These Last Days

Everyone knew he was going to trash the place on the way out. He told everyone he was a sore loser, that he hated losing, and that he liked whining, because that often got him what he wanted, and when he started insisting that he was “a very stable genius” everyone knew that when and if the country decided he wasn’t that, he’d explode in anger, he’d lash out, he’d sneer, and he’d do as much damage as possible in his final days – because he could, and until the last second of his last day in office that was what real power looked like. Donald Trump lost the election. But he didn’t really lose. He never loses. That’s because he’s better than any man or woman who has ever lived or will ever live – smarter and stronger and richer too. Just ask him.

And now you’ve made him angry. You’ll pay for that – but not you. The Republican Party will pay. They’re first up. The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis and Mike DeBonis tell the tale of Donald Trump making Republicans’ lives quite miserable:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday blocked consideration of a House bill that would deliver $2,000 stimulus payments to most Americans – spurning a request by President Trump even as more Senate Republicans voiced support for the dramatically larger checks.

McConnell’s move was just the beginning of a saga that is likely to engulf the Senate for the rest of the week. Democrats are pushing for an up-or-down vote on the House bill, while more Republicans acknowledge a need for larger stimulus checks.

McConnell can’t assemble enough votes to pass any of that, so Trump will twist the knife:

Tension within the Republican Party spilled into public view on Tuesday, with Trump leveling pointed attacks at GOP leaders for failing to act, accusing them of being “pathetic” and suggesting they had a “death wish.”

New proponents of the $2,000 checks include Georgia’s two embattled Republican senators – David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler – who find themselves in tough reelection battles that will decide the fate of the chamber next week. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) also lent support Tuesday, declaring that “people are hurting and we need to get them more aid.” They joined Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who have also supported the idea of $2,000 stimulus checks.

Trump was winning. McConnell seemed to be a useless fool, but Mitch wasn’t going to be pushed around:

Before adjourning the Senate on Tuesday, McConnell began to reveal his strategy for proceeding, one that Democrats immediately assailed as a political gambit that would prevent the checks from ever being approved.

McConnell started the process for moving to votes on two bills later in the week. One would be the House-passed bill for approving $2,000 stimulus checks. The second measure would combine the $2,000 checks with the establishment of a commission to study election fraud and a repeal of liability protections for technology companies and other firms.

Many Democrats oppose the inclusion of the election commission and the liability protection repeal, so they would almost certainly vote against that broader measure. But by packaging the election commission and the liability protection repeal with the $2,000 checks, McConnell could give Republicans the ability to say they voted for the larger checks even if the bill doesn’t ever become law.

That a neat trick. No one gets any more money at all. Things just happened. Republicans voted for all of this together. Democrats didn’t. They would have had to vote for confirming and then investigating massive voter fraud, and vote to shut down Facebook or Twitter if any user posted anything anywhere that Trump didn’t like. Mitch saved the day. No one would be getting any money now. Trump loses.

Trump never loses:

As the legislative jockeying continued Tuesday, Trump escalated his blistering attacks on GOP leaders for their inaction so far.

“WE NEED NEW & ENERGETIC REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP,” he wrote.

He also said there would be consequences for his political party if they didn’t act.

“Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP,” Trump wrote. “$600 IS NOT ENOUGH! Also, get rid of Section 230 – Don’t let Big Tech steal our Country, and don’t let the Democrats steal the Presidential Election. Get tough!”

But the Democrats had only this:

Early Tuesday afternoon, Schumer went to the floor to request that the Senate take up the House-passed bill.

“There’s a major difference in saying you support $2,000 checks and fighting to put them into law,” he said. “The House bill is the only way to deliver these stimulus checks before the end of session. Will Senate Republicans stand against the House of Representatives, the Democratic majority in the Senate and the president of their own party to prevent these $2,000 checks from going out the door?”

McConnell objected without making further comment.

That was a shrug. Mitch can stand up to anyone and will. No one is spending anymore money on anything:

Several Senate Republicans expressed reservations about voting for a bill with the larger payments. Some of them cited the rising debt and pointed to the extraordinary amount of federal aid that Congress had already approved.

They government had done enough. End this nonsense. And forget those two senators from Georgia:

Both Loeffler and Perdue have taken public credit in their campaigns for delivering the $600 checks in the law Trump enacted Sunday. But they had not weighed in on the $2,000 checks before Tuesday, while their Democratic opponents – Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively – have both enthusiastically embraced the larger amounts for days.

But now they’re caught in the middle of the Trump-McConnell battle for control of the Republican Party, and then there was this:

An emboldened Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who pushed for bigger checks for weeks, issued his own ultimatum Tuesday, blocking a planned Wednesday vote to override Trump’s veto of the annual defense policy bill unless McConnell relents and allows a stand-alone vote on the House checks bill.

“I don’t know what he has in mind, but the House passed, to their credit, a simple, straightforward bill,” Sanders told reporters. “Let’s not muddy the waters: Are you for $2,000 or are you not?”

Sanders’s threat scrambled a tight timeline for the final days of the current Congress, which will end on Sunday when the new class of lawmakers is sworn in.

Without unanimous agreement, the Senate cannot vote on the veto override until Friday at the earliest – raising the prospect that the two senators from Georgia would have to spend several unexpected days in Washington amid the closing week of their reelection campaigns.

Cool. Bernie decided to play hard ball, but McConnell is paying a different game, a matter of giving Trump exactly what he says he wants, all but the money for those about to lose everything:

McConnell’s moves on Tuesday appeared to mirror demands that Trump laid out on Sunday. In a statement released after he signed the $900 billion stimulus bill into law, he said the Senate would “start the process for a vote that increases checks to $2,000, repeals Section 230, and starts an investigation into voter fraud.” Those are the three provisions McConnell has attempted to package into one piece of legislation despite objections from Democrats.

“Section 230” is a reference to a 1996 federal law that broadly indemnifies tech platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google for the actions of their users. Trump has railed against the tech companies as they have started to crack down on his unfounded postings alleging voter fraud in the November election, as well as much more aggressive actions targeting postings made by his supporters containing threats and disinformation.

So, give him all that, but no money for anyone at all. Who is winning here?

Trump is. He created all the chaos. He’s trashing the government on his way out. And he’s angry. John Wagner covers that:

President Trump on Tuesday lashed out at fellow Republicans who lead his party on Capitol Hill both for not fully embracing his unfounded claims of election fraud and for allowing an override of his veto of a $741 billion defense authorization bill to advance.

“WE NEED NEW & ENERGETIC REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP. This cannot stand,” Trump said in a string of morning tweets in which he continued to air grievances about the election, including baseless claims of fraud in Pennsylvania, one of the battleground-states he lost to President-elect Joe Biden.

McConnell shrugged:

Just a few hours after Trump’s tweet, McConnell signaled during a speech on the Senate floor that his chamber would override Trump’s veto on Wednesday.

“Soon this important legislation will be passed into law,” McConnell said. “I would urge my colleagues to support this legislation one more time when we vote tomorrow.”

Mitch knew what was up:

Trump did not name any Republican leaders, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to be among those he was targeting. Two weeks ago, McConnell recognized Biden as the president-elect. He has also discouraged GOP senators from participating in challenges to the electoral college votes when Congress meets to certify the results next week.

“Can you imagine if the Republicans stole a Presidential Election from the Democrats – All hell would break out,” Trump said in one of his tweets, which Twitter noted made “disputed” claims about election fraud.

“Republican leadership only wants the path of least resistance,” Trump continued. “Our leaders (not me, of course!) are pathetic. They only know how to lose! P.S. I got MANY Senators and Congressmen/Congresswomen Elected. I do believe they forgot!”

There he goes again. Everyone is pathetic but him. But he’ll slap them around:

He took aim at members of his own party earlier, as well, protesting the House’s vote on Monday to override his veto of the defense bill. The 322-to-87 vote was comfortably more than the two-thirds of the House that was needed to pass the measure.

“Weak and tired Republican ‘leadership’ will allow the bad Defense Bill to pass,” Trump wrote.

“Negotiate a better Bill, or get better leaders, NOW! Senate should not approve NDAA until fixed!!!” he added, referring to the bill by its title, the National Defense Authorization Act, an annual measure authorizing funds for expenditures that include overseas military operations and pay increases for service members.

Just a few hours after Trump’s tweet, McConnell signaled during a speech on the Senate floor that his chamber would override Trump’s veto on Wednesday.

The troops will be paid. Trump can’t trash everything on his way out the door. But he is in a foul mood. CNN’s Kate Bennett reports this:

His mood darkened as soon as he walked into his members-only club Mar-a-Lago, three days before Christmas, according to multiple sources. The changes to his private quarters, many of which were overseen by his wife, first lady Melania Trump, were not to President Donald Trump’s liking, and he was mad about it, according to a source familiar with the President’s response.

Several weeks in the works, the renovations, undertaken to make the approximately 3,000-square-foot space feel larger and updated in preparation for the Trumps post-White House life, didn’t appeal to Trump’s aesthetics, according to his reaction. Trump was also displeased with other renovations at the property, the source said, not just in the living space.

“He was not happy with it,” said the source, who noted several loud, one-sided conversations with club management almost immediately ensued.

That was pointless:

It was Melania Trump, and her interior decorator, Tham Kannalikham, who selected many of the details on the renovations, however, not Mar-a-Lago staff, a fact of which Trump was well aware.

He couldn’t yell at her, so he yelled at club management. It’s what he does:

This is not the first time the President’s personal taste has clashed with that of his wife. Trump was also not thrilled with some of the decorative updates to Camp David, another project of the first lady, when he saw them during the Thanksgiving holiday, according to another source familiar with the President’s reaction after the visit…

The source at Mar-a-Lago noted Trump was so displeased this week with the way some of the renovations looked he asked that pieces of the décor, which consisted of white marble and an abundance of dark wood, be removed. They promptly were.

But that didn’t help much at all:

If the kick-off to his last Florida sojourn as President was rough, the days that followed would be much of the same, with Trump appearing “moody,” according to the source at the club, spending more time than usual behind closed doors and not mingling and conversing as much as he normally does with club members and senior White House staff, many of whom have in the last few years joined him there.

“The vibe is off,” said another source at Mar-a-Lago of this Christmas compared to previous ones.

Well, yeah, his world fell apart. It’s all gone bad:

The President has also been relegated to a smaller batch of familiar faces to entertain and occupy his time during this Florida trip. There are no foreign leaders to host, as has often been the case during his presidency, and most of the West Wing senior staff who usually join the trip are not there.

On Sunday, Trump did not dine out with the first lady, and instead ate dinner at a table with his sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, and Trump Jr.’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle…

Trump’s most frequent activity – and respite – has been his morning rounds of golf…

And that’s how all of this ends. This angry sad man trashes what he can as he leaves the building.

Let’s not do this again. The New Yorker’s John Cassidy has some ideas for that:

Trump’s departure will prompt cries of relief in many parts of the country, but there is now vital work to be done. The past four years have taught us that the American system of government is no match for a President who, like Trump, will not hesitate to break long-established rules and norms. During his four years in office, the forty-fifth President has lied on a daily basis; purged officials who challenged him; used his vast social-media following to intimidate other elected Republicans; charged the federal government millions of dollars for the use of his private businesses; awarded prominent positions to his family members; pardoned some of his closest political allies; and, finally, tried to overturn a perfectly legitimate election. Conceivably, he could run for office again in four years. What can be done to Trump-proof the Presidency against him or an acolyte?

Well, there’s this:

One seemingly obvious reform is to change the voting system to prevent another demagogue from taking power despite losing the popular vote. But, in this area, as in others, the U.S. Constitution is a huge barrier. As the historian Eric Hobsbawm noted almost twenty years ago, the United States is trapped in “the straitjacket of an eighteenth-century constitution reinforced by two centuries of Talmudic exegesis by the lawyers.” Getting rid of the Electoral College would require a constitutional amendment, which, in turn, would require a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate, plus ratification by three-quarters of the state legislatures. Given the red-blue divide, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Okay, but there’s this:

One way to circumvent the Electoral College would be for more states to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, under which they would agree to award all of their electoral votes to the candidate who gets the most votes nationwide. To date, fifteen states and the District of Columbia have signed on; together, they have a hundred and ninety-six votes in the Electoral College. Once the adherents to the compact had two hundred and seventy votes among them, they could guarantee that the winner of the popular vote would be elected, say supporters of the compact.

And there’s this:

Another reform consistent with retaining the Electoral College would be adopting ranked-choice voting, which is already being used in Maine and Alaska, as well as in places like Ireland and New Zealand. Under this system, voters would be asked to list their preferred candidates in order. “It means that voters can go for the Green Party but if no candidate has 50 percent majority on first count, then their votes transfer until someone does,” Jeff Colgan, a political scientist at Brown, told me in an e-mail. If this system had been in effect in 2016, Hillary Clinton might have won some states where Jill Stein got a lot of votes. (For this to happen, many Stein voters would have had to list Clinton as their second preference.)

Well, maybe not:

Even if the voting system were retooled, however, that wouldn’t preclude the election of a demagogue who was more popular than Trump. So, whatever voting system we use, it’s imperative that we strengthen other types of defenses against an authoritarian leader, and, here again, there are a number of options available. To begin with, it’s vital to assure that no future President can get away with refusing to release their tax returns, which contain information about their financial obligations and other potential conflicts of interest. Until September, 2020, when the Times published an analysis of more than two decades of Trump’s tax data, which it had obtained, he had successfully hidden from voters the fact that, in the decade before he ran for office, he paid virtually nothing in federal income tax, partly because he secured a refund of $72.9 million in 2010, and that he had personally guaranteed more than three hundred million dollars of loans that will come due in the next four years.

By refusing to release his tax returns, Trump violated a Presidential norm that was established relatively recently. Richard Nixon instituted it in 1973, at the height of Watergate. “People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I am not a crook,” Nixon famously said.

In the wake of Trump, statutory requirements are in order.

And so on and so forth. Cassidy has lots of ideas. But they’re all too late. The damage has been done. These are the last days. For all of it. This angry sad man trashed it all as he walked away.

The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning
?

 But that’s another story.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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