Thursday, November 19, 2020

American Democracy Dodges a Bullet by not Reelecting Trump

I was hoping to write this 4 years ago. Wanted to say what a relief it was that America had dodged a bullet by not electing Donald Trump as president after all of his disgusting behavior during the 2016 campaign. But it didn't turn out that way.

Like many Americans, I was in shock and in grief. I wondered what terrible things would happen to America with him in charge. But we had to accept reality. I tried to console myself with the belief that all of the outrageous behavior was just shtick and once the immense responsibility of being the leader of the free world was placed on his shoulders, he would start to take the job seriously and begin to govern like any normal president. But that didn't happen either.

As I expressed in my previous posting, Trump was not really interested in becoming the president when he ran. Instead he was using the campaign as a way to promote his brands. And indeed, according to a number of observers, he did not expect to win the election. But that did happen.

Normally, one runs for public office with the intent of serving your fellow citizens. But being such a narcissist, Trump was only interested in how holding office could financially benefit him and his family. He certainly didn't work hard at his job. He poked fun at President Obama for what he believed was the excessive amount of golf he played while in office. He said that he would be so busy with his new job that he wouldn't have time to play golf. But that again, didn't happen either. His time was occupied by prodigious amounts of golf, along with TV watching, rallies in front of his adoring fans - and all of those tweets.

Incumbent presidents don't lose very often. They have built in advantages of their incumbency including non-stop exposure of everything they utter or in this case everything he tweets. After all, the media reasons that if it comes from the president, it's news. Speaking of media, it doesn't hurt to have such a widely followed outlet like Fox News to dependably offer its reliably supporting views. Indeed it has been speculated that if Richard Nixon had Fox News back then, he might well have survived the rest of his term instead of having to resign.

Indeed, just doing even a mediocre job probably would have been good enough to ensure reelection. With the economy and the stock market (not necessarily the same thing) doing well, Trump believed this would be his ticket to reelection. But that didn't happen. The pandemic turned our world (and his) upside down. After getting intelligence in January about a possible pandemic coming to our shores, he downplayed it for 2 months until March before finally sounding a public alarm over it. He tried to say that he didn't know how serious it was at the time. But his interview with Bob Woodward on tape verified in no uncertain terms that he was well aware of how deadly this virus was. His feeble excuse was that he purposely downplayed the threat because he didn't want us to panic over it. But that did happen.

It could be said that the pandemic robbed Trump of the opportunity to win reelection. But the other way of looking at it was that the pandemic was an opportunity to show what he could do to save us from much of the suffering and death. If he indeed had made a good faith effort to fight the pandemic and kept its worst effects from harming us, a grateful nation would have surely rewarded him with a second term. But that didn't happen. 

Trump's opponent in this year's election, Joe Biden correctly surmised that Trump's mishandling of the coronavirus would be the number one deal breaker that would sway voters his way. So he relentlessly kept the conversation on the coronavirus and the over 200,000 resulting American deaths. Keeping Trump on defense turned out to be perhaps his most effective strategy that led to his victory.

For those like me (among many) who had a strong dislike of Trump, there was a hope of repudiation, a crushing victory that would embarrass Trump and his Republican enablers. It looked like a record voter turnout was in the works. And the conventional wisdom is that large turnouts benefit Democrats. But indeed, many of Trump's supporters also turned out. While Biden's supporters can brag that with over 79 million votes, he got more votes than any presidential candidate in American history, Trump got over 73 million votes (more than in 2016) to claim the second highest number of votes in American history. (vote totals from Wikipedia)

Democratic partisans like me believed flipping the Senate to Democratic control was just as important as winning the presidency. And the polls said that this was likely. But the pollsters had an embarrassing night. Biden did win Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania as predicted but the polls had Biden as a prohibitive favorite in Wisconsin and Michigan which turned out to be nail biters. Instead of grabbing at least 4 Republican Senate seats as expected, the Democrats could only win 2. But because the 2 Senate seats up for grabs in Georgia weren't captured with a majority vote, Georgia's election laws mandated that these will be contested as runoff elections on January 5, each race with the top two finishers. Democrats will have to win both races to capture control of the Senate while Republicans only need 1 in a traditionally Republican state (Biden's slim victory in Georgia notwithstanding). At least it's one more bite of the apple which is better than no chance at all.

For the party losing the presidency, the story will be that Republicans need to control at least the Senate to keep all of those crazies on the left from taking over and our country going to hell. But the first 2 years of the Trump Administration enjoyed control of both the Senate and the House. If people elected Joe Biden based on what he promised, it would be nice if he had a similar advantage that Trump had in his first two years. But this will be decided by the voters of Georgia.

If as expected, Republicans maintain control of the Senate, Biden's prospects of a productive presidency will be under the control of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Even if some moderate Republicans can be persuaded to support some of Biden's measures, McConnell has absolute control over what goes to the floor for a vote. At its worst, Biden can have not only his legislation blocked but also his judges and even cabinet picks!

McConnell was famous for his vow to make Barack Obama a one term president by blocking as much as he could. Obama did win a second term but McConnell successfully blocked his Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland. The only reason for hope is that Biden and McConnell are longtime friends from Biden's Senate days. Maybe Biden can reason with him. But so far, it's not off to a good start with McConnell still denying Biden's victory to please Trump.

But there are a lot of good things that Biden can accomplish in spite of McConnell.  Many of Trump's reversals of Obama policies were done by executive order instead of legislation. The downside to this is that Biden can reverse all of those in short order. Replacing Trump cronies with competent people would be a major step in the right direction. Getting rid of Attorney General Barr along with seeing Jared and Ivanka go (among many others) will bring a smile to my face. And when it comes to foreign policy, the President has a much freer hand. What will Putin along with all of those other dictators do without a buddy in the White House?

It wasn't surprising that Trump didn't concede the presidency to Biden. Before the election, Trump said there were only 2 possibilities for the election - either he wins or the election was stolen. And back in 2016 when it appeared that Hillary Clinton was going to win, Trump was making similar noises about not accepting the result - unless he won, of course.

Normally, the losing candidate not conceding isn't too big of a deal. Concession or not, Biden will occupy the White House on January 20. And after noon that day, Trump becomes a trespasser which means that in the unlikely event he insists on staying, the Secret Service now working for Joe Biden will escort him off the premises.

But these are far from normal times. With the pandemic now spreading widely and new vaccines coming over the horizon, Biden's team needs to get involved in how Trump's team is managing the pandemic, even in their limited amount. More important, the logistics of distributing the vaccine will be enormous. Although the preliminary distribution of the vaccine will likely occur in the last month of the Trump Administration, the overwhelming number of vaccines will be distributed by the incoming Biden Administration. As Biden said in recent remarks, if he can't hit the ground running after taking over, there may well be a significant delay in many getting the vaccine which means "more people may die".

Hopefully, this delay won't last too much longer. It appears that more and more of the Republican enablers surrounding Trump are starting to acknowledge the reality of the Biden victory. Now Trump is starting to acknowledge reality now saying in effect that "He won because of a rigged election". The various states will be certifying their results later this month with the Electoral College making things official next month. When this happens, the argument that there is some way to overturn the state results becomes little more than fantasy - even for most of Trump's enablers. But the unfortunate result is that there will be a significant number of Trump's followers who will continue to believe that Biden is not the legitimate president. I'm sure there are some hard core Trump supporters who still believe that Obama wasn't a legitimate president because of their belief that he wasn't born in America.

Perhaps the best indication of Trump coming around to reality are reports that he has privately talked about running again in 2024. There are also reports of his interest in starting another right-wing network perhaps to compete with Fox News who has been a loyal supporter of his through the years. But as we all know, loyalty with Trump only goes one way.

The smart money says that Trump will be spending a lot of time and money trying to stay out of prison once he becomes a private citizen no longer enjoying immunity from prosecution.

One of the more significant potential legal threats Trump could face is from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who opened an investigation more than a year ago into Trump’s personal and business finances.

The case started over payments to women who had alleged affairs with Trump, that he later denied through a White House spokesperson.

New York Attorney General Letitia James separately announced in August that she was investigating whether Trump and the Trump Organization improperly manipulated the value of certain assets to secure loans and obtain tax benefits to which they otherwise would not have been entitled.

Two things are worth noting here. First, Trump's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen testified about these alleged crimes to Congress before Cohen himself had to serve prison time for his role in these offenses. He may well be used as a witness for the prosecution. Second, although it may be politically unpalatable for the federal government to prosecute Trump, these charges originate from the state of New York and are not subject to any federal pardons that Trump may have in mind. 

So while America did not dodge the bullet of Trump's election back in 2016, it dodged a more destructive bullet in not reelecting Trump in 2020. Over the last 4 years, Trump has gained tremendous control of the government starting with making Attorney General Barr his personal attorney to his wholesale replacing of government positions often with incompetents whose only qualifications were loyalty to Trump. All of this with the blessing of mostly all Republicans in Congress meant that our democracy continuing under Trump's iron grip of control was starting to become unrecognizable. Democracy has slipped away from other countries around the world. Hopefully, we will never take our democracy for granted ever again!

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