Goodbye And Good Riddance: Trump Consigned To One-Term Presidency

TPM Illustration/Getty Images

President Donald Trump will go down in history as a one-term president.

With the news that the former Vice President Joe Biden has clinched the the crucial electoral votes in Pennsylvania — combined with the Biden victories in Michigan and Wisconsin, reversals from 2016 —Trump will not have the electoral votes necessary to secure a second term in office.

The call for Biden followed a multi-day ballot-counting process in the states that put Biden over the top. Early trends coming out of Election Day showed Biden underperforming with key demographics, which let Trump hold on to crucial states from his 2016 upset against Hillary Clinton, while maintaining or even increasing his margins in delegate-rich states like Florida and Ohio.

A key Biden victory in Arizona on Tuesday night expanded the Democrat’s lead and provided some breathing room. The days that followed saw the counting of Democratic-dominated mail-in ballots, allowing Biden’s raw tallies to slowly overcome Trump Election Day advantages in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

However, that counting process was punctuated with false attacks by Trump and his allies, claiming baselessly that the election was somehow suspect. As Trump demanded to “stop the count,” Biden urged patience until every vote was tabulated.

The election brings an end to the Trump presidency, which featured an unprecedented hijacking of the U.S. government for the furthering of the former reality TV star’s personal whims.

From the moment he announced his presidential candidacy in 2015, Trump dominated the political discourse with a toxic mix of xenophobia, vindictiveness and brute callousness. He transformed the federal bureaucracy into a clearinghouse of corruption for his allies, wielded the Justice Department against his political enemies, implemented policies designed to entrench white minority rule, and was impeached by the House for his attempts to use U.S. foreign policy to dig up dirt on his 2020 opponent.

The euphoria of Trump critics across the country had a bittersweet quality for the former longtime government officials who left the administration because they were so disturbed by Trump and his cronies’ behavior. In interviews with TPM, they described feeling both relief that voters had brought the Trump era to an end, but also a recognition of the work that will be needed to repair the breach in the public trust the last four years brought.

Trump’s disregard for the norms and guardrails designed to protect the public interest culminated with his administration’s bungled response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was punctuated by his own bout with the virus and his frequent demands that Americans not be so focused on the crisis’ casualties.

The final stretch of the campaign was marked by an outright subversion of democracy writ-large, as the President vowed to go to the Supreme Court — whose bench was stacked with three of his justices — to end the counting to validly cast votes. On election night, in a speech delivered from the White House, he falsely said he’d won the election, and that any further tallying of ballots was actually an attempt to steal the presidency from him.

Trump held onto the message even when stopping the count would have left Biden in the lead, and on Thursday night, in White House remarks, he promised a “a lot of litigation,” while claiming falsely that if “you look at the legal votes, I win very easily.”

But Trump’s campaign did not get very far in the legal fights against the counting of ballots that were tilting against him. And a Biden campaign message that focused explicitly on a return to normalcy and an end to the divisiveness that defined the Trump era appears to have resonated with suburban voters, who helped deliver the White House to the former vice president.

“It’s time for Donald Trump to pack his bags and go home,” Biden said at a campaign event in Pittsburgh on Monday night. “I honest-to-God believe that the vast majority of Americans are done with the chaos, the corruption, the failure, the irresponsibility, the indifference to American lives, the indifference to America’s dignity.”

Biden’s top surrogates — including the former President whose legacy Trump has been dead set on dismantling — framed his candidacy as a promise that a Biden administration wouldn’t occupy the daily American psyche the way that Trump has.

“With Joe and Kamala, you’re not going to have to think about them every single day,” Barack Obama said at a campaign event Monday night.

“You’re not going to have to argue about some crazy tweet that the President sent out this morning. It won’t be so exhausting. You’ll be able to go about your lives knowing that the president is doing his job, instead of suggesting we inject bleach, [or] that the President’s not going to retweet conspiracy theories that the Navy SEALs didn’t actually kill bin Laden.”

Policy On A Whim

Trump’s chaotic and all-consuming stranglehold on the federal government began in the early days of his presidency, when he followed through on a 2016 campaign promise to prohibit Muslims from immigrating into United States. The proposal was put into place in the form of sloppily-assembled ban on travel from certain Muslim-majority countries — a policy that still exists today, though watered down after several court fights.

“We were blindsided!” Mary McCord, then the top national security official at the Justice Department, recalled to TPM. “It was obviously precooked. There was no discussion among the national security officials and experts about whether this action was justified by national security concerns.”

Announced just a week after the President’s inauguration, the ban set the tone for the administration’s willingness to cut career experts out of major initiatives, many of them aimed at inflicting cruelty and chaos on people of color.

McCord left the administration a few months later. Biden’s election, she said, was a “relief.”

“The politicization of the Department of Justice, and the politicization of really all of the executive branch agencies, has made it very, very difficult for career attorneys, career civil servants to feel like they could, in good faith, ethically, morally do their jobs,” McCord said.

By mid-2017, the administration was piloting a program of systematically separating families who’d arrived at the southern border, including those seeking asylum. Though a federal judge put a stop to the program in 2018, hundreds of children remain separated from their families.

A former career official at the Department of Homeland Security — who asked not to be named out of deference to his current employer — called child separation the “the single least popular thing” the administration did.

“Almost nothing Trump did ever had a majority support,” the former official noted.

“The whole time, this has never felt like somebody grappling with what would be a position on policy that would be good for the country and popular,” the former official added. “I don’t think there’s ever been anything like this in American history of an entire administration that was more built around ‘owning the libs’ than accomplishing anything. It’s just been brutal.”

All throughout the federal bureaucracy, civil servants were caught off guard by Trump’s blitzkrieg attempts at what his old campaign chairman Steve Bannon once called “deconstructing the administrative state.”

“In some respects, it’s been four years wasted on just one attention-grabbing event after another,” said Rod Schoonover, a State Department intelligence analyst who resigned from the Trump administration in July last year after the White House censored his testimony on climate change.

On issues like climate and the government’s COVID-19 response, Schoonover said, the Trump administration wasted its time with “reality bending” and ignoring science.

“There have been a lot of newspaper articles written about misdeeds, abnormal behavior by various members of the current administration,” he said. “They haven’t even scratched the surface.”

Congress Held Hostage

Like the Executive Branch, the halls of Congress were routinely commandeered by Trump’s erratic behaviors, often captured on the President’s bombastic and paranoia-laden Twitter feed.

Rarely a day went by that Republican lawmakers weren’t peppered with questions about a recent and usually controversial comment by the President, be it his derision of “shit hole” countries, his praise for dictators or his suggestion that the 2020 election be delayed. Legislative initiatives were frequently disrupted by the President’s announcement of unexpected and sometimes (though not always) false claims about proposals he previously signed on to.

The 2017 tax bill and a criminal justice legislative overhaul that had bipartisan support that pre-dated Trump, were the only two major legislative legacies that will be left by his administration.

Under his presidency, Congress was more likely to be consumed by crises of the President’s own making, from the firing of FBI director James Comey to foreign policy fiascos that even angered some of Trump’s staunchest congressional supporters.

Former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) — who retired in 2019 after his criticisms of the President made his own political standing untenable — labeled Trump the “chaos president.”

Former Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) who also ducked out of running for re-election in 2018, once equated Trump’s tantrums to those of a toddler’s.

“It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center,” Corker infamously tweeted in 2017. “Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”

Bilking Taxpayers

Amid the policy chaos, Trump and his allies perpetuated an enormous grift on American taxpayers.

Starting with his refusal to release his tax returns, as is customary for presidential candidates, Trump charged through all sorts of firewalls that are supposed to prevent the President from reaping personal financial benefits from the activities of his office

The Trump Hotel he opened in 2016 just a few blocks from the White House became a hub for lobbyists, administration officials, foreign governments and corporations seeking to curry favor with the President. Taxpayer funds similarly funneled through his various resort properties across the world, where Secret Service and presidential staff routinely slept, ate and drank on the public’s tab.

Watching from the sidelines as the marathon 2020 election rolled by, some ex-officials like Schoonover rooted for a Biden victory even as they continued to tally the Trump administration’s damage. For the physicist turned State Department official, the administration had spent four precious years moving backward on the effort to slow man-made climate change, time the plane could never get back. Biden, he said, had to hit the ground running.

“It’s going to take quite a long time for President-elect Biden to really fully understand the degree of damage that’s been done, deep into the government,” he said.

“We’re starting in a crater.”

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