What Is Trump Playing At?

Thomas B. Edsall writes:

* Sean Wilentz, a professor of history at Princeton, was outspoken:

It would be not simply a major departure but a deeply dangerous one were Trump to deny the legitimacy of Biden’s election. It would be a brutal renunciation of American democracy. It would create not simply a fissure but a chasm in the nation’s politics and government, telling his tens of millions of supporters as well as his congressional backers to reject Biden’s presidency. It would be an act of disloyalty unsurpassed in American history except by the southern secession in 1860-61, the ultimate example of Americans refusing to respect the outcome of a presidential election.

In fact, Wilentz warned:

Trump would be trying to establish a center of power distinct from and antagonistic to the legitimately elected national government — not formally a separate government like the Confederacy but a virtual one, operating not just out in the country but inside the government, above all in Congress.

Wilentz envisaged

a counter-government, administered by tweets, propped up by Fox News or whatever alternative outlet Trump might construct for himself — a kind of Trumpian government in exile, run from Mar a Lago or maybe from wherever else Trump selects to reside in, in order to avoid prosecution by the State of New York.

Wilentz and others argue that Trump is gearing up to violate a principle of peaceful transition established shortly after the founding of the nation.

* Trump’s refusal to concede, and the support he is getting from his fellow Republicans, is part and parcel of the sustained drive by the right, especially since Barack Obama won a majority in 2008, to constrain and limit political participation by minorities by every available means: gerrymandering, voter suppression, restricting the time and place of balloting, setting new rules for voter identification and so forth.

On this theory, allowing the Nov. 3 vote to stand would, in the face of rising minority participation, endanger the ability of the Republican Party to compete in future national elections.

* Samuel Moyn, a Yale historian, discounted fears of a Trump-led insurgency for a different reason: that Trump is not up to playing the role of strongman.

“I think we will come to understand him as the weakest recent president,” Moyn wrote by email, “and this ‘unprecedented’ situation in which he refuses to acknowledge election results is just more proof.”

Moyn rejected the notion that “we are in a dangerous situation,” because instead of a serious threat, “we have something more like a parody of a coup, one which moreover is something like a conclusive demonstration of the limits of Donald Trump’s power all along.”

* The fact that Trump does not care about the scope of the mayhem he creates — that he revels in anarchic conflagration — creates exceptional danger.

Philip Bobbitt, a professor of law at the University of Texas and at Columbia, is an expert in national security. He raised the question of what is called “continuity of government.”

If Trump succeeds in preventing acceptance of Biden as president all the way to Jan. 20, 2021, Bobbitt notes in an email, what is known as “continuity of government” becomes a problem.

Continuity of Government is an artifact of the nuclear age: what happens to the National Command Authority vested in the president — and to nuclear deterrence — if a surprise attack decapitates the US leadership? The problem resurfaced after 9/11 when it became known that the fourth plane seized by Al Qaeda was headed to the Capitol and would have struck during morning business in the House. The result could have rendered Congress helpless until new elections replaced enough House members to reconstitute a quorum; in the interim martial law would have prevailed.

These problems could be lethal in the chaos Trump is seeding.

A number of scenarios, Bobbitt noted,

by no means fanciful, could result in the constitutional drop-dead date of Jan. 20, leaving the country and many elements of government deeply divided as to who the rightful occupant of the presidency is.

In that event, Bobbitt asked, “What happens to the national command authority vested in the president?”

“There is a second, related problem,” Bobbitt continued:

The continuity of government vulnerability spawned a number of emergency powers granted to the president, some highly classified. We could well face the use of these powers by the president based on his professed belief that the election was irredeemably flawed and that a “coup” against him is underway.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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