So Donald Trump is intent on leaving Washington the way he arrived, slithering, blithering, blathering, blundering, a big frumious Bandersnatch snapping at everything in his path, taking his last few because-I-can bites out of the Constitution, and by the way not letting 1,500 American deaths every day deter him in the slightest from obsessively ironing out the kinks in that backswing.
It’s a sickening sight, and it’s worse than that—for all the damage Trump has done to democracy and polity in the last 1,400-odd days, he threatens to do even more in his remaining 50-odd days, in at least four ways. Let us examine them.
One with a bullet is his continued carrying on about “election fraud.” It’s impossible for us to gauge right now how much damage this is going to do to our democracy, because these things happen year by year, drip by drip. But he and the right-wing media have got something like seven in 10 Republicans to believe that this election wasn’t fair. It won’t take long for them to generalize that to every election—or at least every one that doesn’t turn out the way they want.
From there, unless someone on the Republican side reverses this toxic slide, it’s only a matter of time until we can’t have elections whose outcomes we all respect. There’s still plenty of time to drag out the process some more. Dec. 8 is the date by which states must have all election disputes settled, which gives Rudy and his idiot sidekick five days to make more mischief. Then, the electors vote on Dec. 14. That would seem to be the end of it, but with these ridiculous people, there never is any end, and so come Jan. 6, when the next House of Representatives officially certifies the results, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama has vowed that he’ll challenge the Electoral College results. Thank God those people don’t control the House. There’d be endless hearings on voter “fraud.”
Two, and related, is his insanely childish posture on the transition and inauguration. This is largely symbolic, so you might say who cares, but I think most Americans care. It was always reassuring to see the outgoing first couple and the incoming first couple stand there on the White House portico together in late November. Of course it felt better to me in 1992 and 2008 than in 2000 and 2016, because in the first two years people I voted for were coming it and people I voted against were shipping out.
But even in the out years, there is something majestic about that visual, and about the outgoing president welcoming the new president to the White House on Inauguration Day to limo down to the Capitol with him. It signaled that, for all our problems, we are in the democratic big leagues; we invented this beautiful and kinda moving tradition.
And as awful as it was to watch Trump prepare to assume the presidency, Obama’s graciousness toward Trump, America’s #1 birther, was respectful of that tradition: “I committed to President-elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me, because it's up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face.”
For the record, Trump will become only the fourth president to refuse to attend his successor’s inauguration, and the first in 152 years. Andrew Johnson, possibly the worst human being besides Trump to hold the presidency, did not lose to Ulysses Grant (he lost the Democratic nomination), but he despised him. Grant despised him back, but it was the petulant Johnson who gave the brush-off. Ever since, outgoing presidents, even humiliated ones like Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, have performed their democratic duty.
Trump’s refusal to do so sets one more nasty precedent that future Republicans may well follow, lest Fox or Newsmax excommunicate them. And the idea that he’s going to hold a counter-rally on Inauguration Day? It’s an incomprehensible fuck you to our democratic traditions. I know just where he should hold it, though. A little town in east central Pennsylvania, one of the states he lost but keeps insisting he won, called Nuremberg.
Number three is this talk of prophylactic pardons, for Giuliani and his three eldest children and his son-in-law and even himself. While these are technically constitutional and legal, they would amount to a kind of legal obstruction of justice if indeed any of the above-named are being investigated (and we know Rudy is).
This is not within a million miles of what the pardon power was initially thought to be for. To Alexander Hamilton, the main reason for giving the “Chief Magistrate” the power to pardon was that “in seasons of insurrection or rebellion, there are often critical moments, when a well-timed offer of pardon to the insurgents or rebels may restore the tranquility of the commonwealth.” George Mason, whose name today ironically enough sits on the crest of a university that has fashioned itself into a hotbed of Trumpy pseudo-intellectualism, opposed the power. It was as if Mason had Trump himself in mind when he objected that a president with such power “may frequently pardon crimes which were advised by himself.”
Trump has already issued pardons and commutations designed to save his own hide, notably to Roger Stone. If he issues new ones to his personal attorney, his family members or himself, it will set a hideous precedent that other crook-presidents will follow.
Fourth, and this one isn’t exactly a stab at democracy, but it would be an affront to the people, and since the people are the demos, close enough: Will Trump find the time to sign a COVID relief bill while he’s still president? With all these people dying, so many more struggling, through the holidays, no less? There’s a bipartisan $908 billion bill just sitting there. No, it’s not enough, but it’s what they’ve got. Mitch McConnell says it’s too much.
But whatever they come up with, will Trump sign it? Or is his attitude now: Hey, America, not my problem anymore, because you spurned me, even though we all know I really won, but I only say that when I’m complaining, but in this context you spurned me, and I hate you, and I got you your vaccine, and the fact that two of the three existing vaccines had nothing to do with Operation Warp Speed is irrelevant, everyone knows it’s the Trump Vaccine, so you’re on your own?
What a blight. He will be destroying this democracy, brick by brick, until the day he dies.