The damage Trump is doing by not allowing the transition process to commence is grave.
The scientific evidence so far suggests that coronavirus will be around for some time and we have to learn to live with it. Donald Trump seems to have some similarities with the pandemic. We do not know when he will loosen his grip on America and the world. He is not about to disappear in a specific timeframe. He may mutate into several forms with different intensity of lethality and he may come again to prove all science and astrology wrong.
Even if Trump retracts his determination to have a second term from January 2021, he will not do what his predecessors did, like building a memorial library, writing books and speaking to amass wealth, winning a Nobel Prize like Jimmy Carter by unofficial peacemaking. He will remain in the news as a constant headache to Joe Biden and the Democratic Party and may stage a comeback in 2024. He has stored enough adrenalin in his frame during his presidency that he may live long enough to disprove another theory that junk food is injurious to health. The world has to live with him.
Trump’s vitality springs from the fact that he has won 70 million votes, including the votes of not only the uneducated white supremacists, but blacks, Hispanics, women, billionaires and others. People say that if he had not mishandled the pandemic, he would have won hands down. He had claimed long ago that even if he had shot a man on the Fifth Avenue, his popularity would not decline. We have seen that even with the blood of 240,000 Americans on his hands, 70 million people wanted him to be their President again.
When it was reported that Trump had threatened not to accept the verdict of the election if it was not in his favour and that he might have to be escorted out of the White House on 21 January 2021, it sounded like a cruel joke. Surely, such a scene cannot be witnessed in the citadel, indeed the Mecca, of democracy. But now it looks like a real possibility. The recent MAGA (Make America Great Again) rally of about 10,000 people including the “Proud Boys”, who were asked by Trump to stand by, justified the precaution taken by businesses to board up their doors and windows like in the time of a hurricane. We do not know how long the Trump hurricane will rage, but like all hurricanes, it will cause some damage and then wither away.
The damage he is doing by not allowing the transition process to commence is grave, as by now, Biden should have organised his team to deal with the three pressing emergencies endangering the nation, the pandemic, the economic recession and the racial disharmony. The US Government has a budget of USD 5 trillion, it employs 4 million people and it has 4,000 political appointments to make. Although the work may have started even before the elections by Biden and his team, they are handicapped in the absence of intelligence briefings, funds and access to the overflowing inbox of the new President in the White House. Biden is apparently seeking voluntary funding from the public to set the ball rolling. Trump, who claims to be ultra-nationalistic and patriotic should not cause such havoc to his own country. It is only in banana republics that such things happen, leading to even two Presidents functioning, generally with external support.
It must be clear to Trump by now that recounts or local electoral petitions will not alter the situation and that he has to concede sooner than later that the next President will not be himself. His only hope is that the Supreme Court, filled with his nominees and supporters will find a loophole to open the possibility of a decision not on the basis of popular votes or electoral ballots, but some other constitutional method to keep him in the public housing on Pennsylvania Avenue rather than in a palace near one of his magnificent golf courses.
In fact, there are such constitutional avenues that can turn the course of events as Fareed Zakaria has explained. To summarise Zakaria, if Trump creates unbearable confusion, the state legislatures may cancel elections and decide to choose the electors themselves. Of the nine swing states, eight are Republican and they could send Republican electors. When the Congress convenes on 6 January to tally the electors’ votes, it would be so chaotic that it might happen that the disputed states would not be counted and then neither candidate would get to 270 electoral votes. At that point, the Constitution directs that the House of Representatives’ vote to determine the presidential election. But it does so with each state casting a single vote. If the current numbers hold, there would be 26 Republican and 23 Democratic votes (with one tied), so the outcome would be to re-elect Trump!
The power to prevent such a scenario is in the hands of the Republican Party. Trump started with 1% chance of winning the Republican nomination in 2016, but he ended up hijacking the Party itself and built it in his own image and there was not even a whimper of protest. Not a single Republican voted on any issue including impeachment even though some of them were embarrassed by Trump. This is the time for the Republicans to use a carrot and stick approach to tame Trump and dissuade him from maligning the Grand Old Party by clinging to the chair. We know that Trump fears becoming a former President without any immunity against criminal charges. Several existing cases and many new ones will come up without the kind of a pardon that Richard Nixon obtained from President Gerald Ford. Apart from criminal cases, he may have to pay USD 300 million as taxes alone, according to the New York Times. Whether a pardon can be organised before 20 January or seek the help of President Biden after he assumes office is a million-dollar question.
The carrot that the Republicans can offer to him is the leadership of the Republican Party and a possible nomination for the 2024 elections and the stick will be the threat to dump him if he did not concede the election forthwith. The Party can hold up the highest traditions of democracy and insist that he must follow them even in adversity. It is a recognised fact that the Republican Party will suffer immensely if their President is dragged out of the White House.
The collective sigh of relief heaved by the world on the voting day has gradually changed into a sense of foreboding and anxiety on account of the uncertainties at a time when a consistent, predictable and competent administration should take over the reins of a ravaged nation. The world awaits with bated breath the final outcome which will be just and in accordance with the wishes of the majority, which has spoken loudly and clearly. Trump will do himself and the world a great service if he becomes a loyal opposition leader rather than a pretender.
T.P. Sreenivasan is a former Ambassador, who served in different diplomatic posts in the US for ten years.