Any thoughts that Donald Trump is just trying to polish his perceived presidential legacy with his late-game administration moves is giving way to a darker idea. He is planting boulders in the path of Joe Biden and the incoming group, "salting the earth," as one headline declared this week.
It's a ridiculous process that sneers at the MAGA America Trump professes to love. Apart from ignoring the overwhelming coronavirus issues, Trump's strategy is to continue hobbling the federal government from addressing what it needs to face.
Separate from petulance over losing the election and not starting a transition, Team Trump continues to be actively sabotaging U.S. policies that – at least according to campaign promises – are bound to change with an incoming opposition political party.
To show what he sees as toughness, Trump considered attacks on Iran; ordered a sudden but telegraphed withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia without condition; launched further curbs on immigration; and ordered, again, prescription drug price cuts he ordered, then suspended, a month ago, without a plan.
Now, his folks are doubling down elsewhere, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo going to the West Bank in effect to endorse Israeli takeover of Palestinian property; Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin cutting off Federal Reserve from helping markets, businesses and municipalities weather the pandemic; and there is a plan afoot for a late order to halt birthright immigration – the extension of citizenship upon American birth.
These are all moves in the category of anger-making contention. Even if Joe Biden did not want them overturned or challenged in court, his group is not in a position to carry them out through a federal government that has been hollowed of employees and will find itself at the apex of the pandemic as a full-time problem.
Trump's insistence in refusing the reality of the election is more than annoying, and seems to put the country in actual danger. But I have to believe that eventually even fantasy resistance has to give way to grudging acknowledgment of certified results.
At this point, the focus should be on the actions – or inactions – of his government.
Refusing to acknowledge the explosion of COVID-19 across all states is, of course, a statement that this is perfectly OK. Deaths can pass 250,000, 300,000, even 400,000 without moving Trump to act in a more presidential manner, coordinating state response, pushing for aid or using his position to promote the public health standard measures. We're left thinking he does not care; we are on our own.
Firing top personnel in national security, defense and through other agencies over personal pique are actions that add up to undercutting the power of government to carry out everything from vaccine deliveries to making real renewed call for prescription drug price cuts.
Trying to appoint an unqualified Judy Shelton, an advocate for returning the country to the gold standard, to the Fed was too much even for the Senate Republican majority. It fell short of confirming her.
The foreign policy moves don't change overall administration policies toward the Middle East or Afghanistan, but they will hamper the Biden counterparts considerably. That seems to be the exact point.
These moves, too, reflect more tantrum than they do American influence in the world. They appear meant for something Trump to put in a dictated book that tells the story of his presidency in glorious America First terms speaking only of wild success.
For Pompeo to endorse grabbing Arab lands is writing a guarantee for more generations of discord beyond the relative short life of the current Israeli government. For this administration to declare that questioning Israeli right-wing politics as "anti-Semitic" is simply false and misguided.
OK, we all understand Trump does not want to be sidelined. But acting in ways to ensure that he is undermining national institutions hardly seems the way to want to be remembered.
A rational outgoing president would be working twice as hard as normal to get an aid package through the Congress, that the states understand how emergent vaccines will be distributed and ensuring that the incoming bureaucrats understand how Team Trump sees the issues we face.
Those close to Trump are saying that former President Barack Obama treated his group poorly in a transition – claims that run counter to what happened – because in the end, the FBI and national security folks were investigating the undue contacts between his campaign and Russian operatives.
This recalcitrance is payback, they say. The mind boggles.
If Trump's people had not been using underhanded methods with Russians, they would not have attracted FBI attention in the first place. But whatever that effort entailed, it had nothing to do with an outgoing person at the Pentagon talking with an incoming person about the details of U.S. defense issues.
It's too late to stop the tantrum. But it's not too late for those who believe in having a government to stop or delay consideration of policies that are bound to be overturned in two months.
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