A Rough and Rocky Transition


Dr. James J. Zogby
President Arab American Institute


The election is, in fact, over and Joe Biden won and has been certified by enough states to make the outcome irreversible. Nevertheless, the transition will not go smoothly, as Donald Trump is placing obstacles in the path of the president-elect.

We had expected that the Trump campaign would engage in shenanigans in order to challenge the outcome of this election and that President Trump, himself, would have difficulty accepting that he had, indeed, lost. What we didn’t anticipate was how badly they would handle these challenges.

The Trump campaign has, in fact, filed dozens of lawsuits claiming fraudulent votes, mistaken tallies, and improper vote-counting procedures. Most of these have been summarily dismissed in both state and federal courts. Some have lost because they were poorly prepared, others because they lacked any proof of wrongdoing. During court appearances, Trump campaign lawyers were oftentimes at a loss to explain or even understand the very legal bases they claimed to be using to justify their own arguments.

The president’s main attorney, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani performed so badly in court and so erratically in his press briefings that he has become a standing joke and not only among late night TV comedians. It is sad to watch Giuliani, who at one time had earned the reputation of a tough prosecutor who successfully took on organized crime, unraveling in public view.

While all this is unfolding, the president has held only one public event which he called to announce the great progress his Administration had made to defeat what he continues to refer to as the “China virus.” It did not go unnoticed that he made this statement at the very time when the US is averaging over 120,000 new Covid-19 a day. Nor did his false claim of credit for the discovery of a vaccine in which his Administration had played no role.

The president’s public comments on the election have been limited to the daily barrage of tweets claiming the election was marred by fraud, promoting strange conspiracy theories, and maintaining that he had in fact won “by a landslide” and would therefore not concede.

At the same time, Mr. Trump has been engaged in some questionable behaviors calling Republican state election officials who had certified the vote in Mr. Biden’s favor, urging them to retract their certification. He has also called Republican state legislators asking them to appoint a slate of electors who would go against the wishes of voters in their state and cast their votes for him when the Electoral College meets in December to formally ratify the election for president.

Because the Mr. Trump will not concede and is stubbornly clinging to the belief that he will still be declared the victor, he has refused to allow the normal processes of transition to take place. He has not permitted the release the funds the Biden Transition Office should receive to cover expenses of setting up their government-in-waiting. Nor has he allowed the Biden teams to have access to government offices to work alongside and receiving briefings from their Trump Administration counterparts so that a smooth transition can take place on Inauguration Day. There are also reliable reports that Trump loyalists have been engaged in the destruction of files of correspondence and other presidential papers that, by law, are required to be preserved. This last measure appears to indicate that, despite the Tweets and the attorneys’ antics, Trump operatives do indeed see the writing on the wall and realize that there will not be a second Trump term.   

Other indications of this recognition of reality are the recent maneuvers being taken by the president on a number of domestic and foreign policy fronts. His hurried announcements of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia are cases in point. As are the announcements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that in effect legalize Israeli settlements and declare that boycotting Israel is anti-Semitic. On the domestic front, the White House is preparing moves on immigration, health care, school choice, and the opening of an Alaskan wildlife preserve to oil drilling leases. 

More dangerous than this obstructionism is the damage that Mr. Trump’s antics are doing to confidence in our system of governance. A recent poll showed that almost three-quarters of his voters believe that this past election was deeply flawed. They believe that Mr. Trump was the winner and that Mr. Biden has not been legitimately elected. And with the vast majority of the Republican Senators and Governors and other party leaders echoing this line, for fear of alienation Mr. Trump’s loyal base, we cannot expect the Republicans in the Senate or Congress to work constructively with their Democratic counterparts. 

We are a more deeply divided country than at any time since the Civil War. We have had disagreements of policy, but we’ve never before disagreed on reality. Mr. Biden may have received almost 80 million votes, but with the vast majority of the 73+ million Americans who voted for Mr. Trump unwilling to accept the outcome or the legitimacy of the president-elect, we are in for a rough go of it moving forward.