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Trump Lost the Election, But He Is Still Doing Terrible Damage

Could a more competent authoritarian have done a better job at this? Probably.

President Trump arrives at the White House on Marine One on November 3, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

Donald Trump will emerge from his bunker today to participate in an old Thanksgiving tradition: the official pardoning of a turkey. If the dented rules of current reality hold true and 2020 does its thing, the turkey will turn on its talons today, raise a drumstick, and pardon Trump instead. Trump will click his heels, leap the portico like an orange gazelle and disappear into the swirl of the District. A manhunt will yield nothing, and the turkey won’t talk. Two weeks from now, the lights will come on inside a brand new dacha on the Volga River, and the circle is closed.

Tell me — honestly — if any of that would surprise you at this point. Me? I’ve got it on my 2020 bingo card, so I’ll be watching the pardon ceremony today with great interest.

Speaking of ceremony, the transition between the outgoing calamity of the Trump/Pence administration and the incoming quiet-on-purpose Biden/Harris administration is officially underway. General Services Administration (GSA) official Emily Murphy, perhaps the strangest lynchpin to presidential fate since Rose Mary Woods, abandoned her vexing stance as Decider of Nothing yesterday and finally filed the paperwork.

Trump, while still refusing to concede, signaled his support for this bureaucratic mechanism that was out of his hands as soon as the letters were sent. King Canute commanded the tide, but still doesn’t get the joke.

The importance of the transition period is difficult to overstate. If you decide to do it, the U.S. presidency is a dragon of a job. The absence of a proper head start can be deeply damaging to any incoming administration. Aside from the myriad national security, climate and economic briefings the incoming administration needs to absorb, there is the necessity for a full accounting of how damaged the federal government’s COVID response is, what specifically needs doing to begin to repair that lethal breach, and what appointees within that system need to be shown the door on Inauguration Day.

Something that bears watching now that the transition is underway: Jill Lepore of The Atlantic put a burr under my saddle a few days back regarding the actual purpose of this enforced three-week delay before the transition finally began. It seems like everyone has chalked it up to a combination of Trump’s temper and Ms. Murphy’s cowardice, but Lepore forced me to wonder what the administration may have actually been doing with that time.

“It took a very long time to establish rules governing the fate of Presidential records,” wrote Lepore. “Trump does not mind breaking rules and, in the course of a long life, has regularly done so with impunity. The Presidential Records Act isn’t easily enforceable. The Trump Presidency nearly destroyed the United States. Will what went on in the darker corners of his White House ever be known?”

In the end, this portion of the larger, ongoing, preposterous presidential tantrum finally came to an end with no dramatic “Have you no decency?” moment. After weeks — years, really — of disgusting and appalling GOP acquiescence to this pestiferous president and his every shabby whim, the transition floodgates were kicked open by a small-office Michigan Republican named Aaron Van Langevelde who, quite simply, chose to follow the law.

He was joined in this simple, vital stand by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who on most days would never be mistaken for a hero of defending the vote. Raffensperger, like his boss Gov. Brian Kemp, has had his fingers in some of the most brazen voter suppression pies ever to emerge from the Republican oven. In this instance, however, and with the integrity of the vote in Georgia on the line, Raffensperger stood the gaff against an astonishing presidential assault and yielded not one step.

This is all to be cheered, of course. The nation desperately needs the Biden/Harris administration to hit the ground running in January. Due to the lack of federal leadership on COVID and the disregard for safety strictures currently taking place across the country, the aftermath of this travel-heavy Thanksgiving holiday promises to be as gruesome as anything we have seen to date. Many hospitals are already full, and the wave may still be weeks away from cresting. It is going to be very, very bad, so giving the incoming administration time to adequately prepare is very, very good.

Yet we must all pause here in this brief moment of relative quiet to ponder just how terrifying, how destabilizing, all of this has been and continues to be.

Michigan was not going to flip to Trump’s column even if Van Langevelde decided to make a pest of himself, and the Trump campaign’s slapstick law firm of Larry, Moe & Curley wasn’t getting anywhere with the Pennsylvania courts. Imagine, however, if the margins in those states had been narrower, and a competent attorney had argued a case with sufficient clarity to allow Trump’s complaint into the bloodstream of the judicial branch. All roads there lead to a wildly conservative Supreme Court, and no telling how that story ends.

Speaking of endings, there is none here just yet. “Poll: 79 Percent of Trump Voters Believe ‘Election Was Stolen‘ via @BreitbartNews,” Trump shriek-tweeted this morning. “They are 100% correct, but we are fighting hard. Our big lawsuit, which spells out in great detail all of the ballot fraud and more, will soon be filled. RIGGED ELECTION!” It appears the president still has some fundraising to do.

There are 57 days until the inauguration. That is plenty of time for Trump and his people to make deeply damaging mischief, and they are not wasting the opportunity. Beyond that is the strange, unsettling quiet from the fringes of Trump’s supporters. Justin King, also known as video blogger Beau of the Fifth Column, somberly notes that groups like the Proud Boys have not taken a seat at the table just yet, and no one can be sure what it will look like if they choose to intervene. The menace of it looms like a distant thundercloud that doesn’t seem like it’s moving, perhaps because it’s headed right for you.

“That events could so easily have turned out the other way, however, should make Americans wary of any notion that this country glides across time and space along a natural arc of progress,” notes Atlantic writer Clint Smith. “Our norms, our institutions, or our systems do not inevitably bend toward justice and protect us. That has been made clear. The truth is that, in some instances, we have simply been extremely lucky. And this month, even after a period of uncertainty, we were lucky again.”

At bottom, it is less important that Trump’s tactics were insufficient to his goal of overthrowing a national election, and far more important that he and the GOP tried to do this in the first place. He leaned on obscure low-level state officials and loosed his well-trained dogs on them in order to break their will and bend them to his. Even in his incompetence, Trump managed to get almost all of the Republican Party to stand mute while he throws wild accusations around for no better reason than to convince millions that Biden stole the election.

Could a more competent authoritarian have done a better job at this? Probably. Will a more competent authoritarian come along someday and go to school on Trump’s tactical errors? I can think of a few who are already lining up for the job.

Such is our national inheritance from this debacle. While these most recent events are worthy of celebration, the fact remains that Trump has several more weeks to tear up the country before he departs, and appears to have every intention of continuing to swing his wrecking ball once he’s gone. Celebrate the Biden transition as you wish, and then get ready for whatever comes next.

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