternaturally calm, although his exasperation has pushed through a few times. Here, for example, he gave a composed yet scathing indictment of Trump without uttering his name:
“What the president’s doing now … it’s going to be another incident where he will go down in history as being one of the most irresponsible presidents in American history.”
When it came to Republicans refusing to stand up to the president – refusing to defend American democracy – Biden has shown a remarkable willingness to forgive. Here’s a moment in Monday’s press conference:
Q: What is your message to Republicans who are backing up the President’s refusal to concede?
Biden: My message is, I will work with you. I understand a lot of your reluctance because of the way the President operates
Here he is Thursday, when he was asked why he doesn’t take legal action against Trump’s obstructionism:
“I’m making a judgment based on many years of experience in how to get things done with the opposition…My judgment is that we’ll get further along by actually working with our Republican colleagues now because the time in which we would win would not materially change necessarily.”
He has held to this approach even as some of the senators he hopes to work with, notably Sen. Lindsey Graham, was accused by Georgia’s secretary of state of pushing him to throw out legally cast votes, a felony. I wrote about the significance and consequences of that appalling development.
I think Biden should push harder against one particular aspect of what Trump is doing. In a separate article, I explained how Trump is poisoning the ground for the Biden presidency. Biden will become president, but a majority of Republicans believe Trump’s lies. I wrote,
“The President-elect is making a mistake by letting Trump use his disinformation weapons to advance this propaganda war. Trump is hurting America and its democracy---and he is undercutting the Biden presidency. Every day he’s allowed to get away with it he makes it more difficult for Biden to mount a successful presidency.”
Calmly, systematically, Biden should counter Trump’s pernicious disinformation campaign.
So far, he has not done that.
Biden is betting that after he takes office, he will be able to subdue the acrimony; persuade Republicans to come together. His belief in a more honorable America, in his ability to revive more responsible, less divisive leadership, will soon be put to the test.
Much rests on whether his bet will pay off.
When is the election final? Election Cheat Sheet
Dec. 8: National deadline for states to choose their electors, the people they send to the Electoral College. Here are the dates for each state leading up to the U.S. deadline. (Georgia certified its election and electors this week.)
Dec. 14: The Electoral College meets to vote on the next president.
Jan. 6: Joint session of Congress officially counts and approves the Electoral College vote.
Jan. 20: Incoming president [Biden] takes office. Outgoing president [Trump] leaves.
Iran Before, During, and After Trump
Ten days after the election, Trump gathered with senior advisers in the Oval Office and, according to multiple reports, he asked them about launching a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. His advisers, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and others, advised strongly against the idea, warning that an attack could easily escalate into a wide war without accomplishing its objectives.
In the waning days of his presidency, Trump is making far-reaching foreign policy moves that are causing alarm around the world.
On Iran, Trump was looking for ways to achieve the worthy goal of defanging Iran’s nuclear program. But the fact that four years into his administration that seemed like the final option, is a sign that his strategy to curb Tehran has failed.
Trump pulled out of the JCPOA, the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration with other members of the international community, and he imposed “maximum pressure” sanctions that crippled the economy and made life harder for ordinary Iranians, but did nothing to limit nuclear production or loosen the regime’s grip on power.
I, for one, viewed the JCPOA as urgently needing strengthening. But Trump’s efforts to bring Iran back to the table and make a better deal failed.
Instead, at the end of the Trump administration, the UN nuclear agency says Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium is 12 times more than the maximum imposed by the JCPOA, with Iran enriching to much greater purity than permitted by the agreement. The news prompted Saudi King Salman to urge the world to take a “decisive stance” to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
The only good news is that the last-minute sanctions against Iran now being imposed by the Trump administration -- meant to tie Biden’s hands -- may instead give Biden more negotiating leverage with Tehran.
Venezuela – The Revolution Devours Its Own
From the unraveling of the French Revolution to the brutal purges of Soviet Russia, the adage that revolutions eat their children, turning against their own, has proven a predictable feature of radicalism. Now, it’s Venezuela’s turn.
The phenomenon is not new in Caracas. A former colleague of mine, a Venezuelan who worked many years ago at CNN, returned to Caracas and became a prominent member of Hugo Chavez’s government. He’s now in exile, persona non-grata to the revolution.
But the trend has accelerated as economic conditions have gone from disastrous to catastrophic. The New York Times has a gripping tale of how:
“After having crushed the political parties opposed to his version of socialism [President Nicolas Maduro] has trained the state’s security apparatus on disillusioned ideological allies, repeating the path taken by leftist autocrats from the Soviet Union to Cuba.”
Venezuela’s calamitous descent, and its people’s suffering, seems to have no end.
Ethiopia: From Nobel Peace Prize to the Edge of Civil War
Keep an eye on what’s happening in Ethiopia, the country that exploded into euphoria when a young man called Abiy Ahmed managed to outmaneuver a repressive regime and propel the nation toward democracy, and now stands at the precipice of war, led by a prime minister fresh from winning the 2019 Nobel Peace prize.
The bubble of optimism has now popped. The Ethiopian military is fighting Tigray, one of the country’s regions, and the conflict could easily escalate. Tens of thousands of refugees have already fled for their lives, and the risks of a much wider national and even regional conflict have the continent on edge.
Interestingly, and perhaps relevant to future international peace efforts, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is from Tigray. He served in the national government when it was dominated by the TPLF.
Here’s my story about the risk of this new conflict from my weekly column in World Politics Review.
That’s it for now.
Welcome to all the new INSIGHT readers. Let me know what you think.
Until next time. To my American friends, have a great Thanksgiving, but please be careful!
Stay healthy; stay informed; stay engaged.
P.S.- Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera praised Trump for his pandemic performance. I recommend this bittersweet, sardonic, gallows-humor response from MSNBC’s Brian Williams.
Holly Figueroa O'Reilly @AynRandPaulRyanLove that people are just now noticing how good Brian Williams is at reaming Trump. He's been really good at it for a really long time but this is some next level shit. 😂 https://t.co/hBRIeF1TYH