Twilight zone – Mahir Ali


IN less extraordinary times, the certification of electoral college votes on Capitol Hill is little more than a formality. Today, however, the usually sedate ceremony in Washington is likely to be enlivened by a tragicomic farce.

At least 12 Republican senators and around 140 members of the House of Representatives have vowed to challenge the election returns from “disputed states” and seek a 10-day audit.

In keeping with the fantastical orientation of the Trumpist milieu, they are undeterred by the fact that there are no disputed states. The votes have been meticulously recounted in several states without changing the result. Scores of Trump campaign complaints of voting fraud have been litigated in dozens of jurisdictions all the way up to the Supreme Court, and thrown out every time for lack of evidence. Many of the judgements were handed down or endorsed by Trump appointees.

In other words, all avenues, even the narrowest, for challenging the Nov 3 popular verdict have been explored, and reached a dead end. The incumbent president’s apparently undiminished conviction that he won a second term is just another Trumpian fantasy.

Back in 2016, when Donald Trump lost the Iowa caucuses to Ted Cruz, whose wife and father he insulted during the campaign, he accused his rival of election fraud. To which the Texas senator responded: “What Donald does when he loses is he blames everybody else. It’s never Donald’s fault.”

Less than five years after that accurate character assessment, Cruz is leading the Senate charge on behalf of Trump. This is yet another reminder of the extent to which the Republican Party has morphed over four years into a subsidiary of the Trump Organisation.

A handful of Republicans in both houses of Congress have publicly expressed their dismay, but even some of those who ought to be held answerable for serving as Trump’s enablers over the past four years have distanced themselves from the diehard tactic. Even Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who took his own sweet time to acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory, has reportedly been striving to stave off the unseemly dissent of the Cruz gang, evidently to little avail.

Whatever shape today’s drama on Capitol Hill takes, it will likely be supplemented by chaos on the streets outside, given that Trump has invited his supporters to the party in DC, and some of his collaborators have openly advocated violence. There’s no telling what will go down if elements from the far-right militaristic fringes of society decide to get aggressive.

The sense of alarm has been compounded by a comment jointly contributed to The Washington Post on Monday by the 10 surviving former defence secretaries — including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and two veterans of the Trump administration — noting that the US military must at all costs stay out of the fight over the election result, and unquestioningly facilitate the Biden transition. What exactly are they trying to avert? Trump’s first national security adviser (albeit for less than a month), former army general Michael Flynn, recently pardoned by the president, has actually advocated martial law.

Then, last weekend Trump raised the stakes — and plenty of hackles — by trying to intimidate Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, into somehow “finding” him 11,780 more votes in a state that unexpectedly swung to Biden. While demanding a total that would exceed Biden’s tally by just one ballot, Trump also insisted he won Georgia by “hundreds of thousands” of votes.

Georgia went to the polls again yesterday for a couple of run-offs that will decide which party controls the Senate, and Trump told Raffensperger in an hour-long phone call that he wanted the state’s result in the presidential election reversed before then. Raffensperger creditably stood his ground, politely conveying to the president that his data was wrong.

It is likely other secretaries of state have been at the receiving end of similar calls that haven’t so far been publicised. The bigger question is whether Trump seriously continues to believe that he won the election, or is simply conveying that impression in order to replenish his coffers by soliciting donations for carrying on a hopeless legal crusade.

It’s hard to say exactly what goes on in the poorly equipped brain behind that orange-tinted visage, even though the president’s predilections are hardly a secret. It’s intriguing to learn, meanwhile, that a US military Boeing 757 occasionally used by Trump is scheduled to land in Scotland on Jan 19, the day before Biden’s inauguration.

That could be a part of plan B, if all else fails, but there’s still a fortnight to go in the twilight zone of the Trump presidency, and the lame-duck leader will try every trick he can think of to stay on in the White House. His chances of succeeding are next to zilch, but all collateral damage suffered by the Republican Party will be well deserved.