Friday, November 20, 2020

Trump’s Coup Attempt and his Scorched Earth Policy

U.S. president Donald Trump and his allies are doing everything they can to tie President-Elect Joe Biden's hands before he is inaugurated. They seem intent on burning down the house as part of a scorched earth policy designed to make life as difficult as possible for the incoming administration. They are poisoning people with baseless accusations of electoral fraud and impropriety, while resisting science based action to combat COVID-19.  They are firing key personnel, hiring loyalists, announcing sanctions, withdrawing troops and rattling the sabers of war.  All the while they are continuing their assaults on environmental protections and climate action.

Biden won states worth 306 Electoral College votes, 36 more than the 270 needed to win. Biden had the highest ever voter turnout and won with 6  million more votes than the incumbent. Trump’s attempt to challenge the results in court have failed and as illustrated recently in Georgia,  the recounts are reaffirming Biden’s win. 

Both Democratic and Republican election officials in virtually every state have said there was no evidence fraud or other irregularities affecting the election results. A joint committee in Trump’s  Department of Homeland Security flatly contradicted the president’s unfounded accusations. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) came to the conclusion that “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised.”  The director of CISA Christopher Krebs denied said the 2020 election was “the most secure in US history.” He also tweeted, “59 election security experts all agree, “in every case of which we are aware, these claims either have been unsubstantiated or are technically incoherent.” 

Even Republicans like Trump advisor Karl Rove are saying Trump’s attempts to steal the election are doomed to fail.  Even Trump loyalist Attorney General William Barr said he didn’t see evidence of massive voter fraud. He nonetheless empowered federal prosecutors to investigate “irregularities,” but the 16 federal prosecutors in charge of monitoring the election told Barr there is no evidence of substantial voting irregularities. 

So what is Trump’s end game? He certainly wants to delegitimize Biden’s presidency, but there is something far more sinister at work here. Trump wants to delay certification of the election results and then get Republican legislatures to change the laws of their state so that they can flout the democratic will of the electorate and give him their state’s electoral votes.  This is nothing less than an attempted coup.  However, all evidence suggests that Republican state legislators will not disregard the will of voters and select pro-Trump delegations to the Electoral College. All four states targeted by Trump require that electors be awarded to the winner of the state’s popular vote. Republican majority leaders from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona have all indicated that they will uphold the law and the law will not allow these electors to be replaced. 

There was some intrigue when two Republican elected officials on the four-member board of canvassers in Michigan initially blocked certification of Wayne County’s vote count. But hours later board chair Monica Palmer and William Hartmann reversed their votes and the board unanimously certified the tally. After a call from the president Palmer and Hartmann tried to rescind their votes, but state officials said the certification will stand as there is no legal or factual basis to reverse it. 

Trump is took his illegal interference with the election to the next level by inviting the Republican leaders of Michigan’s House and Senate to visit the White House on November 20. Both have said that their state's electoral votes will be accorded to Biden as the winner of the popular vote. The Michigan Board of State Canvassers are expected to review and certify the county certifications on November 23. Republican Senator Mitt Romney accused Trump of putting “overt pressure on state and local officials to subvert the will of the people and overturn the election.” When asked if Trumps plan will succeed, Republican election lawyer Ben Ginsberg succinctly said “no”. Trump’s efforts seem doomed to fail but they do undermine democracy and weaken the global position of the United States which will further undermine the authority of subsequent administrations. 

Trump’s refusal to accept the results and transition has a host of serious consequences. This is especially dangerous as the pandemic worsens and it is prompting fears that tens of thousands of people could die as a result. Dr. Anthony Fauci, has said that that transitions is vital. Despite skyrocketing infection rates across the country and 250,000 deaths the Trump administration continues to push back against efforts to manage the virus. Trump is MIA but White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany recently said state efforts to manage the crisis are "Orwellian". The economy which is already reeling from the failure to manage the pandemic just took another hit from Trump in what seems like a transparent attempt to wreak economic harm. On November 20, the White House announced that it was cutting funding for the emergency lending program. 

After four years of eradicating environmental protections and climate action the Trump administration is doing everything it can to further expand fossil fuel infrastructure. The Department of the Interior is auctioning off oil and gas rights to more than 383,000 acres of federal land and the Bureau of Land Management recently announced that they are accepting applications from companies that want to drill in the Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).. These sales could occur before Biden is inaugurated on January 20. The Interior Department is also adopting a narrower definition of what constitutes critical habitat for endangered species and minimizing corporate responsibility for the death of migratory birds. ANWR is home to the Gwich'in people, it is a heritage site and the largest such refuge in the U.S. Opening up the reserve could directly imperil native people and 270 other species, including the world’s only remaining Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, musk oxen, caribou, Arctic foxes, snow geese and other waterfowl. This is but the latest assault from an administration that has all but declared war on wildlife.

The opening of the refuge adds to the unprecedented amount of public land that this administration has made available for fossil fuel extraction, logging, mining and grazing.  This is but one part of a wall of environmental assaults we have seen over the last four years. The Trump presidency has overseen the eradication of more than 125 environmental regulations and polices with another 40 underway. .

In what has been called a "purge" and "revenge firings," Trump has dismissed those that dare to oppose his fanciful narratives. Without any evidence Trump fired Krebs as the head of a CISA for contradicting his baseless election conspiracy theories.  Trump also fired the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper which is at least in part due to his resistance to Trump’s Lafayette Square stunt. Trump has replaced him with Christopher Miller who is a loyalist with no executive experience. Trump also fired top intelligence officials at the pentagon replacing them with political hacks who will do Trump’s bidding.  This includes Douglas MacGregor who was named as a Senior Advisor to the Acting Secretary of Defense (Macgregor harbors a raft of highly questionable views including the belief that it was a mistake to go to war with Nazi Germany. He also subscribes to the outlandish belief that AIPAC buys U.S. support by bribing public officials). 

Trump’s purge of senior officials at the Defense Department does not end there. In the place of these career officials Trump has hired loyalists like Anthony Tata who is the new Pentagon policy chief. Tata was first nominated for this position over the summer, but his nomination was withdrawn after his outlandish views including bigotry was exposed (Tata called Barack Obama a terrorist, pushed conspiracy theories about the “Deep State”, and called Islam an “oppressive violent religion”). Trump also hired Kash Patel as the new acting Defense Secretary’s Chief of Staff. Patel is a former aide to Devin Nunes who pushed “Deep State” conspiracy theories and ardently defended Trump during his impeachment. Finally Ezra Cohen-Watnick was tapped as the new undersecretary of defense for intelligence. Cohen-Watnick was an aide to Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and was the subject of an ethics investigation for funneling top-secret documents about government surveillance to Devin Nunes. 

Trump is also purging scientists who refute his climate denial and replacing them with skeptics who cast doubt on the veracity of climate change. Trump fired Michael Kuperberg and replaced him with David Legates.  As the new executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Legates oversees the 13 federal agencies that study global warming. Legates is know to have ties to the fossil fuel funded climate denying Heartland Institute. He does not subscribe to the scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is the leading cause of climate change and he makes the absurd claim that global warming is harmless.

Trump also appointed Ryan Maue as the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Maue was hired to be a key player in the program that oversees the federal government’s climate report. He has ties to the Cato Institute and although he acknowledges an anthropogenic component to climate change, he is a frequent critic of those who push for climate action and he regularly attacks attribution science which links extreme weather to global warming.  Together these two controversial men are now in charge of the congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment, a report that is issued every five years. They are in charge of selecting the authors that will contribute to the next edition of the report. 

The Trump administration also appears to be trying to hamstring the Biden administration on the foreign policy front. An unnamed White House official allegedly told CNN that their goal is to set so many fires that it will be impossible for the Biden administration to put them all out.

Trump has ordered a further drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. This may explain why Esper and other top pentagon officials were recently fired.  Despite objections from senior military leaders and NATO commanders, Miller announced that the US will remove more than a third of all remaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. These troop withdrawals are fueling fears of a power vacuum like the ones that gave rise to ISIS in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Trump administration is also trying to put Biden in a difficult position with regard to China by imposing sanctions and trade restrictions on Chinese companies and government entities. Trump is also trying to make it impossible for Biden to reinstate the nuclear deal with Iran by imposing a raft of sanctions and penalties linked to Iran's human rights abuses, support for terrorist organizations and its ballistic missile program. 

In a bid to scuttle any hopes of an equitable two state solution in the Middle East, Mike Pompeo recently visited an Israeli settlement in the West Bank even though settlements in occupied territories are deemed to be illegal under international law. This move underscores Pompeo’s reversal of a 1978 State Department legal opinion that declared the settlements "inconsistent with international law." Just days earlier, Israel Land Authority opened bidding to build more than a thousand homes in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians hope will one day be the capital of a future Palestinian state. The Trump administration even labeled a boycott Israel movement an anti-Semitic organization.. Trump is known to have proposed a military strike on Iran but it was reported  that he was talked out of it. The Trump administration rushed through authorization of $23B weapons deal with the UAE that could spark an arms race in the in the Middle East in an apparent quid pro quo for the UAE decision to join the US-brokered agreement and normalize relations with Israel. 

Trump’s coup will likely fail, but this attempt combined with his scorched earth policy will harm American interests for generations to come.  

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