These days, Republicans hold all the cards (the Senate, a surefire SCOTUS appointment that is likely to be bullied through later this week, and the Oval Office, to say nothing of the hold Trump has over his supporters at rallies). And while the tone appears to be changing, with millions lining up to vote ahead of Election Day, the arc of injustice will take time to correct.
Even if President Trump agrees to a peaceful transfer of power (a big if), and even if the Republicans stop loudly calling into question the completely legitimate practice of mail-in voting, and even if former Vice President Biden has a mandate on November 3, there is another hurdle before the Democrats. There are nearly 70 days between the election and the next inauguration. That is a painfully long time.
That period of time is traditionally looked upon as a “lame duck” session, wherein the sitting president has little to do but tie up loose ends. But this current president, as Senator Mitt Romney has acknowledged, is a vituperative one. Trump is a man who stood on stage this weekend and encouraged his followers to shout “lock her up” about a governor whose kidnapping attempt was just barely thwarted by the FBI. This is a president whose bruised ego is felt by the world, and whose lost election, in turn, is sure to be felt by the American people. We will be punished for it.
We already know that two major Supreme Court cases (the Affordable Care Act and a case involving whether or not undocumented immigrants may be counted in the census) will be heard in the lame duck session. But what executive branch-level vengeance will the president enact upon us when he realizes that he has not gotten his way? We must brace ourselves for the absolute worst, because doomsday is far from over when our ballots are cast.
For instance, President Trump has appointed over 200 federal judges during his time in office. (Compare this with President Obama’s record: just over 300, in twice as many years.) We can expect a judicial feeding frenzy in the coming months, as Republicans clamor to color the future of the courts. And while executive orders can be reversed, and one hopes that many of Trump’s inane orders will be — like his declarations regarding preserving the so-called sanctity of Columbus Day and eliminating diversity training in the workplace — he can still do real harm in the meantime. Even mere months of executive orders that are rooted in racism, sexism, or sheer misanthropy can and will terrorize vulnerable Americans who have already been upended by the pandemic.
Speaking of the public health crisis, the pandemic, too, could be Trump’s way of harming Americans in the time between the election and the inauguration. Today, Twitter removed a tweet from Trump’s own Coronavirus Task Force member, Dr Scott Atlas, which claimed that face masks do not shield against the transmission of Covid-19. Perhaps we can expect the president to amass his so-called friends at more of his bogus rallies, in which he foments dissent against those who are trying their best act in the public interest. A man with nothing to lose is bound to care little about whether or not he kills his adoring fans in the process.
A battered Trump is a dangerous Trump — and we have already seen how dangerous an unbattered Trump is. Embarrassed by his fall from grace, we cannot expect this president to find humility, because this president is incapable of introspection. We cannot expect this president to reach out to the other side, because this president is incapable of conciliation. The only thing we can expect is 11 weeks of unchecked rage and revenge-seeking at an outcome that, for once, did not go his way.
And if it looks, now, like Republicans are swarming for the exits like rats exiting a sinking ship, well, that’s probably not the case, either. We have months of wrath and dwindling power to endure still, as the men who have been cast out try to use the last of vestiges of their power to make sure that we are terrorized for protecting democracy. That will be Trump’s final legacy — his parting gift to the American people — and we should steel ourselves for its arrival.