US PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION: SAMSON AGONISTES TRUMP

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President Trump is into all kinds of things to game Biden’s inauguration, writes Tiko Okoye

The fact of the matter is that Trump has not only been spending too much time with, but also providing a listening ear to, conspiracy theorists pushing him, like the biblical King Rehoboam, to abuse the power of his office.

While appearing on a Fox News live programme on December 17, White House adviser Peter Navarro urged President Donald Trump to appoint a special prosecutor to smoke out details of how Democrats stole his election victory before inauguration day, in order to stop Biden from taking the oath of office as “an illegal and illegitimate president.” Note that Trump has asked Attorney-General William Barr to resign from his post by December 23 for contradicting his stance on the credibility of the November 3 elections.

Barr is to be replaced by his deputy, Jeffrey Rosen, in an acting capacity, who might decide to ‘earn’ a speedy confirmation by playing the ‘good boy.’ Does this sound too far-fetched? Then you didn’t hear that the man who replaced sacked Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, also still in an acting capacity, Chris Miller, just ordered Pentagon officials to halt Biden transition briefings.

Speaking on the same day as Navarro, but on the NewsMax network, Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.), jailed for lying to Congress, and recently pardoned by President Trump, bragged that Trump could use “military capabilities” to grind out a different set of results in the swing states.

According to Flynn, Trump could suspend the Constitution under martial law and deploy military personnel to conduct a fresh election in each battleground state. “People out there talk about martial law like it’s something we’ve never done (before),” he posited, “(but) martial law has been instituted 64 times!” Really? Who would have ever imagined fascism being mealy-mouthed in America, and by no less a person than a former national security adviser!

Flynn’s kite was immediately shot down by the military top brass. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Chief of Army Staff Gen. James McConville issued a joint press statement in which they unequivocally emphasized that, “There is no role for the US military in determining the outcome of an American election.”

Still on December 17, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Sean Hannity – one of few Fox TV network programme hosts remaining in Trump’s good graces – that there is every likelihood that Congress would decide to ratify the GOP-coordinated “alternate electors” in the swing states, thereby overruling the Electoral College and throwing the election to Trump.

Mo Brooks, a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Alabama has pledged to object to the counting of electoral college votes reflecting the certified results from various states when the House and the Senate converge in the January 6 joint session. All it would take to trigger a vote in both chambers of Congress is the support of one senator. And Tommy Tuberville, a Republican Senator-elect also from Alabama, has publicly declared that he would support Brooks’ motion. Describing Tuberville as “a great champion and man of courage,” Trump urged more senators, in a characteristic tweet, to follow his lead and act to restore the “landslide victory the Democrats were caught swindling from the Republican Party.”

However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who only recently acknowledged Biden’s victory, would be hoping that Tuberville and his co-travellers have a change of heart, otherwise the motion would be defeated on the floor; but not before needlessly portraying both the GOP as a divided house and Senate Republicans as being anti-Trump. Albeit, apart from the optics, ‘vulnerable’ Congressmen have very little choice after seeing Trump endorse calls by his base to jail Republican politicians who refuse to participate in his attempts to dispute the legitimacy of the electoral process.

The word on the street is that Trump intends to keep a tight leash on the Republican Party heading into 2024. But battle-scarred Republican chieftains like McConnell have decided that the time to prise their party out of Trump’s vice-like grip is now or never. McConnell is worried that the party would massively lose out if Trump’s election fraud rhetoric pushes Republican voters to boycott the Senate rerun races next month, causing Georgia to flip the Senate blue.

Not too long ago, the Trump legal team publicly disowned Sidney Powell after she floated fantastical conspiracy theories linking late Venezuelan Head of State Hugo Chavez, some ‘disloyal’ Republicans and the Deep State with the ‘malfunctioning’ Dominion Voting Systems machines – fables that even members of the Trump inner caucus considered very revolting! But Trump is now on the cusp of unveiling her as special counsel for voter fraud – recall Navarro’s forewarning on Fox News!

It is crystal-clear that Trump opted to bring Powell in from the cold only because her bizarre and outlandish conspiracy theories now provide him with a basis for invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807 that would authorise the deployment of land and naval forces on US soil. Although Trump later seemingly put the rumours to rest by tweeting “Martial law = Fake News,” many attributed it to the strong rebuff by the army top brass when the idea was first floated.

Trump has a joker up his sleeves. Earlier in June, he ordered the Census Bureau to exclude undocumented immigrants from being included in the numbers to be used to decide the reapportionment of Representatives among the states. The population count was completed in October, even as a coalition of 22 states, led by New York, filed a lawsuit at the Supreme Court challenging the presidential directive. In a 6-3 split judgement, the justices handed Trump a temporary win as it allowed the White House a little more time to keep illegal immigrants from the census count without appearing to violate the Constitution.

But the apex court must make a final judgement soonest because the 2020 census report is due on December 31, and Trump has a 10-day limit thereafter to transmit the number of House seats each state is allotted to Congress. The decision to exclude undocumented immigrants from the population count also affect the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funds. The Trump administration primarily perceives the policy as payback time for blue states such as California and New York with extra-large proportions of the popular and Electoral College votes. Still, red states like Arizona, New Mexico, Florida and Texas with relatively high numbers of undocumented immigrants could equally suffer.

Two major factors are providing the oxygen Trump needs to continue to rain on Biden’s parade. The first is the block support of Evangelicals. Many leading members went the extra mile of prophesying Trump’s election win, and must remain in cahoots with Trump in his increasingly bizarre attempts to retain power to save themselves from ridicule. The mindless adulation can only be reversed if and when Evangelicals finally realise that the man who pleases God is not the self-righteous ‘talker’ in Luke 18:9-12, but the humble ‘doer’ in Matthew 25:34-40.

The second factor is the docility of the Biden team. The harsh reality of being excluded from the pantheon of second-term presidents – a revered class that includes the likes of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and George W. Bush that he condescendingly considers as inferior to him, has caused Trump to – as the popular American idiom goes – lose it! Trump, who ought to writing the last chapter of his administration with a victory lap vis-à-vis the game-changing Covid-19 vaccines his warp-speed project crystallised, is bitterly seeking to do just about anything to stop Biden from being sworn in.

“No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it,” averred 32nd US President Franklin Roosevelt. “There can be no appeasement with ruthlessness. There can be no reasoning with an incendiary bomb” – which is what Trump has become. If Biden fails to take the initiative, a vengeful Trump won’t hesitate for a moment to – very much like the biblical Samson – bring down the roof on all his perceived enemies who ‘conspired’ to deny him a second term, including the ravaging Coronavirus pandemic, Democrats, erstwhile GOP allies such as Georgia’s Governor Brian Kemp and Republican Secretaries of State in the swing states who certified Biden’s wins, among many others!

Okoye is a Boston University Hubert Humphrey Fellow and wrote from Abuja