It gets deeper and deeper by the day, with less than 60 days to go. If, like me, you see the Trump Presidency as a live reality show — or maybe a post-postmodern autofiction novel narrated by Norman Mailer’s ghost — you’re turning pages like mad anticipating the final scene.
Will he leave? Will elements of the Deep State have to frog-march him out of the White House? For some time, my wife and I have anticipated an ending like Jimmy Cagney in White Heat atop an exploding gasoline tank:
“Top o’ the world, Ma!”
[ Cagney goes out in style on the top of the world, and Rutherford B. Hayes, who was sworn in in-secret in Grant’s White House before his inauguration due to the post-election tension ]
Sober historians like to make comparisons with the odiferous post-election maneuvering of 1876 that gave Rutherford B. Hayes the White House, though contemporary commentators and historians agree the 2020 Trump drama is much, much smellier. In 1876, the votes in the states in contention were legitimately disputable — not like in today’s Michigan, Arizona and Georgia, where no honorable person disputes the final tally. And despite all of Rudy Giuliani’s mendacious fibbing, the evidence suggests the election was relatively clean — with a boffo Democratic turnout.
I’m not a student of Chaos Theory, but as metaphor, chaos and complexity are real factors in political life. Absent the human mind, uncertainty is the rule; order is what the individual and collective human mind constructs to make sense of the fundamental chaos of life. Trump seems to grasp that he lost the election; but, beyond that, he’s personally unable to do anything except encourage chaos and confusion in the US political system. There is a traditional etiquette to presidential transitions; but always the player, Trump seems to feel if he drags his feet and encourages chaos and confusion, somehow, in the end — maybe! — it will play out to his personal advantage.
You wonder if the man has thought it out much more than that.
“It’s hard to fathom how this man thinks,” Biden said the other day, focused on the incredible machinations now going on inside Michigan, where a gang of right-wing militiamen were caught planning to kidnap and maybe murder the sitting Democratic governor of the state. Trump invited Michigan Republican election officials and state legislators to the White House, the people who could block the certification of the election and legislators who could legally vote to seat a pro-Trump group of electors to the Electoral College — despite the 154,000-vote margin for Joe Biden. Trump did all this — and keeps doing it — without the slimmest possibility the scheme might work to get him elected.
“It sends a horrible message about who we are as a country,” Biden said. You think so? True to his famous (or notorious) reach-across-the-aisle nature, Biden then said this: “My judgment is that we’ll get further along by actually working with our Republican colleagues now.”
Now!? Wait a minute. At a moment Republicans are doing everything they can to undermine his legitimate election, Joe Biden is talking about reaching across the aisle?
[ Which approach to Republicans will Joe Biden take? ]
I voted for Joe Biden and am ready to forgive and forget his more ignoble past instances of aisle-crossing, like after Reagan’s 1980 win when he crawled into bed with “southern strategy” Republicans to push legislation that fueled the mass incarceration of black males, an element he damned in speeches as “super predators.” And, of course, there’s his enthusiastic legislative leadership advocating for George W. Bush’s Iraq War.
[ Joe Biden crossing the aisle with Strom Thurmond during the hearing to replace the great Justice Thurgood Marshall with Clarence Thomas. I think I understand why they’re all laughing. And, at right, Biden awarding George W. Bush a freedom medal for his work with the Iraq veterans he created with his stupid, disastrous war that Sen. Biden supported ]
Doesn’t it feel a bit too soon to talk about “working with our Republican colleagues?” Doesn’t it smack of disrespect for those leftists who put him in the White House? Not to be mean, but wouldn’t it be good for the country and democracy if Republicans were made to stew in their loss for a little while? A little reflection in the political desert might be good for them, especially the good ones who don’t carry the Trump odor. Likewise, a good honeymoon period for Biden/Harris on the left will be good for the country. It just feels a bit unseemly to pursue adultery so quickly.
John Bolton, Trump’s third national security adviser and a well-known right-wing war-monger, has given us the perfect window into why Donald Trump and his sowing of chaos and confusion is not the problem — but a symptom of a long, on-going problem come home to roost out of the shadows. As loathsome as Bolton is, he’s a team-player who turned on Trump, so he’s now a harsh critic. Here’s his quick analysis of Trump’s and his minion’s efforts to sow chaos and confusion.
“Their basic argument is [the election] was a conspiracy so vast and so successful that there’s no evidence of it.” Bravo! One cannot beat that for a one-sentence analysis. Joseph Goebbels (think Steven Miller in Nazi regalia with a club foot) is famous for having couched the same idea in terms of it’s easier to make lies and fictions stick the bigger the lies and fictions are, since the bigger they are the more they’re immune to evidence.
Bolton went on to seal the deal with the following comment about the slickness of the gang who purportedly pulled off such an evidence-free conspiracy:
“Now if that’s true, I really want to know who the people are who pulled this off. We need to hire them at the C.I.A.”
Again, out of the mouth of a right-wing zealot comes a shining nugget of truth. Because Bolton would be one to know about and value the CIA’s capacity for election manipulation, since the CIA has been mucking around in third-world democracies with disinformation and the whole gamut of nefarious tools for many decades. The US government began to seriously engage in this kind of activities after World War Two in the Cold War 1950s. Two shining examples are the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran and in Guatemala. The list is long.
The end of the Cold War, which was known for its binary ideological world order, led to fragmentation and, with the rise of the internet, an atomizing effect that has changed the etiquette of all this. Who’s on first? During the Cold War, there was a gentleman’s agreement that this kind of nefarious interference in democratic elections was verboten inside the domestic United States. With 2016 and this election it’s clear that Pandora’s Box has been opened, and once this kind of corrupt anti-democratic activity is let out of the box, it’s virtually impossible to get it back in the box. Taken to its logical extreme, the possibility of violence from either government or civilian actors is real.
On Sunday, Biden’s designated communications director, Kate Bedingfield, emphasized to Fox News’ Chris Wallace that the Biden administration was looking warmly to the prospect of working with Republicans; while, at the same time, she made it clear the Biden administration wasn’t very warm to the idea of working with the progressive left caucus — you know, socialist boogiemen like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez who should go back to Venezuela where they belong.
This bipartisan urge is part of the high wire act Joe Biden has walked during the campaign, and now that he’s president-elect, the precariousness of the act is more pronounced. Which political extreme does he most fear? Which one does he kiss up to? The one that tried to undermine him and slander him at every turn? Or the one that put aside third party candidates to vote for him and to get him elected? The truth is Donald Trump would now be the undisputed president-elect if progressives had seriously campaigned for and voted for the Green Party candidate — instead of holding their noses and voting for Joe Biden.
If Joe Biden follows past Democratc precedent and, out of fear of the right, blows off the progressive left that helped him get safely and firmly ensconced in the White House — if that’s how he’s gonna roll, he’s going to have a very short honeymoon.
The nation has moved so far to the right since the political right began its successful ascendancy in the mid-1970s that it ended up with an outright criminally inclined conman as president and a huge coterie of official and civilian boot-lickers who are still working overtime to cultivate his cult of personality.
The 1933 Failed Right-wing Coup
Joe Biden would be wise to look to how FDR took over the White House following Herbert Hoover’s one term. It was a rocky moment. Most Americans are ignorant of a 1933 coup attempt thwarted by a Quaker Marine general named Smedley Butler. Wall Street funded operatives studied black- and brown-shirt movements in Europe and financed what can only be termed a coup to shove FDR aside. It was revealed to the nation in hearings in the House Un-American Activities Committee. Supporters of the effort wanted to use General Butler, who was popular with the common soldier, as their fascist “man on a white horse” to shove the “traitor to his class” FDR aside.
[ Three Wall Street plutocrats who funded research of the various European fascist shirt movements and financed the somewhat inept effort to get rid of FDR; at right, retired Marine General Smedley Butler, the man who exposed the coup and saved democracy in 1933 from the political right ]
Thanks to a certain arrogant ineptness, they miscalculated Butler’s loyalty to democracy. They wanted Butler to lead the veterans group, the American Legion, as a US fascist movement to replace FDR, who they planned to publicize as a cripple. Butler went along with the scheme, collecting evidence that he took to the HUAC. The hearings saved the country from something that might have changed our democratic traditions permanently.
The capacity for the American right to destroy democracy in America is no joke, and the recent — and ongoing! — efforts by many in the Republican Party to undermine American democracy should not be swept under the rug.
The only thing that can move the country from its current far-right, plutocrat-friendly condition toward the political “center” is for the new president to work, not with Republicans, but with the progressive elements on the left in his own party who brung him to the dance.
Once that shift to the center is established, there’s plenty of time to work across the aisle with responsible members of the Republican Party.