By Shivaji Sengupta
It has been seventeen days since election night, ten days since Joe Biden was declared president-elect by the major news agencies, from the Associate Press to MSNBC. In what was a stupendous victory of democracy almost one-hundred-and fifty million voted. As Americans all of us can be proud of this fact.
But the election results, being close (51% to 47%, approximately) had 73 million people voting for the loser, Donald Trump. Almost 79 million for the winner. This, what we have is a divided election. To further complicate matters, while Biden won the presidential elections, the Republicans gained 7 seats in the House of Representatives, thereby reducing the Democrats’ majority to a razor thin margin. In the Senate, the Republicans will most likely lose two seats keep a zaor thin majority, just the opposite of the House. So there we have, a house divided.
None of all this split would have been problematic, by the way, had the president not refused to accept the election results. Brazenly, he declared all the absentee ballots illegal and announced himself the winner. Having assumed he won, in the face of losing by almost six million votes, he took the (il)logical next step: he refused to acknowledge Biden won and is therefore denying the president-elect transition.
The Trump White House ordered senior government administrators and elected officials to block cooperation with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team. This action is leading to a standoff that threatens to impede the transfer of power and prompting the Biden team to consider legal action. However, the president-elect is still restraining from going to court although he said he is “considering it.” At any rate, it is obvious that the Trump administration is under strict orders that no governmental agency should act independently of the president. Emily Murphy, as the director of the General Services Administration (GSA), has the authority to independently acknowledge the winner of the presidential election. But, fearing Trump, she is refraining from doing so and issuing “an ascertainment.”
In the United States transition is the hall mark of a mature democracy. No matter how hard an election is fought, how much mudslinging there has been, the president-elect, always gets full cooperation from the outgoing president. He opens up the Oval Office, invites the new president-elect and explains the workings of the White House. All members of his administration meet their counterparts and share with them all that the new administration must know in order to govern. Susan Rice, President Obama’s National Security Advisor, writes in her autobiography, about introducing president-elect Trump’s National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn to her office. The story is both tender and comical.
After having gone through the official protocols and details, Dr. Rice asked General Flynn, “Do you have any questions?” The general hesitated. “No, I don’t have a question, but I do have a favor to ask,” he said timidly. Rice raised her eye-brows. “May I please have a hug before I leave?” The general asked.
He got his wish. Four years later Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the present president-elect stands out in sharp contrast to the graciousness with which President Obama and his administrators facilitated the Trump transition. Mind you, there was no love lost between the two leaders, Obama and Trump. Still, in the interest of democracy, in the interest of the country operating it’s governance seamlessly, the Obama administration, from the president down, according to the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, complied with all the protocols.
In the US, governments in transition bear a serious responsibility in assisting the new government to hit the ground running, especially now during the pandemic. Andrew Card, President George Walker Bush’s Chief of Staff at the White House, said “it’s concerning” that the Trump administration has refused to cooperate with President-elect Biden’s transition team amid the coronavirus pandemic.Card explained the importance of transition time and cited the 9/11 Commission who said that the Bush administration’s shortened time in transition may have been one of the reasons for the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Bush had won a close race against the Democrat, Al Gore. The latter challenged the results, leading to a 37-day delay in translation. 3,673 Americans died on 9/11. At the time of this writing, the delay by Donald Trump is already half that with no end in sight.
2,977 Americans died on that fateful September 11, 2001. More than that number may die in a single day because of COVID and the transition, or the lack thereof. This week democrats and public health officials are complaining bitterly about President Trump’s road-block against Biden. They fear that the Trump administration is endangering lives and threatening national security by refusing to cooperate with the incoming administration’s transition efforts, especially with regard to the Coronavirus. The president-elect has warned that “more people may die” because he’s been impeded from coordinating the coronavirus vaccine rollout and other public health measures with Trump’s team, which is moving ahead on its own. Democrats are criticizing Trump’s vanity in putting the nation at risk in the middle of a health crisis.
Biden and Kamala Harris met with the American Governors’ bipartisan executive body comprising five Republicans and five Democrats to discuss best practises of confronting the coronavirus. The two newly elected leaders gave a press conference immediately after. The president-elect was openly distraught about not being able to fathom the current president’s selfish and self-centered mentality. As each day passes, and the Inauguration Day approaches, the Biden administration is becoming more and more handicapped in tackling the Coronavirus. Already, one million have been hospitalized in the past two weeks bringing the total to eleven million. In another eight – inauguration day – the number hospitalized might be fifteen million if nothing is done. Donald Trump, who no longer deserves to be called president because of his perverse and willful inaction, has simply turned into an onlooker as far as this virus is concerned. He is also spite fully refusing transition.
When all this is finally mercifully over (if it is over!), presidential historians will have a challenge in their hands trying to figure out Trump’s psychology. Biden calls him the “most irresponsible president in American history.” Mary Trump, Donald’s sister, a psychologist, who thinks that her brother is deranged, should be able to help the historians. Perhaps, the American people who elected him in 2016, and another 73 million who voted for him this year, see something in him that I, at the twilight of my life, cannot. What is it about a plainly crazy megalomaniac that so appeals to the American electorate? His popularity is indication that mass euphoria exists, as it did in Hitler’s Germany, and still does in sundry African and Asian countries.
We need to understand this psychology, or else we will elect him or another one like him again.
Post-election transition — or the lack thereof. What it means for America
By Shivaji Sengupta