BY IAN PATTISON
An earlier version of this column appeared in print edition Nov. 10.
Well, that’s that. Except that it isn’t. Joe Biden may be the president-elect, but Donald Trump will be the president for at least another 10 weeks. We’ve seen what he can do when he’s in charge. We should fear what he’s capable of in pursuit of vengeance at having lost an election he boasted he’d win.
But first, a recap. Trump doesn’t like being wrong. He especially doesn’t like being proven wrong and so he’s fought his fate as hard as he could, facts and careful vote counting be damned.
Throughout the states, election officials efficiently did their work, hobbled by delays caused by an unprecedented demand for mail-in ballots due to a pandemic that set successive single-day U.S. case records this week.
The situation in Michigan offered a typical explanation for why the world had to wait days for the outcome of this election. The state secretary’s office tried to convince the Republican-controlled legislature to change state law to allow advance ballots to be counted as they arrived. Obstinate legislators refused, forcing vote counters to wait until the polls closed to begin wading through millions of paper ballots on top of those cast on election day.
It must be said that in the United States of America is 2020, it is incredible that the government would do everything in its power to try to thwart the will of the people as expressed in their votes.
Aside from the president’s chaotic tweets alleging election fraud, and that stunning news conference attacking democracy itself, disinformation was being spread elsewhere. The Trump campaign created a website for people to track developments in each of the contested states and to report allegations of fraud. Never mind that there was already a Republican scrutineer at every single ballot counting site.
The president’s been throwing around lawsuits like confetti. He sent his entire legal team to Pennsylvania to try to invalidate legal votes in whatever way possible. Mind you, if Rudy Giuliani is your lead counsel, don’t expect many wins.
As James Hohmann writes in the Washington Post this week, throughout his career, Trump has tried to use the courts – and spurious lawsuits – to his advantage when he finds himself in a pickle. Trump’s longtime lawyer and mentor Roy Cohn had a saying: “F--- the law. Who’s the judge?”
Former federal prosecutor James Zirin included that anecdote in his 2019 book, “Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits,” to argue that Cohn taught Trump to see the law “not as a system of rules to be obeyed … but as a potent weapon to be used against his adversaries.”
“What is clear in the law becomes contestable for Trump,” wrote Zirin.
And so he’ll try to tie up these election results for as long as he can to lie to himself that an entire system of voting perfected over 240-odd years in a country of 331 million people was unfairly arrayed against him. That his family, his staff, most of the Republican party and 67 million voters support him is the biggest riddle of all.
Indeed, the closeness of the election confirms a nation firmly and almost evenly divided with one side willing to believe the worst and the other apparently still unable to grasp why. But disdain for “Liberal elites” doesn’t explain the depths to which many Trump supporters have sunk.
Their America, writes Rosie Di Manno in The Toronto Star, “is a nation of ugly exclusion, racial inequity, vulgarity, naked self-interest and profound narcissism as embodied by the sitting president. And they like it that way.”
They really like it when he assumes his “Apprentice” role and fires people. There must be hundreds of devoted civil servants who fear for their jobs right now. There are certainly millions of people who fear what he’ll do between now and January’s inauguration to further erode environmental protections, immigration law, racial equality (such as it is) and the rule of law.
In the end the numbers have given Biden the crown, but only just. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, raising doubts yet again about the veracity of big polling firms who got it wrong in 2016 and swore they’d learned from those mistakes.
Biden’s got this, assuming Team Trump’s legal challenges continue to fail, but by an astonishingly tiny margin, far narrower than pollsters had predicted. The common denominator in both elections, of course, is Trump himself. Christopher Borick, the director of polling at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, said “In the end, like so many Trump-related things, there may be different rules . . . I only have two elections with Donald Trump in them — but both seem to be behaving in ways that others don’t behave.”
Is Trump the craftiest man alive? Confounding conventional wisdom is his specialty. That and saving his own skin in spite of himself.
There is a remarkable piece in The New Yorker by Jane Mayer titled, “Why Trump Can’t Afford to Lose.”
The president has survived one impeachment, 26 accusations of sexual misconduct, and an estimated 4,000 lawsuits, she writes. “That run of good luck may well end, perhaps brutally, if Joe Biden wins.”
No American President has ever been charged with a criminal offence, but “as Trump fights to hold on to the White House, he and those around him surely know that if he loses . . . the presumption of immunity that attends the presidency will vanish.”
Given that more than a dozen investigations and civil suits involving Trump are currently underway, he could be looking at a perilous endgame. A variety of tough legal officials are after him on tax and business fronts and courts keep rebuffing his efforts to keep his records secret.
Aside from anything else, then, what might Donald Trump do in “retirement?”
In 2016, when it seemed certain he’d lose to Hillary Clinton, thanks again to those pollsters, his team began plans for Trump News Network—”a media platform on which he could continue to sound off and cash in,” as Mayer put it. He assigned his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to make an offer for The Weather Channel which would be converted to the new Trump vehicle. The $300-million offer fell short. Still, stories persist that he might yet find a media outlet, perhaps assuming the chair that will soon be vacated by the ailing Rush Limbaugh.
Why would Trump want to put up with the trouble of attending at a studio every day to fill a few hours with his views on the state of the nation? According to former Trump confidante Steve Bannon, if Trump loses the election he might run again in 2024. No. Please, no.
For now we are left to wonder at what just happened, in the election and in the larger picture. Perhaps the most lamentable legacy of Trump’s presence in our lives is the depths to which communication has sunk, especially on social media. Gone are the normal human traits of empathy and of discourse that can be at once resolute and polite. It will take a long time to get our manners back.
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.