The weekend ended just as the weekend before it had ended. America had voted. That’s how democracy works. America had voted almost two weeks earlier, and Donald Trump once again said that democracy doesn’t work anymore, or at least it hadn’t worked this time. No one can trust the vote anymore. It’s all rigged. Ignore the vote. Ignore the numbers. It’s all a fraud. He actually won.
He had said that before. Republicans had shrugged. Biden did have the votes. They knew Biden won. Everyone knew that, and they said that even Trump knows that. He’ll get over it. Give him time.
One week wasn’t enough time. There may never be enough time, and most Republicans are now silent. They have nothing to say. Trump didn’t get over it. He dug in and then had a meltdown. The New York Times’ Michael Shear explains that this way:
President Trump’s refusal to concede the election has entered a more dangerous phase as he stokes resistance and unrest among his supporters and spreads falsehoods aimed at undermining the integrity of the American voting system.
More than a week after President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. was declared the winner, Mr. Trump continues to block his successor’s transition, withholding intelligence briefings, critical information about the coronavirus pandemic and access to the vast machinery of government that Mr. Biden will soon oversee.
In short, nothing had changed and nothing would change. He continued to block the Biden transition. There would be no transition. Forget the numbers. He had won and Biden had lost and that was that. But something had changed. Those who had once worked for him were calling him out:
Some former top advisers to Mr. Trump have said that his refusal to cooperate is reckless and unwise. John F. Kelly, Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff, called it “crazy” on Friday. John R. Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser who wrote a scathing memoir about his time in the administration, said the refusal “harms the country.”
“Every day that he delays under the pretense that he’s simply asking for his legal remedies ultimately is to the country’s disadvantage,” Mr. Bolton said on ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday morning.
There would be more of this, but something else had changed. He was calling for violence to settle this thing in his favor. He approved it:
The president’s attempt to cling to power played out against a backdrop of protests by Trump supporters and opponents late Saturday, with sporadic clashes near the White House. The police arrested 21 people as one protester was stabbed and four officers were injured. Rather than seek to calm tensions, Mr. Trump lashed out.
“ANTIFA SCUM ran for the hills,” he posted on Twitter on Saturday as he urged the police to move in aggressively. “DC Police, get going – do your job and don’t hold back!!!”
He might as well have shouted out that those who oppose him will die, but he went back to silent rage-tweeting:
Sunday morning, the president seemed to briefly acknowledge defeat, but he quickly reversed himself, declaring “I concede NOTHING!” He repeated lies about the vote-counting process, falsely insisting that Mr. Biden’s victory was the result of a “RIGGED ELECTION” orchestrated by the “Fake & Silent” news media.
It was the usual, with only a bit of ambiguity, Yes, he had tweeted that Biden “won” – but because the election was rigged, so Biden hadn’t won, he had. The equation marks mattered here. They were sneering sarcasm. He cleared that up quickly. Nothing had changed. But his folks really should bust some heads.
He was full of righteous rage but somehow missed this:
As the total number of coronavirus cases in the United States soared past 11 million and deaths neared 250,000, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, warned that 200,000 more people could die by spring if Americans did not more fully embrace public health measures, even with an effective vaccine.
“We are not going to turn it on and off, going from where we are to completely normal,” Dr. Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, challenging Mr. Trump’s claims that the virus would go away quickly once a vaccine was ready. “It’s going to be a gradual accrual of more normality as the weeks and the months go by, as we get well into 2021.”
Dr. Fauci said health officials had not begun working with Mr. Biden’s transition team. He also said the president had not attended a meeting of his coronavirus task force in “several months,” vanishing from participation in the panel.
Some presidential help would be nice. Trump might at least show up for a few meetings, but Shear saw this instead:
Anyone hoping for a similarly quiet withdrawal from Mr. Trump as he leaves the presidency appears destined not to get it. He continues to deny facts and science in favor of baseless conspiracy theories and has moved aggressively to remove anyone he views as disloyal: a fact underscored by a purge of top officials at the Pentagon last week that was followed by an implicit rebuke by the military’s top general.
“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,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a speech on Wednesday. “We take an oath to the Constitution.”
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs decided that he had to say that? Trump really was melting down, which only helped the other guy:
The president’s desperate language as he tries without success to preserve his position stood in stark contrast with the disciplined silence from Mr. Biden, who spent Sunday morning at church services and later met behind closed doors with his transition advisers. Ron Klain, who will be Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that a concession tweet from the president was not necessary.
“Donald Trump’s Twitter feed doesn’t make Joe Biden president or not president,” Mr. Klain said. “The American people did that.”
Klain was baiting the bear, an Elizabethan term regarding the sport of bear fighting back then. The comment had to have enraged this big bear, Donald Trump, but maybe not:
Before going to play golf at his club in Virginia for the second day in a row on Sunday, the president once again lashed out at the news media and Mr. Biden’s supporters, retweeting reports of a university professor who said that anyone who voted for the Democrat was “ignorant, anti-American and anti-Christian.”
In his tweet, Mr. Trump called that “Progress!”
Others might call that stupid, and some Republicans might finally be a bit embarrassed by all this, because it got stupider:
He also continued to attack the election results, calling a hand recount underway in Georgia, a state he narrowly lost, “a scam.” Despite the president’s assertions, the recount, which is being conducted at the direction of a Republican secretary of state, appeared to be going smoothly, as about 50 of Georgia’s 159 counties had completed their new counts.
Those people were just doing their job, double-checking the vote, as required by state law in this case. Trump didn’t explain why that was a scam, but then he seldom explains anything. He just likes violence:
The nation’s divisions were on grim display in the capital on Saturday night, when pockets of violence broke out between people rallying on behalf of Mr. Trump’s desire to stay in office and anti-Trump demonstrators. After a day in which thousands of the president’s supporters gathered mostly peacefully in support of his false election assertions, the scene turned darker as night fell.
Counterprotesters, including some from a group calling themselves Refuse Fascism, confronted Trump supporters. One threw bottles and fireworks, a USA Today reporter said. People backing the president at one point ripped “Black Lives Matter” signs off a building before trampling them on the ground.
Trump seemed pleased. His people were defending him, and there was all that way-cool physical violence, but not everyone likes that sort of thing:
Former President Barack Obama warned in an interview that aired Sunday night that Mr. Trump’s willingness to spread misinformation about the election was hurting the country’s ability to conduct the basic functions of democracy.
“It’s very hard for our democracy to function if we are operating on just completely different sets of facts,” Mr. Obama said on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” “Any of us who attain an elected office – whether it’s dogcatcher or president – are servants of the people. It’s a temporary job. We’re not above the rules. We’re not above the law. That’s the essence of our democracy.”
Mr. Obama said he worried that many parts of what he called a “deeply divided” nation believed Mr. Trump’s falsehoods.
“The power of that alternative worldview that’s presented in the media that those voters consume, it carries a lot of weight,” Mr. Obama said.
It also leads to violence now, and leads to a bit of private advice:
Inside the West Wing, most of Mr. Trump’s top advisers have privately told him what is clear to everyone except his most loyal supporters and the Republican politicians who fear his wrath: His re-election bid has failed, and Mr. Biden will be inaugurated on Jan. 20.
A few Republicans have acknowledged that publicly. On Sunday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas joined their ranks, saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he expected that Mr. Biden would be the next president and should have access to intelligence briefings.
But publicly, Mr. Trump’s aides and virtually all Republican lawmakers continued to stand by – or at least not challenge – his false assertions about the election.
And then there’s Rudy:
Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, has taken over the president’s legal fight to overturn the election results. In interviews on Sunday with Maria Bartiromo on Fox News, Mr. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, another member of the president’s legal team, floated false conspiracy theories that there was a sweeping effort to switch votes using specific software.
“President Trump won by not just hundreds of thousands of votes, but by millions of votes, that were shifted by this software that was designed expressly for that purpose,” Ms. Powell insisted. “We have so much evidence, I feel like it’s coming in through a fire hose.”
But that evidence is top secret and they can’t reveal it yet. They needn’t bother. Everyone knows already. It’s a QAnon thing Trump saw on the obscure One America Network that no other news source would touch. Rudy will run with it. Trump is fine with that.
This will not end well. Fareed Zakaria sees this:
The predictions most people make about the outcome of this election are probably right. President Trump’s refusal to concede to Joe Biden will not change reality. His lawsuits appear to be going nowhere, with one judge describing a Trump campaign legal brief as “inadmissible hearsay within hearsay.” Republican state legislators are not going to designate their own slates of electors in defiance of the duly recorded vote totals. So, once all the ranting and suing is over, Biden will almost certainly be inaugurated as president of the United States on Jan. 20.
But Trump is attacking, defaming and delegitimizing U.S. elections in a manner unprecedented in the country’s history. His obstructionism won’t keep him in power, but it will deeply wound America’s democratic culture. He is whipping his base into a frenzy about a stolen election, and few of them are going to change their minds because of court decisions and recounts. The conspiracy theory of the stolen election of 2020 is here to stay.
And this is new:
Whatever one may say about Democratic anger and allegations after 2016, Hillary Clinton conceded to Trump the night of the election and made her formal concession speech the next day, saying, “I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans.” The following day, President Barack Obama invited Trump to the White House, spent an hour and a half talking with him and promised full cooperation for a successful transition.
That will never happen again, which reminds Zakaria of this:
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. In his book, “The Death of Democracy,” historian Benjamin Carter Hett explains why this “stab in the back” theory endured: “The trauma of defeat left millions of Germans believing a particular narrative about the war not because it was demonstrably true, but because it was emotionally necessary.”
Adolf Hitler often raised the topic during his rise to power. During a 1922 speech, he said, “We must call to account the November criminals of 1918. It cannot be that two million Germans should have fallen in vain and that afterwards one should sit down as friends at the same table with traitors. No, we do not pardon, we demand – Vengeance!”
Today, Newt Gingrich says, “I think [Biden] would have to do a lot to convince Republicans that this is anything except a left-wing power grab financed by people like George Soros, deeply laid in at the local level… It’s very hard for me to understand how we’re going to work together.”
Trump retweeted a video of actor Jon Voight saying, “This is now our greatest fight since the Civil War, the battle of righteousness versus Satan. Yes, Satan, because these leftists are evil, corrupt and they want to tear down this nation. Let us fight this fight as if it is our last fight on Earth.”
The world has been here before, and needn’t be here again:
It is a cliche to say, but it’s true: Democracy is above all about the peaceful transfer of power. Trump is shredding those norms for his own egotistical needs. But his actions today will have a large and lasting effect on this country’s politics for decades, creating a cancer that will metastasize in gruesome ways.
This will really not end well, and our allies know it, as Steven Erlanger reports here:
In the “America First” landscape that President Trump created, Joseph R. Biden Jr. was an outdated romantic trans-Atlanticist. So, there is relief in Europe about having a well-disposed friend in the White House who is more likely to support than to berate, harangue and insult.
A former French ambassador to Washington, Gérard Araud, said that “every single European leader has had an appalling conversation with Trump.” Referring to the German chancellor and the former British prime minister, Mr. Araud said: “He insulted Angela Merkel, he insulted Theresa May. He attacked them. It was surreal. And it’s over.”
But there will still be wariness among European leaders – about what Mr. Biden may ask of them, especially in the knowledge that he may be a one-term president and that the populist impulse that animated Trumpism has hardly gone away.
Dominique Moïsi, a French analyst with the Paris-based nonprofit Institut Montaigne, said, “We should not underestimate the sense of relief and we should not overestimate the sense that things will change very much.”
That might be that Trump got almost half of all the votes cast. Those who cast those votes aren’t going anywhere:
Civility will be restored, with Biden planning to rejoin the Paris climate accord and remain in the World Health Organization, offering warm words about NATO and about allies and probably embarking on early visits to Germany and possibly to Brussels, analysts close to the Biden campaign suggest. There will be less confrontation on trade, fewer punitive tariffs and an early effort, Mr. Biden himself has said, to create a kind of “global summit for democracy” – especially in the face of a rising China that is promoting its authoritarian capitalism – as well as a more unified stance against Russia.
David O’Sullivan, former European Union ambassador to the United States, said he looked forward to a renewal of American leadership – if not the hegemony of the past, then at least “America’s role as the convening nation” for multilateral initiatives and institutions.
But the world has changed, and so has the United States, where the Biden victory was relatively narrow and not an obvious repudiation of Mr. Trump’s policies.
They know better now:
A fundamental trust has been broken, and many European diplomats and experts believe that U.S. foreign policy is no longer bipartisan, so is no longer reliable.
“What is difficult to repair is the fear is that this could happen again,” said Stefano Stefanini, a former Italian ambassador to NATO.
It will happen again. The days after all the voting ended, the Boston Globe’s Joan Vennochi wrote this:
All the polls predicting a clear, decisive Biden win, and maybe even a landslide, were trash. There was no Biden blowout, no massive blue wave sweeping the former vice president to glorious and indisputable victory. No matter who ekes out an electoral win, there are two Americas – the America that loves Trump and the America that loathes him.
What we have in common is our dislike and disdain for each other. What separates us is our view of Trump.
Trump lovers see a leader who is fighting socialism and other crazy far-left causes. Trump haters see a liar, whose denials and deception about COVID-19 contributed to the deaths of at least 233,000 Americans.
Trump lovers see a rebel who stands up to the elites and political correctness. Trump haters see a racist who stokes the flames of hatred and division.
Trump’s supporters see him as the victim of a vast left-wing media conspiracy determined to take him down. The press sees itself as a beacon of light against Trump’s darkness, and the keepers of democracy and the rule of law.
And there’s more:
There are other significant class and cultural differences between Trump lovers and loathers that were spelled out plainly by Arnon Mishkin, director of the Fox News Decision Desk, during an early Wednesday morning analysis on “Fox & Friends.” He said Trump “won the traditional backing of whites without college education,” working-class America, and rural America. Biden, he said, did well in “urban and suburban America,” specifically with suburban women, college-educated voters, and minorities.
What is Biden supposed to do with that? No one knows:
Great presidents become great because they are able to lead the country in times of crisis. To do that, Biden will have to manage a hostile Senate controlled by Republicans, along with millions of voters who will look at him and see a corrupt socialist – as opposed to the millions of voters who looked at Trump and saw a corrupt fascist.
It will be worse than the usual gridlock, unless Biden tries to build a bridge to Trump’s America – and those of us in Biden’s America let him.
And what if no one crosses that shiny new bridge? Trump dug in and had his meltdown. Now the nation will have its meltdown. The nation is having one now.