How Trump Will Undermine Biden and American Democracy for Years to Come
Everything Trump has done since Election Day suggests the four-year nightmare may ease, but it won’t end. In Hong Kong, Democracy dies; in Peru, anti-corruption president ousted; the pandemic explodes
Highlights in this Issue
The next years of Trump
The pandemic tsunami pushes ashore
Peru’s corruption tragedy
Hong Kong democracy’s last gasp
Trump’s Ugly Exit Foreshadows Dangerous Next Chapter
Fears that the election would be hacked or marred by violence did not materialize, but what has happened since Election Day has in many ways exceeded our worries. President Donald Trump, who lost by a wide margin, refuses to accept the results and has launched a campaign to undermine the credibility of America’s democracy and the legitimacy of President-Elect Joe Biden.
Everything Trump has done in the past week suggests that he will remain a threat to American democracy, undermining Biden at every turn. By stoking his base, telling them he and they have been robbed, he will seek to maintain control of a large segment of the Republican Party. That will allow him to pressure Republican officials who might consider responding positively to Biden’s efforts to forge bipartisanship to tackle the country’s grave crises. Trump will aim to maintain his stranglehold on the party he molded to his wishes, potentially undercutting Biden at every turn.
There’s nothing wrong with demanding that the election results be scrutinized. Legal challenges to vote tallies are frequent. But that’s not what Trump is doing. The President is promoting and amplifying a wild barrage of conspiracy theories to discredit the election, while filing multiple lawsuits backed by scant evidence. He’s blocking Biden from having access to the resources the country normally makes available for the massive, important, transition process, and he is keeping Biden from receiving vital national security information as he prepares to become president.
At the same time, Trump has launched a purge of key government figures, firing the Secretary of Defense along with other top officials at the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security.
The question of whether there was a coup in progress crackled across the country for the first time in living memory. Scholars debated in top newspapers, and social media observers discussed it anxiously. Some wondered if Trump planned to use the military to stay in power.
Incredibly, the country’s top military man found it necessary to quell the fears. In a speech on Wednesday, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chief of staff said words that were shocking merely for having to be said.
"We do not take an oath to a king or a queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual”
Listen to his stern tone; look at his demeanor:
Trump’s relentless counterfactual claims-- "I WON THIS ELECTION BY A LOT!", he tweeted — once again put Republicans officials in a position to choose between their principles and their fear of Trump’s revenge. Almost all of them chose the latter, refusing to publicly acknowledge Biden’s victory, even if they did in private, and by the end of the week started subtly pressing Trump to accept reality.
In the end, Trump will leave. By then, he will have done great harm to the country, as I wrote early in the week, when his alternative-reality campaign was just getting started. Two days after Election Day, I noted, the former chief security officer at Facebook, Alex Stamos, tweeted, "This is the most intense online disinformation event in U.S. history."
As Trump’s lawsuits got nowhere and his disinformation efforts grew more outlandish, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency issued a statement calling the election, “the most secure in American history.”
The world was watching aghast. I wrote about the toll that Trump’s machinations, along with America’s failures in the pandemic, is taking not only on the country’s standing, but also on its ability to support democracy around the world.This brings me to tears. Powerful words by . “It’s hard to remember a time when the US was the object of pity ... the center of the global pandemic, its most fundamental institution, democracy, under attack from none other than the president.”
Trump, reportedly considering a 2024 run, lost the election and he will leave office. But he will not leave the scene. He’ll never admit to his backers that he lost. Polls showed that while 80 percent of Americans say Biden won, 80 percent of Trump voters think he was cheated of victory. He remains their idol. They, his source of power.
Fareed Zakaria, of CNN and the Washington Post, pondered the implications with a dark analogy.
After Germany surrendered at the end of World War I, ultra-right-wing groups concocted the myth that Germany was actually on the verge of winning the war in November 1918 but surrendered because of a conspiracy to destroy the country plotted by certain communists and Jews…. Hitler often raised the topic during his rise to power
Mentioning Hitler is stepping on a minefield. I’m surprised Fareed did.
A cooler, but also disturbing suggestion was made by Princeton Prof. Sean Wilentz. He was paraphrased suggesting that by denying Biden’s legitimacy,
Trump would be trying to establish a center of power distinct from and antagonistic to the legitimately elected national government….a counter-government, administered by tweets, propped up by Fox News or whatever alternative outlet Trump might construct for himself — a kind of Trumpian government in exile, run from Mar a Lago or maybe from wherever else Trump selects to reside in, in order to avoid prosecution...
Americans voted to bring an end to the tumultuous Trump era. He will have to surrender center stage, but he will still crave attention, his oxygen, and power. He will need to fight multiple legal battles, and will seek to monetize his position.
When he steps down, he’s likely to continue shouting, sabotaging Biden’s work, and undermining American democracy.
The Pandemic Tsunami
Even as the world was buoyed by excellent news on the vaccine, the number of new coronavirus cases is skyrocketing across much of the planet. A few countries, New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, South Korea and others in Asia seem to have all but defeated the virus, but in the West, it’s a different story.
European countries have reimposed lockdowns. But it is only in the United States, with the world’s highest number of Covid-19 deaths, where the sitting president tried to convince the public that there’s not much to worry about, persuading a significant segment that taking precautions is the wrong thing to do.
The rate of new U.S. cases has reached an incredible one million per week and climbing. The number of hospitalizations is also at a record high, and although the percentage of infected people who die has plummeted, deaths are also climbing. El Paso, Texas, has brought refrigerated morgue trucks. North Dakota hospitals have reached full capacity and are under so much pressure that the governor said nurses who test positive can keep working. Some hospitals across the country are cancelling elective surgeries.
Experts warn the worst is ahead. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx and CDC, say family gatherings are powering the surge, imploring Americans to rethink Thanksgiving plans, or to be extra cautious, keeping groups outdoors and as small as possible, maintaining distance, and wearing masks as consistently as is manageable. The vaccine will be available to the public sometime next year. Until then, hundreds of thousands more are expected to die in the United States alone.
Amid Pandemic Tragedy in Peru a New Political Crisis
One of the worst affected countries in pandemic, Peru this week suffered yet another blow, this one inflicted by its political class.
Legislators abruptly voted to remove President Martin Vizcarra, declaring him morally unfit, a questionable use of the constitution that many are calling a coup.
Vizcarra, as I wrote in my World Politics Review column, made the fight against corruption the centerpiece of his government – which was scheduled to end in a few months.
Despite the coronavirus, infuriated Peruvians took to the streets to protest the decision, with violent scenes playing out in Lima’s streets.
Peru’s tragedy shows what a strong pushback faces those trying to uproot corruption.
Democracy’s Last Gasp in Hong Kong
- This is a very sad day for and all those who support freedom of speech and liberal democracy. And another reason why international law should be respected. Hong Kong opposition lawmakers all quit after four members ousted
China has been tightening the noose in Hong Kong for years, but we may have just seen the last gasp of its democracy. China broke its promise to allow Hong Kong to maintain its independent system until 1947, part of the agreement it made when it took control of the territory from the United Kingdom.
Police have been arresting prodemocracy figures for months but the final stab came this week, when Beijing’s National People’s Congress ruled that Hong Kong could remove any politician who refused to accept Chinese rule. Immediately, Hong Kong authorities loyal to Beijing removed four opposition legislators. Soon after, 15 others announced they were resining in protest.
Last year, millions of determined Hong Kong residents marched for democracy and then gave huge victories to pro-democracy politicians in local elections. New laws imposed by China muzzled the movement. This week’s events left democracy for dead in Hong Kong.
For more on the global the impact of the U.S. elections, click on this discussion at the annual conference of the Council of the Americas, where I was a panelist along with Susan Glasser of The New Yorker and Michael Barone of the American Enterprise Institute, moderated by Shery Ahn of Bloomberg Television
That’s it for now.
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