Our new de-facto interim government

Donald Trump is being effectively marginalized and neutered. This is really quite an extraordinary thing in itself. Essentially, the rest of the federal government, including most of Trump’s own administration, is taking him out of the loop and out of the decision-making process. They are not following his orders. There seems to be a tacit agreement that others will muddle through any remaining issues in his administration. If anyone is really in charge in what’s left of the Trump administration, it’s probably Vice President Mike Pence, perhaps now the de-facto acting president.

We got a clue what was going on back on Wednesday during the coup attempt. According to reports, Trump waffled on sending the National Guard to assist. Pence, hiding in the Capitol with the rest of Congress got on the phone with Defense Department officials and convinced them to deploy troops. Later, there was some rumbling from inside the Trump Administration that Trump had in fact ordered these troops in, but that appears to be a face-saving maneuver. I can see why Pence would be ringing them up because his life was in danger too. In effect, Pence took action when Trump wouldn’t and DoD officials accepted his orders. You might say Trump has been unofficially 25th Amendment-ed. And the DoD seems to have followed his orders, not Trump’s.

This is frankly extraordinary and I didn’t see this coming. I don’t think anyone did. Washington’s senior leadership has been doing all sorts of extraordinary things. House speaker Nancy Pelosi also spoke with Acting DoD Secretary and got him to agree that the military would not implement any decision by Trump to use nuclear weapons. Both Pelosi and incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for Trump to be 25th Amendment-ed. Since that doesn’t seem to be happening, Trump is likely to get impeached a second time by the House. It’s unlikely that the Senate could try Trump for a second time before he leaves office. There’s nothing stopping them after Trump’s term expires though. With Trump no longer president, the Senate might find the two-thirds majority it would need. The benefit of a post-term impeachment conviction: Trump could never run for office again. That might even encourage Ted Cruz to vote for his removal, helping to clear the way for him to run. Other Republican senators are probably considering this tactic too.

A 25th Amendment solution though is highly desirable, if something of a long shot. Aside from removing Trump from power, if done quickly it could have one other major benefit: Trump might not be able to pardon himself, his family and likely all the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol before he leaves office. But if Trump is really undergoing a silent coup by his own administration, he may not have the means to issue these pardons anyhow. That would take some staff and some lawyers. The staff could refuse to do the paperwork or procrastinate until it becomes moot.

Yesterday Twitter permanently banned Trump from their network. The other major social media platforms have already banned him too, including Facebook and Instagram. YouTube is removing or delisting incendiary Trump videos, including reposts by his supporters. The magic of the private sector is busy marginalizing Trump. He’s no longer profitable and keeping him on their platforms are seen as a liability.

In addition, more Republicans are coming out against him. It’s hardly a stampede, but he has cabinet secretaries resigning left and right, including Betsy DeVos his education secretary and Elaine Chao, his transportation secretary (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife). This will curiously leave career civil servants in charge should any decisions need to be made, in other words: institutionalists.

So far, Trump seems to be mostly holing up in the White House having an existential crisis. He’s sort of conceded the election, but only in the sense that Biden will be assuming office, not that he fairly lost the election. Doubtless he is full of rage. He’ll probably find a new outlet soon, likely Parler, a Facebook-like social media platform that seems to be set up primarily for conservatives. I expect he will give interviews to Fox News, OANN and other extreme right wing media platforms. Trump has proven he doesn’t like not being in the spotlight.

Yesterday I suggested he might flee to Mar-a-Lago. That would be decent of him. It would give them a chance to clean up and disinfect the White House before the Bidens occupy it. If he does though it won’t be because he wants to do something decent.

In any event, our new de-facto interim government is an unexpected and fascinating outcome, something that hopefully will never be replicated, but seems to be the only way to bide time until January 20th. We live in extraordinary times indeed.

Wednesday’s inflection point

As I predicted on Sunday, Wednesday was a day of bedlam at the U.S. Capitol. Thousands of pro-Trump protestors, egged on by Trump at an earlier rally outside the White House, occupied and defaced the Capitol for several hours.

Little was done to stop them, and even less was done to prepare for this predictable event. It was (for the moment at least) the acme of Trumpism. It was also an attempted coup, thankfully one that was badly organized and brought under control within a few hours. It was clearly a coup because it was an attempt to alter the results of the presidential election. Our mighty democracy proved very fragile on Wednesday.

Parts of the Capitol were ransacked and items pilfered. At last count, five people are dead but so far not a whole lot of people have been charged with crimes. It was arguably the first time since the War of 1812 that the Capitol was attacked, this time not by British troops but by all American insurrectionists.

(In 1954, Puerto Rican separatists managed to open fire in the House of Representatives, wounding five members of Congress. But that was not a coup as they were not trying to topple the government. It was also quickly put down. Wednesday’s events were clearly the most brazenly seditious acts since the Civil War.)

Time will tell though if Trumpism dies with this coup attempt. Trump’s social media was abruptly cut off, perhaps the cruelest thing that anyone has ever done to him. Talk of using the 25th Amendment to quickly remove Trump from office is going on even inside the White House.

The coup attempt seemed to take the wind out of those in Congress protesting Biden’s election. Only the electoral votes of two states were challenged (curiously, not Georgia’s) and early Thursday Biden’s election was certified. Yesterday Trump came as close as he has come to conceding the election, saying there will be an orderly transition. I wouldn’t bet on this as a lot of what’s left of his government is resigning instead. My other earlier bet, that Trump would flee to a foreign country, now looks a lot more likely. In the meantime, I would not be surprised if he fled the White House, probably for Mar-a-Lago, never coming back.

The ultimate outcome of this coup attempt will hopefully be to kill Trumpism, but I doubt that will happen. It probably will leave Trumpists chastened, at least for a while. One thing it has caused: the government has slipped into Democratic hands. With two Democratic wins in the Georgia Senate runoff, Democrats will control the Senate. So over four years, Trumpism caused Republicans to go from united Republican government to united Democratic government. You would think that would be a karmic shock to what’s left of the party.

On another level, what happened Wednesday was entirely predictable and was the result of demographic changes long underway that are coming to a head, just given a focus through Trump. That’s why I was not surprised when my prediction posted on Sunday came true. That it actually unfolded the way it did though may ultimately secure a better long-term outcome than if it had been beaten back. Maybe Trumpists will be satisfied with the illusion of a short-term victory in a skirmish, then go back into their conspiratorial holes. Maybe having actually lived out part of their fantasies, that will be enough.

I do suffer from what is likely to be the fantasy that those who perpetrated this crime will be held fully accountable. It would not be hard to identify and locate almost all of these lawbreakers. Aside from the many photos taken on the scene, most brought their cellphones with them. As a DailyKos poster noted, a cell tower data dump could quickly identify who were actually there. Assuming Trump is not quickly 25th Amendment-ed, what’s left of his wits though is likely to issue a blanked pardon keeping all those accountable (including presumably himself) from having justice served. Arguably all these prosecutions would stoke the flame of Trumpists, encouraging guerilla-like actions.

While a lot of this is due to the future coming too fast for Trumpists, we may have a new president that can meet the moment. The coup attempt on the Capitol may make Republicans in their diminished role more prone to compromise. It may mean that some of their craziest members, like Josh Hawley (captured raising his fist to the insurrectionists during the coup attempt) get unseated. It does mean that government can function again, albeit modestly, for a while. There is an endless list of changes that need immediate action. For a while we may get some space for these changes to happen.

My gut though tells me this is hardly over. With Trump sidelined, there will be less animus driving these people forward. But there are a massive amount of loose-cannon Trumpists out there. A likely long national struggle lies ahead.

An adult in charge

And that’s basically it. One month from today, we’ll have an adult in charge of our country again.

For four years Trump has run the government as if Dennis the Menace were in charge. He was aided and abetted by the Republican Party, but make no mistake: The Republican Party itself didn’t want Donald Trump. They just discovered that they had no choice. Trump crashed their party so it was either adapt and be his fawning sycophant or do what only a relative handful of Republicans did: become Never Trumpers. Coincidentally they are also no longer Republicans, because the Republican Party is now basically the Trump Party.

It was crazy while it lasted, but in a month the party should be over. You know it’s still crazy because Trump sure appears to believe that somehow, he will still be president after noon on January 20. Too many Republicans in Congress are still afraid to state the obvious. I mean, the Electoral College voted last week so that’s that.

Well, not quite. It’s likely Trump believes that when the certification gets challenged in Congress on January 6 that somehow that verdict will get undone. Or there’s the less subtle route. Last Friday, Michael Flynn — his short-lived national security advisor who Trump pardoned — along with attorney Sidney Powell reportedly tried to talk Trump into a military coup. Just until the election could be rerun properly, mind you; “properly” meaning Trump is declared the winner, the only possible correct result.

It sounds like our next attorney general will have new charges (sedition) to file against Michael Flynn. Anyhow, for reasons I discussed in an earlier post, a coup is extremely unlikely, in part because it appears the military voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden. But also because the military swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, not the president. So did Trump, but Senate Republicans decided that it didn’t matter when your party is in charge.

Anyhow, one of the few things that made me feel better since the election was to watch our president elect behave, well, presidential. He’s busy doing the stuff that presidents traditionally do before they take office, albeit with fitful cooperation from the Trump Administration. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has finally acknowledged the obvious. Frankly, for all his words, I suspect McConnell is secretly relieved that Biden will be the next president. At his heart, McConnell is an institutionalist. Trump wanted to blow up the government. McConnell knows that is reckless; indeed, the surest way to get Republicans out of power is to blow it up. Institutions he cares about, like a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, can’t have much sway if government no longer exists. Also, he could be replaced with someone Trump would prefer more.

Biden’s picks so far have lived up to his promise to create an administration that reflected our diversity. It’s pretty breathtaking, really. Barack Obama’s administration was certainly reasonably diverse, but it was still mostly full of insider white guys. Frankly, had Bernie Sanders somehow won the presidency, I doubt his picks would be as diverse as Biden’s. They would definitely be more progressive, but I doubt we’d have an Interior secretary nominee who is Native American, a sign that Biden truly gets it. An insular figure like Trump would wreak havoc on his political opponents; Biden is wise enough to bring them along and put them to work, making them vested in the outcome.

Biden is smart enough to know he doesn’t know everything, and that he can only be effective through others. Trump never understood this at all; he values only subservience and loyalty. Only someone who has led a completely insular life where they never were accountable to anyone like Donald Trump can think they will always know more and be smarter than others. In his own way, Biden is creating another Team of Rivals, similar to what Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln did. The ramped-up diversity in Biden’s picks brings out more opinions and perspectives. The effective president spends most of their time listening, not giving orders. In short, Biden’s approach so far is very smart and bodes well for his administration.

Biden also understands that government and business are two completely different spheres and they really don’t mix. Trump’s term has pretty much proved this; he saw the presidency as primarily a way to satisfy his own ego while hopefully profiting from it as well. Government is in the business of serving the people, not the other way around.

Now if we can just get through this final month. Biden is not even president yet and already has a 55% approval rating. Trump never broke fifty percent and spent most of his time in the low forties. Citizens can smell competence, which Biden has aplenty. He may not be the president we want, but it sure looks like he’ll be the president we actually need for this moment.