(CNN) — US President Donald Trump continues to howl on Twitter between rounds of golf, spreading the lie that he won an election he lost and promising that he will be in the White House in January.
Meanwhile, a “bunker mentality” has been established, according to CNN reports, and the first family canceled Thanksgiving Day plans in Florida to stay in a White House that they will leave in just over two months.
But throughout the administration under Trump – with actions at the Pentagon, inaction in the economy, and denial about the pandemic – the president and his allies are undermining President-elect Joe Biden and harming the American people, even if none of they recognize that they are about to be replaced.
Instead, Trump has been busy firing officials who do not admit to the electoral fraud narrative: On Tuesday it was Christopher Krebs, the official with the Department of Homeland Security, who confirmed that the elections were safe from meddling.
Here’s a short guide to how Trump leaves things to his successor.
Cloister Biden on foreign policy issues
A report by CNN’s national security team is emblematic of how the Trump administration is actively working to make Biden’s life more difficult.
The goal is to start so many fires that the Biden administration will find it difficult to put them all out, an administration official told CNN in the report.
The Trump administration is:
- Withdrawing more troops from Afghanistan and Iraq in the final days of Trump’s term as president.
- Contemplating new terrorist designations in Yemen that could complicate efforts to negotiate peace.
- Accelerating the authorization of a massive arms sale that could upset the balance of power in the Middle East.
- Planning a last minute offensive against China.
- Suggesting the idea of a last-minute military strike against Iran, according to The New York Times.
- Building a wall of sanctions that makes it difficult for Biden to rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran that Trump scuttled.
- And sending Mike Pompeo on the first official visit by a US secretary of state to an Israeli settlement.
- Intentionally making things harder for Biden could establish Trump’s argument for a rematch in 2024, according to experts in the report.
- And Trump’s last minute change in civilian leadership at the Pentagon is part of this effort.
- An inexpensive grenade
Trump’s failure to negotiate new stimulus for the covid crisis with Congress will set Biden up for a political fight from day one over how to help Americans affected by the pandemic.
Here’s what expires in December with no further action:
- Provisions to strengthen unemployment insurance.
- A deferral of student loan payments.
- A paid family leave provision.
- Coronavirus aid funding for states whose tax base has been decimated.
- And a moratorium on evictions.
Trump could potentially address these issues with decrees if he focused on them. Regardless, the first major political fight of Biden’s presidency is likely to be this showdown with a Senate controlled by either Republicans or Democrats.
Trump also signed a temporary delay on payroll taxes this year. Not all employers participated, but since Trump cannot make the tax delay permanent or forgive it, Biden will have to figure out how to make accrued payroll taxes not feel like a tax increase when the bill is due in 2021.
Weakening of democracy
The most important of these nails left under the sofa cushions is Trump’s steadfast refusal to accept the legitimacy of Biden’s victory, a bit of ultimately futile resentment given that Biden will be sworn in and Trump will no longer be. president in January.
Whether it’s because he wants to close the campaign debt, sow a new media empire of democracy disbelievers, or because he’s personally incapable of admitting defeat, Trump’s actions will have consequences.
We continue to verify these accusations and theories. They all end up being lies.
It is clear that many of Trump’s supporters are fully committed to their disbelief about the election results. If the Republican orthodoxy is that Biden is not an actual president, it will legitimize and even demand that he get in the way of his efforts to govern in the next four years and jeopardize the democratic process.
If Biden is to rule as a unifier, as he promised, he will first have to find a way to reach the people being groomed to believe the counterfactual notion that he stole the election.
Republicans will argue that embittered Democrats similarly set Trump up for failure, but that’s a false equivalency, as Democrats from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton onward recognized Trump’s victory in real time. It also ignores the evidence that led to the Russia investigation, Trump’s impeachment and more.
Why the ‘bunker mentality’ is so insidious
Interestingly, that term above – bunker mentality – is being applied to themselves anonymously by White House advisers. I have always associated it with the end of Adolf Hitler, in the bunker, surrounded by sycophants, rejecting the facts in the face of certain defeat.
But the historian Benjamin Carter Hett writes about this more extensively in the LA Times, and notes that the fact that Trump pushes the huge lie that he won the election and that his party allows him to do so will have corrosive effects on democracy.
I’m going to put the last two paragraphs here, but you should read it all and apply it to what we are seeing in the White House.
Now we see the Republican Party gladly attending to Trump’s hallucinations about his electoral “victory.” Politicians as prominent as Senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo enthusiastically follow them. His lies will also endure and sow bitterness for years.
They have shown that winning, even flattering Trump’s fragile ego, means more to them than the survival of our democracy. How long we can carry on as a democracy with one of our two great parties in the hands of these people will be the urgent question in the coming years.