Today is the first day of the last month of the year. December is a time where we look back on the year about to end and forward to the one about to commence. No doubt the big political story of 2020 will be the election. I dare say that there is not a progressive who wants any outcome other than the defeat of Donald Trump (assuming he is the Republican nominee which baring exit from office he will be). While I also want that it could be somewhat of a “be careful what you wish” for situation. With that in mind, let’s explore.
Assuming Donald Trump loses on Election Night November 3, 2020 he is still President of the United States until noon on January 20, 2021; approximately another 11 weeks. Potentially that is the most dangerous time in American history.
The wildest theory thrown around is that Trump declares the election results to be invalid and refuses to leave office. While that is at the extreme sad end of the spectrum, it is at least slightly believable with this president. It is all but a certainty that the 2020 election will experience foreign interference and a large disinformation campaign. In fact there is evidence that it is already underway and that Trump is openly embracing it.
I remember writing of the recent scenes of political instability and related violence in Venezuela that it could be a precursor of Washington in January 2021. At the other end of the spectrum it could erode the confidence of the American people in the validity of our elections. (What better way to destroy democracy?) What if some of the Trump base (and it will exist for decades to come) decide to take to arms?
In a less violent and visible scenario what if Trump and his minions simply refuse to accept the outcome of the election and therefore refuse to cooperate in a transition? I would hope that Trump himself would be removed from office by patriotic elements of law enforcement and possibly the military on the afternoon of January 20th but the transition would be a mess if we came to that.
It is important to not forget that Trump is still President during that eleven week period. For that time period he has his full presidential powers.
The most radical (within some bounds of relative sanity) thing he could do is get us into a war. I don’t think you need examples to imagine how devastating that could be.
He most certainly would issue several executive actions. Without getting too far into the weeds, in most cases they are largely reversible by the new Congress and administration but the harm done in the interim isn’t.
In the very possible, if not likely, situation where you have a lame duck president in Trump and a lame duck Republican Senate majority possibly led by a lame duck Mitch McConnell can you imagine how many radical right wing federal judges they would attempt to push through. Remember that currently only 50 Republican Senators (many of whom would be lame ducks in this scenario) would be needed since lame duck Vice President Mike Pence would certainly cast the tie breaking vote in favor of the Trump/McConnell nominee. Those judges effectively have a lifetime appointment and are almost impossible to remove from the bench.
A very likely scenario finds Trump pardoning a bunch of his “boys”. Those pardons would stick. He might also pardon himself in advance but the legality of that is extremely questionable. In fact the legality of presidential pardons in advance (i.e. Ford of Nixon) has never been tested in court.
The above are all the really gloomy scenarios. Here are two less gloomy but more likely ones.
Trump disputes the results of the election in tweets and statements that only his diminished base believes which is enough to lay the groundwork for Trump TV.
Trump may also decide that an Attorney General Harris or Klobuchar will go after him once he is out of office and just steal a few more tens of millions while preparing his move to Moscow.
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