This week mainstream media in the USA and Western Europe are allocating prime attention to the stubborn challenge Donald Trump has made to electoral results in a number of swing states, to his demand for recounts and his insistence that the Democrats have “stolen” the election by encouraging massive voter fraud. There are suggestions that this behavior threatens American democracy. We hear dark intimations that The Donald is plotting a coup d’état and intends to remain in office at any cost. The boys and girls are being mentally prepared to rally in the streets to save the Republic.
For his part, President-elect Joe Biden yesterday told the press that Trump’s refusal to concede defeat is a national embarrassment and will impact on the President’s legacy. Of course, these moderate words are intended to paper over Biden’s own calling Trump a “clown” and “the worst president in American history” during the first televised debate. How Trump’s legacy can be further tarnished by his latest antics strains credulity.
Let us move beyond superficialities and go to the essence of what Trump is now doing. Despite brave words about overturning Biden’s vote tally in the electoral college and winning four more years in the White House, I think it is reasonably likely that Trump knows the score and plans to vacate the White House in January as the law requires. What we are seeing is something entirely different: he is using every resource at his disposal to delegitimize the election of Joe Biden for precisely the same reasons as the Democrats used every trick in the book to delegitimize his own election in 2016. The main thrust of their campaign then was the completely fabricated claim that the Trump team had colluded with the Russians and that Trump owed his victory to interference in the American political process by the Kremlin. The attempted knock-out blow of releasing the Steele dossier to the press and doing it precisely via the traditionalist and virulently anti-Trump Republican, Senator McCain, was another leg of this defamation effort. We all know what followed, leading ultimately to the president’s impeachment. Russia was instrumentalized for the purpose of bringing down the sitting president. There was no concern that the attacks on the Kremlin might cross tripwires and endanger national security as a war of words spiraled upwards into something more ominous. This was an historical first for the Republic and it was a new low in political intrigue. In light of this, we can only say “as you sow, so shall you reap” – the Democrats are getting back from Trump now what they inflicted on him four years ago.
The same applies to the transition process, which Trump’s refusal to concede defeat is frustrating immensely. Yes, as our newspapers remind us, at this time in the 2016 post-electoral calendar, Donald Trump and Melania were being taken around the White House by Barack and Michele Obama. BUT, and this is an entirely relevant consideration, at the same time the Obama Administration was doing everything possible to wreck Trump’s main electoral pledge in foreign affairs, to reach a new understanding with Russia. They handed on to Trump a poisoned chalice. To be specific, they seized Russian state diplomatic property in the United States and did what was in their power to disrupt relations. When Trump appointed General Flynn to discuss with the Russian ambassador the possibility of overlooking this offense pending the handover of power and a new policy on Russia, Flynn was ensnared by the US intelligence services in denials of that happening, which led to his facing the courts over perjury and his eventual removal from power. In fact, what Flynn was doing, reaching out to foreign leaders during the transition period, was a well-established practice going back decades. We see the Biden transition team doing the same thing today, when Biden himself confers with the prime minister of Ireland, as if he represented US diplomacy and possibly in violation of the letter of American law. Our media find absolutely nothing wrong in this, since it is their boy, Uncle Joe, who is doing the consultations, not the authoritarian, wicked Donald Trump and his minions.
Happily the efforts of Trump to delegitimize the incoming Biden administration are based strictly on the flaws of the domestic voting mechanism, in particular on possible abuses of the mail-in voting, without bringing in some foreign actor and disrupting the nation’s relations with allies and adversaries. However, the venom which the Democrats injected into the game of alternation in power will be with us for some time. Joe Biden may try to evade responsibility for what will be a tough four years ahead, but the buck stops on this one at his desk.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020
[If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]