After Thanks

Before everything closed down, here in Hollywood, the Hooters across the street from the Chinese Theater had that sign in the window – this was Steelers Headquarters out here. And down in San Pedro, at the harbor, there was Iron City – a Pittsburgh bar that did serve Iron City Beer. That may be shut down now too. Those of us from Pittsburgh who somehow, like Gene Kelly and Henry Mancini and all the others, ended up out here, were out of luck. But it was Thanksgiving. There was football. Each year it’s always the Detroit Lions. They lost. And then Dallas lost a crap-game to Washington. They’re both awful this year. But the undefeated Steelers were to play the nasty Baltimore Ravens in the third game, in prime time, in Pittsburgh. That would be cool. And then they called it off – maybe half of the Ravens team has tested positive for the Covid virus. Those of us from Pittsburgh had a bad Thanksgiving.

No, everyone had a bad Thanksgiving. The Washington Post captured that well enough:

Americans endured a gloomy Thanksgiving on Thursday, as coronavirus cases continued to surge while questions swirled about how to interpret results from a top vaccine candidate.

Despite pleas from top government leaders and scientists for Americans to scale back Thanksgiving gatherings this year, it appeared that a large number still tried to gather with loved ones.

The Transportation Security Administration reported that nearly 1.1 million people passed through airport security checkpoints Wednesday, the agency’s highest screening volume since March 16.

And no good will come of that:

As many as 50 million Americans will have been on the move by the end of the weekend, raising concerns that coronavirus cases will continue to flare in the coming weeks.

With some states and big cities suspending reporting of new cases for the holiday, many medical experts predict that the country will not know until next week just how rapidly the virus is spreading. By Thursday evening, however, the United States had already reported more than 127,000 new cases and more than 1,300 additional deaths from those locations that continued to report data.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the nation topped 2,000 deaths for the first time since May 6. Wednesday was the 33rd consecutive day the United States set a record in its seven-day average of reported cases, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. Nearly 90,000 people are in hospitals with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, another record.

In many cities there are now no ICU beds available for anyone. Don’t have a heart attack. And this will get worse. And then there are our leaders:

President Trump mostly kept quiet amid the deepening crisis on Thanksgiving, except to applaud the 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision that blocked limits on religious worship services in coronavirus hot spots that had been imposed by New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D).

“HAPPY THANKSGIVING,” Trump wrote on Twitter early Thursday while referencing the court decision, which was reached after new Justice Amy Coney Barrett sided with four other conservative justices.

That was for his base. Evangelicals love this. No public health orders apply to them now. They can jam hundreds of their folks into small halls for hours and forbid that anyone wear a mask or any of that stuff. They have their religious freedom to do that and Trump made that possible, with his third judge just for them. Now no one can tell them what they can or cannot do. The ruling was narrower than that but they gave thanks anyway, and the rest was just Trump being Trump:

Later in the day, Trump issued a Thanksgiving proclamation that compared Americans’ battle against the virus to adversity that European settlers faced 400 years ago.

“We have leveraged our strengths to make significant breakthroughs that will end this crisis,” the White House statement said, referring to “groundbreaking therapeutics and life-saving vaccines.”

We won this! The other guy disagreed:

President-elect Joe Biden, meanwhile, released a video in which he and his wife, Jill, called on Americans to stick close to home during the holiday. The Bidens also called on the nation to remember the more than 262,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.

“We might not be able to join our hands around a table with our loved ones, but we can come together as a nation,” the president-elect said. “I know better days are coming.”

But on Thursday, confusion and new questions persisted about the vaccine that pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is developing with the University of Oxford, which is viewed as one of three early candidates for FDA approval.

AstraZeneca may have to start their safety and effectiveness trials all over again. It’s complicated, but the situation isn’t complicated:

One model used by the CDC projects a death toll of more than 3,000 people a day by the third week of December, when the nation is likely to eclipse 300,000 total deaths since the pandemic began.

The nation’s governors have cited the rising death toll – and concerns about a critical shortage of hospital intensive care beds – as one reason they are issuing new orders to try to slow the spread of the virus.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) took the unusual step of shutting down liquor sales in bars and restaurants the night before Thanksgiving, effectively eliminating one of the biggest bar nights of the year.

And this isn’t over:

On Thursday morning, Cuomo blasted the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority for ruling against his restrictions on religious gatherings, even as he stressed that the ruling is not a final legal decision because the matter will be passed down to an appeals court.

“I think this was really just an opportunity for the court to express its philosophy and politics. It doesn’t have any practical effect,” Cuomo said. “I fully respect religion, and if there’s a time in life when we need it, the time is now, but we want to make sure we keep people safe at the same time.”

That may be the only issue now:

The annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was broadcast nationally, although the parade was confined to just one block and some of the show was taped beforehand.

There were no visible spectators, but the parade ended with the traditional arrival of Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus.

Santa did not wear a mask, while Mrs. Claus waved to the camera while wearing a face covering.

And then Thanksgiving was over. The president moved on. He actually appeared in public. He actually answered questions. The New York Times’ Michael Crowley covered that:

President Trump said on Thursday that he would leave the White House if the Electoral College formalized Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s election as president, even as he reiterated baseless claims of fraud that he said would make it “very hard” to concede.

Taking questions from reporters for the first time since Election Day, Mr. Trump also threw himself into the battle for Senate control, saying he would soon travel to Georgia to support Republican candidates in two runoff elections scheduled there on Jan. 5.

When asked whether he would leave office in January after the Electoral College cast its votes for Mr. Biden on Dec. 14 as expected, Mr. Trump replied: “Certainly I will. Certainly, I will.”

He will? That was the big news. But maybe he didn’t really mean that:

Speaking in the Diplomatic Room of the White House after a Thanksgiving video conference with members of the American military, the president insisted that “shocking” new evidence about voting problems would surface before Inauguration Day. “It’s going to be a very hard thing to concede,” he said, “because we know that there was massive fraud.”

But even as he continued to deny the reality of his defeat, Mr. Trump also seemed to acknowledge that his days as president were numbered.

“Time is not on our side,” he said, in a rare admission of weakness.

Ah, okay, it’s all up in the air, but do NOT interrupt his musings and ask for clarification:

The president was also strikingly testy at one point, lashing out at a reporter who interjected during one of several of his rambling statements about the supposedly fraudulent election.

“You’re just a lightweight,” Mr. Trump snapped, raising his voice and pointing a finger in anger. “Don’t talk to me that – don’t talk – I’m the president of the United States. Don’t ever talk to the president that way.”

Yes, meditative and humble Thanksgiving was over, and he had Georgia on his mind:

It is unclear how helpful Mr. Trump’s appearances would be for the two embattled Republican incumbents. After a hand recount of a close vote, Georgia declared Mr. Biden the winner there on Nov. 19 by a margin of 12,284 votes. Mr. Biden is the first Democrat to carry the state in a presidential election since Bill Clinton in 1992.

Mr. Trump insisted on Thursday that he had won the vote by a significant margin. “We were robbed. We were robbed,” he said. “I won that by hundreds of thousands of votes. Everybody knows it.”

They do? Where are these people who know that? He may be referring to Vladimir Putin, the only world leader who says Trump might win this thing yet, and probably will. Remember Helsinki. He trusts Putin’s judgment, but even if he loses, he can still sneer at Biden:

Asked whether he would attend Mr. Biden’s inauguration, as is customary for a departing president, Mr. Trump was coy.

“I don’t want to say that yet,” the president said, adding, “I know the answer, but I just don’t want to say.”

But he would say this:

At times, Mr. Trump shifted his explanation of his defeat from claims of fraud to complaints that the political battlefield had been slanted against him, casting the news media and technology companies as his enemies.

“If the media were honest and big tech was fair, it wouldn’t even be a contest,” he said. “And I would have won by a tremendous amount.”

After seeming to concede reality, Mr. Trump quickly caught himself and revised his conditional statement.

“And I did win by a tremendous amount,” he added.

He’s a having a rough time with this, and Politico reports on how his rough time is screwing things up in Georgia:

President Donald Trump’s demonization of mail-in voting may have cost him votes in the recent election. Now, his demonization of Georgia’s entire electoral system is hurting his party’s chances at keeping the Senate.

Driven by Trump’s insistence that Georgia’s elections are indelibly rife with fraud, conspiratorial MAGA figures are calling for a boycott of the two Senate runoff races, slated for Jan. 5, that will determine which party controls the upper chamber.

Their reason: The two GOP candidates, Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, are not only insufficiently pro-Trump, they may be complicit in Georgia’s electoral fraud.

They took his anger and ran with it:

On Twitter and its less-restrictive alternative Parler, Trump’s more hardline followers have linked the duo to the president’s favorite – and untrue – voter-fraud theories. Hashtags like #CrookedPerdue and #CrookedKelly are flying around. The two lawmakers’ Parler accounts are brimming with posts accusing them of being secret “liberal DemoRats.”

And if that’s what Loeffler and Perdue are, these Trump people will hand the Senate to the Democrats for at least the next two years:

Although Trump pledged Thursday to visit the state in early December, the tensions symbolize the broader fights likely to erupt as Trump’s presidency dwindles. Trump was always an insurgent figure who grafted his loyal base onto the GOP. Once Trump is no longer the top elected Republican, that base may simply follow him wherever he goes – attacking anyone who shows daylight with Trump, spinning up “evidence” for Trump’s preferred conspiracies and, as in Georgia, boycotting the political system as punishment for betraying their leader.

Democrats everywhere were smiling, and the Washington Post adds more detail:

Sen. David Perdue was encouraging a crowd at a gun club south of Atlanta to support him and fellow Republican Kelly Loeffler in their bids for Georgia’s Senate seats, which he called the only thing standing between America and “a radical socialist agenda.”

But five minutes into the senator’s speech, a man interrupted.

“What are you doing to help Donald Trump and this fraud case?” the man screamed, as one woman said “Amen” and the crowd applauded. “What are you doing to stop what’s been going on here and this election fraud?”

Trump really has screwed this up:

Trump and his allies have repeatedly, and falsely, accused Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, both Republicans, of presiding over a fraudulent election. Trump has pushed the baseless claim that the Dominion Voting Systems machines used in Georgia were rigged as part of a global conspiracy, and Perdue and Loeffler have called for Raffensperger’s resignation.

But therein lies the conundrum: Perdue and Loeffler are traveling the state pleading with Republican voters to turn out on Jan. 5 – effectively asking Trump supporters to put their faith in the same voting system their president claims was manipulated to engineer his defeat.

The only thing now is to hope Trump becomes the forgotten man:

Republican strategists say they hope some of tensions will fade in the weeks before the runoff, giving the party time to air enough attacks to tarnish the Democrats. They say Georgia remains a conservative state with a history of runoff campaigns going the GOP’s way. And the absence of Trump on the ballot could help win back suburban voters who rejected his style but still want to support conservatives.

That’s possible, but for the Trump Hard Core. They will always be a problem now. Maybe they were always a problem. This may be structural. David Brooks address that, citing the work of Jonathan Rauch, and offering this:

Every society has an epistemic regime, a marketplace of ideas where people collectively hammer out what’s real. In democratic, non-theocratic societies, this regime is a decentralized ecosystem of academics, clergy members, teachers, journalists and others who disagree about a lot but agree on a shared system of rules for weighing evidence and building knowledge.

Cool, but that has been split in two:

Over the past decades the information age has created a lot more people who make their living working with ideas, who are professional members of this epistemic process. The information economy has increasingly rewarded them with money and status. It has increasingly concentrated them in ever more prosperous metro areas.

While these cities have been prospering, places where fewer people have college degrees have been spiraling down: flatter incomes, decimated families, dissolved communities.

And that’s asking for trouble:

People need a secure order to feel safe. Deprived of that, people legitimately feel cynicism and distrust, alienation and anomie. This precarity has created, in nation after nation, intense populist backlashes against the highly educated folks who have migrated to the cities and accrued significant economic, cultural and political power…

In the fervor of this enmity, millions of people have come to detest those who populate the epistemic regime, who are so distant, who appear to have it so easy, who have such different values, who can be so condescending. Millions not only distrust everything the “fake news” people say, but also the so-called rules they use to say them.

People in this precarious state are going to demand stories that will both explain their distrust back to them and also enclose them within a safe community of believers. The evangelists of distrust, from Donald Trump to Alex Jones to the followers of QAnon, rose up to give them those stories and provide that community.

These people found a voice, or many voices, and now the trouble is here:

For those awash in anxiety and alienation, who feel that everything is spinning out of control, conspiracy theories are extremely effective emotional tools. For those in low status groups, they provide a sense of superiority: I possess important information most people do not have. For those who feel powerless, they provide agency: I have the power to reject “experts” and expose hidden cabals. As Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School points out, they provide liberation: If I imagine my foes are completely malevolent, then I can use any tactic I want.

What to do? You can’t argue people out of paranoia. If you try to point out factual errors, you only entrench false belief.

What to do? Brooks suggests “reducing the social chasm between the members of the epistemic regime and those who feel so alienated from it.” How? He doesn’t say. He does say that “making life more secure for those without a college degree” might help. Rebuilding trust might help but admits that’s the work of a generation. Trump will be gone sooner or later, but he won’t be gone anytime soon.

That’s how Trump set things up. Adam Liptak explains that:

A few minutes before midnight on Wednesday, the nation got its first glimpse of how profoundly President Trump had transformed the Supreme Court.

Just months ago, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was at the peak of his power, holding the controlling vote in closely divided cases and almost never finding himself in dissent. But the arrival of Justice Amy Coney Barrett late last month, which put a staunch conservative in the seat formerly held by the liberal mainstay, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, meant that it was only a matter of time before the chief justice’s leadership would be tested.

On Wednesday, Justice Barrett dealt the chief justice a body blow. She cast the decisive vote in a 5-to-4 ruling that rejected restrictions on religious services in New York imposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to combat the coronavirus, shoving the chief justice into dissent with the court’s three remaining liberals.

Those awash in anxiety and alienation got what they wanted:

The ruling was at odds with earlier ones in cases from California and Nevada issued before Justice Ginsburg’s death in September. Those decisions upheld restrictions on church services by 5-to-4 votes, with Chief Justice Roberts in the majority. The New York decision said that Mr. Cuomo’s strict virus limits – capping attendance at religious services at 10 people in “red zones” where risk was highest, and at 25 in slightly less dangerous “orange zones” – violated the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion.

And then virus limits were gone, for a start:

Wednesday’s ruling was almost certainly a taste of things to come. While Justice Ginsburg was alive, Chief Justice Roberts voted with the court’s four-member liberal wing in cases striking down a restrictive Louisiana abortion law, blocking a Trump administration initiative that would have rolled back protections for young immigrants known as Dreamers, refusing to allow a question on citizenship to be added to the census and saving the Affordable Care Act.

Had Justice Barrett rather than Justice Ginsburg been on the court when those cases were decided, the results might well have flipped. In coming cases, too, Justice Barrett will almost certainly play a decisive role. Her support for claims of religious freedom, a subject of questioning at her confirmation hearings and a theme in her appellate decisions, will almost certainly play a prominent role.

Those awash in anxiety and alienation have captured the Supreme Court:

Chief Justice Roberts is fundamentally conservative, and his liberal votes have been rare. But they reinforced his frequent statements that the court is not a political body. The court’s new and solid conservative majority may send a different message.

That is just what it did:

The decision represented something of a Thanksgiving gift for Catholic and Orthodox Jewish leaders, who had blasted Mr. Cuomo’s rules as a profound and unfair restriction on the freedom of religion.

“I have said from the beginning the restrictions imposed by Governor Cuomo were an overreach that did not take into account the size of our churches or the safety protocols that have kept parishioners safe,” Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said on Thursday morning, noting that Catholics had adhered to coronavirus safety protocols at Mass since the virus first emerged in New York in March.

Which coronavirus safety protocols? Any safety protocols that his administration offers Trump says are useless. And safety protocols that any state offers Trump says are tyranny – people should “take back” their states and his folks show up with guns.

But maybe it doesn’t matter:

Mr. Cuomo insisted that the decision “doesn’t have any practical effect” because the restrictions on religious services in Brooklyn, as well as similar ones in Queens and the city’s northern suburbs, were eased after positive test rates in those areas declined.

The case’s immediate impact was narrow, setting aside two specific restrictions on attendance at houses of worship – regardless of denomination – that Mr. Cuomo enacted in early October. Those rules were put in place after a surge of cases in several Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, Queens and two suburban counties.

Mr. Cuomo maintains that those outbreaks have since been brought under control, in large part by the measures that the court struck down.

But those awash in anxiety and alienation will never believe that. You can’t argue people out of paranoia. You can’t argue people out of anything now. Thanksgiving really was over. There may never be another.

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The Politics of Doubt

Think like an English teacher. Hamlet is useless. He mopes around. His father is dead. His mother remarried his father’s brother and something seems wrong. Did the two of them bump off his father for political reasons, to take over the kingdom, or sexual reasons, because they had the hots for each other and needed his father dead and gone? Hamlet isn’t sure, but what can he do about any of this anyway? He gets whiney-suicidal. To be, or nor to be – he’s not sure – and then his father’s ghost pops up. Enough of this moping. Do something, kid! So, the kid confronts his mother, but it’s all talk. Wait! There’s someone hiding behind the curtain! And then Hamlet does perhaps the first impulsive thing he’s done in in his life. He suddenly stabs whoever it is, through the curtain, and it’s the old busybody Polonius, now quite suddenly quite dead. That’s where everything changes. He stops moping and whining. He did something. And this unplugs the action. He can do what needs to be done. Yes, everyone dies in the end, but Hamlet gets the job done. He just needed to get unstuck. It’s hard, but it can be done. Do something. Move on.

And this was the day the nation moved on:

After weeks of delay, uncertainty and lawsuits, President-elect Joe Biden’s team plunged Tuesday into a formal transition, with Biden aides beginning to meet with agency officials in preparation for a head-snapping Trump-to-Biden shift throughout the vast federal bureaucracy.

Uncertainty remains over how much cooperation the Biden team will get from Trump’s political appointees – some of whom are embracing the false notion that the president could somehow still win reelection – as Biden hopes to rebuild a demoralized federal workforce and prepare it to implement his drastically different agenda.

But Tuesday marked a clear shift from delay to action.

Democrats no longer moped. Republicans no longer sneered. Everyone moved on, but of course that couldn’t be true. Jacob Pramuk reports on those still stuck:

Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. Nearly every supporter of President Donald Trump thinks otherwise, according to a new CNBC/Change Research poll.

As the president makes unsubstantiated claims about electoral malfeasance and sows doubts about vote tallies, only 3% of Trump voters surveyed said they accept Biden’s victory as legitimate, the survey released Monday found. A staggering 73% of respondents consider Trump the legitimate winner. Another 24% said they are not sure.

A mere 3% of Trump voters believe he should concede to Biden and start the peaceful transfer of power. Another 31% want the president to fight in court until states certify results. Two-thirds, or 66%, think Trump should never concede.

This is a problem:

The findings will have little practical effect on the president-elect Biden’s path to taking office on Jan. 20. He will win the White House with 306 electoral votes, according to NBC News, flipping the states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona along the way. The Trump campaign has repeatedly lost in court as it fails to show irregularities affected the results, and a hand count of votes in Georgia reaffirmed Biden’s victory.

But the poll underscores the potentially bigger harm Trump’s lies about the vote tallies have done to public faith in the electoral process. The president appears to have convinced many of his supporters he lost unfairly, even as state officials and judges have repeatedly shot down claims of fraud and wrongdoing.

Elections are now a joke. Don’t trust anything about them. But wait. That means that America is now a joke. Don’t trust anything about America? Do they believe this man? It seems that they do:

Loyalty to Trump runs deep among the respondents. Asked with whom they would identify if the president left the GOP, 72% responded Trump’s party, while 28% answered the Republican Party.

The New York Times’ Alexander Burns looks into this:

As President Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election have steadily disintegrated, the country appears to have escaped a doomsday scenario in the campaign’s epilogue: Since Nov. 3, there have been no tanks in the streets or widespread civil unrest, no brazen intervention by the judiciary or a partisan state legislature. Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s obvious victory has withstood Mr. Trump’s peddling of conspiracy theories and his campaign of groundless lawsuits.

In the end – and the postelection standoff instigated by Mr. Trump and his party is truly nearing its end – the president’s attack on the election wheezed to an anticlimax. It was marked not by dangerous new political convulsions but by a letter from an obscure Trump-appointed bureaucrat, Emily W. Murphy of the General Services Administration, authorizing the process of formally handing over the government to Mr. Biden.

For now, the country appears to have avoided a ruinous breakdown of its electoral system.

Yes, but Burns knows better:

While Mr. Trump’s mission to subvert the election has so far failed at every turn, it has nevertheless exposed deep cracks in the edifice of American democracy and opened the way for future disruption and perhaps disaster. With the most amateurish of efforts, Mr. Trump managed to freeze the passage of power for most of a month, commanding submissive indulgence from Republicans and stirring fear and frustration among Democrats as he explored a range of wild options for thwarting Mr. Biden.

He never came close to achieving his goal: Key state officials resisted his entreaties to disenfranchise huge numbers of voters, and judges all but laughed his legal team out of court.

But he came close enough:

Ben Ginsberg, the most prominent Republican election lawyer of his generation, said he doubted any future candidates would attempt to replicate Mr. Trump’s precise approach, because it has been so unsuccessful. Few candidates and election lawyers, Mr. Ginsberg suggested, would regard Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell – the public faces of Mr. Trump’s litigation – as the authors of an ingenious new playbook.

“If in a few months, we look back and see that this Trump strategy was just an utter failure, then it’s not likely to be copied,” said Mr. Ginsberg, who represented former President George W. Bush in the 2000 election standoff. “But the system was stress-tested as never before.”

That test, he said, revealed enough vague provisions and holes in American election law to make a crisis all too plausible.

The next time the players might not be incompetent, so fix the flaws in the system:

He pointed in particular to the lack of uniform standards for the timely certification of elections by state authorities, and the uncertainty about whether state legislatures had the power to appoint their own electors in defiance of the popular vote. The 2020 election, he said, “should be a call for some consideration of those issues.”

That might be useful:

Barbara J. Pariente, the former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court who oversaw the state-level battle over the 2000 vote, said it was essential for Congress to clarify the process by which elections are conducted and resolved or risk greater calamity in the coming years. Mr. Trump’s team, she said, had already breached fundamental standards of legal conduct by filing cases seeking to throw out huge numbers of votes “without any evidence of impropriety, and then asking a court to look further into it.”

“As I look at what is happening now, I think it’s a real attack on our American system of democracy, and it is causing tens of millions of Americans to doubt the outcome,” Ms. Pariente said. “It has grave implications, in my view, for the future of this country.”

But don’t expect much:

Even if Congress were to impose a clearer set of election procedures, however, there is reason to doubt whether the rules could reverse the total-war mind-set Mr. Trump has modeled. In failure, he has created a road map for his own party – or even, under certain circumstances, for a grievance-laden Democrat – to wage a bitter-end fight against an unfavorable election result, with the support of loud voices in the right-wing media and much of his party’s conservative base.

And it is that last cohort, the millions of voters who remain loyal to Mr. Trump and who appear largely indifferent to the facts of the vote tally and the niceties of legal procedure, that represents the most potent kind of weapon for this defeated president, or another executive who might follow his example.

It seems there are those who love Trump and hate democracy, when it does him dirt:

Shawn Rosenberg, a professor of political and psychological science at the University of California, Irvine, who has written pessimistically about the trajectory of American democracy, said Mr. Trump has been highly effective at exploiting the gap between the complexity of the country’s political system and the more rudimentary grasp most voters have of their government. For the average partisan, he said, issues of political norms and procedures were “very abstract” and far less important than simply winning – an impulse Mr. Trump stoked to the detriment of democratic institutions.

Mr. Rosenberg warned that while Mr. Trump’s political opposition had managed to unseat an incumbent – a rare feat in the nation’s presidential system – the election was not the kind of overwhelming rout that might have proven American democracy “invulnerable” to the kind of erosion on display in newer democracies like Poland and India. That was something of a disappointment to Mr. Trump’s critics on both the left and right, he said.

“Their hope was that he had gone so far that he would awaken this awareness and resolve in the American people,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “And clearly that was not the case for roughly 74 million of them.”

So, everyone is still stuck, which Toluse Olorunnipa and his team at the Washington Post see this way:

When President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20, he will face a fundamental challenge unlike any incoming president before him: Tens of millions of Americans who doubt his legitimacy and question the stability of the country’s democratic traditions – in part because of his predecessor’s unprecedented attempt to set both ablaze before leaving office.

For the past three weeks, as President Trump has refused to concede the election, the federal government, the Trump campaign legal team and whole swaths of the Republican Party have worked in tandem to interfere with the peaceful transition of power.

By lodging baseless claims of voter fraud and embracing – or declining to reject – outlandish conspiracy theories about the electoral process, Trump and his allies have normalized the kind of post-election assault on institutions typically seen in less-developed democracies, according to historians, former administration officials, and lawmakers and diplomats from across the political spectrum.

Ah, we’re banana-republic stuck! Well, we are:

Lingering damage to the U.S. electoral system could be among the most consequential legacies of the Trump presidency, said Michael Chertoff, a homeland security secretary under President George W. Bush.

Trump’s effort to overturn the election results in the days after the race has so far proved unsuccessful, as Biden has moved ahead with hallmarks of a presidential transition such as building a Cabinet. But Chertoff and others said the harm inflicted on the democratic process since Nov. 3 should not be underestimated.

“We’ve now seen a blueprint, which has been road-tested in other parts of the world, being adopted by Donald Trump here in the U.S.,” he said, adding that Trump’s attempts have been ineffective in part because of their clumsiness. “But a more effective and a more skillful want-to-be autocrat could use the same playbook.”

Luckily, Trump was not that good at this sort of thing:

Trump’s GOP allies, despite multiple losses in court, have continued to press their case with the public – making an ever-growing list of specious allegations about fraud involving mail-in ballots, voting machines, signature-matching, late-arriving votes, poll workers in heavily minority cities, foreign interference, dead people casting votes, unbalanced voter rolls, nonresident voters, Sharpie-stained ballots and the traditional tabulation process.

But as Trump has tried unsuccessfully to win over judges and state lawmakers, Biden’s lead has remained secure – and has grown nationally as more ballots have been processed.

Ah, but there are those other people:

Trump’s repeated claims of election rigging have led many of the 74 million people who cast ballots for him to doubt the reliability of the voting process. Even as the transition proceeds – with the General Services Administration announcing late Monday that the administration could begin coordinating with Biden’s incoming team – Trump has continued his onslaught.

“What does GSA being allowed to preliminarily work with the Dems have to do with continuing to pursue our various cases on what will go down as the most corrupt election in American political history?” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “We are moving full speed ahead. Will never concede to fake ballots & ‘Dominion’…”

The claims about vote-changing machines and fraudulent ballots have been repeatedly rejected by judges, local officials and even the president’s own administration. Last week, Trump fired a top Department of Homeland Security official who had vocally dismissed allegations of widespread fraud in the Nov. 3 election.

That didn’t matter to those other people:

The lack of pushback from Republican lawmakers signaled a willingness by them to accept Trump’s post-election denial despite the danger it poses, said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University.

“This is the story of the Trump presidency,” he said. “The GOP not only stood behind the president, regardless of what he did, but even as he used his power to attack the basic element of the democratic process, very few took action.”

And that puts Biden in a bind:

Biden, who has said Trump’s denial of the election results is “embarrassing,” said Tuesday that he is willing to meet with the president.

“Of course, I would, if he asked,” Biden told reporters.

That seems unlikely to happen soon, as Trump and much of his party remain focused on continuing the effort to cast doubt on the election results.

That doubt is dangerous, as Ed Foley notes here:

The danger that America faces is not that the losing candidate will resort to litigation to overturn a clear election result. It’s that a cynical and unpatriotic candidate will deploy litigation as part of a broader political strategy – upping the pressure on state and local election officials, state legislatures, and Congress to negate the outcome.

In fact, litigation turned out to be the weakest part of Trump’s playbook. Since Election Day, courts have proved the most stalwart defenders of democracy. In case after case, in which the Trump campaign or its allies have asked judges to nullify the popular vote for president in a state, federal and state court judges have refused.

The lawsuits were so strained in their reasoning, and so lacking in supporting evidence, that they never seemed designed to achieve conventional courtroom victories. Instead, they seemed intended to cast just enough doubt on the election’s outcome for just long enough to let the political operation to gain traction.

In 2020, the plan backfired. The judicial shellacking of Trump’s fact-free claims gave backbone to these other political actors to withstand Trump’s all-out assault on letting the voters decide whom they wanted in the White House for the next four years.

And yet, it is important to recognize how vulnerable the electoral system remains to this kind of authoritarian pressure.

Trump did, after all, come close:

The core of Trump’s scheme was for state legislatures to appoint electors in defiance of the state’s popular vote. He took the extraordinary step of summoning Michigan legislators to the White House as part of his pressure tactics. They resisted this time, when there wasn’t even a colorable basis for claiming that the popular vote was corrupt. It’s when the pretext is more plausible that we should be really worried.

And then there’s the view from the outside:

Some foreign observers are also struggling to explain the U.S. political drama to their baffled friends and colleagues.

Beyond the usual questions about the electoral college and why anyone cares about the vote in Broward County, Fla., Barry Eidlin, a sociologist at McGill University in Montreal, keeps getting asked whether a country considered the beacon of democracy will have a peaceful transition of power come January.

“This year, it’s gone haywire, sort of on the Bush versus Gore level,” said Eidlin, a dual citizen who splits his time between California and Quebec. “It’s been a source of puzzlement and bewilderment. It’s on the level of, what on earth is happening? It’s definitely a more challenging place to explain.”

That is difficult:

The election that the president and his allies are disputing bears little resemblance to the observations by a mission sent over from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The United States is a member, and the State Department invited the group of more than 100 observers to come watch. In an interim report released the day after the vote, the OSCE praised poll workers and lambasted Trump for sowing doubt on the election’s legitimacy. Their criticism of the president has not ebbed.

Trump’s accusations distinguish this election from the previous eight the OSCE has observed, said Kari Henriksen, a member of Norway’s parliament who headed the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s group of observers.

“People have big expectations of the U.S. as a good, functional democracy,” she said. “Therefore, it is astonishing that we experience this kind of mistrust from a president when the U.S. is the leading country in the world regarding democracy. That is one of the issues that makes this very, very special.”

In this context, special is not good:

Even as some leading Republicans have started to publicly criticize Trump’s strategy, foreign analysts are looking at the long-term impact of the post-election impasse.

Krzysztof J. Pelc, a political science professor at McGill University, said Trump’s refusal to admit he lost and the GOP’s reluctance to publicly rebuke him suggest that the Trump phenomenon will not end when he leaves office.

“The spectacle of the past weeks implies that even if the White House becomes more open to greater cooperation with its allies, it may simply be unable to act on those good intentions,” he said.

“The great lesson that U.S. allies have drawn from the past four years is that the American ideals of democratic freedom and openness rest on a fragile basis. American political institutions have proven more delicate than most international observers thought. As a result, we are always one election away from U.S. commitments coming undone.”

And that’s the end. America fades away. Those on distant shores can hear the faint angry bickering from far away, the sound of a nation stuck, doubting everything and doing nothing. Hamlet does come to mind. But he wasn’t stupid.

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