FT subscribers can click here to receive Swamp Notes by email.
Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu may have congratulated Joe Biden on his victory. So too has Britain’s Boris Johnson. Not to mention Tom Donohue, president of the US chamber of commerce, former President George W Bush and Utah senator Mitt Romney. Then, of course, there is Fox News, that other well-known bastion of elite liberalism. All of them are apparently in on the biggest fraud in US political history, according to Donald Trump.
His story has not altered since November 3. It has only grown more byzantine. On Thursday Sidney Powell, one of Mr Trump’s election lawyers, said that the pro-Biden fraud was carried out through a US voting system that was supplied by Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s deceased former president, and in collusion with George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, communist China and other nefarious actors.
The press conference, in which Ms Powell was joined by Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, Trump’s other two lead election lawyers, ranks as one of the most bizarre interludes in this already crackpot political season. Don’t take my word for it. Here is what Chris Krebs, the former head of the US cyber security and infrastructure security agency, tweeted: “That press conference was the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re lucky.” Sorry Swampians, you’re now unlucky. Krebs, a Trump appointee, was fired by Trump this week for debunking claims that the election had been marred by widespread fraud.
My instinct tells me that at some point this will dwindle to just Trump and a few diehards — Stephen Miller, his senior adviser; John McEntee, director of the White House personnel office; the Trump children and Giuliani — holed up in the Alamo awaiting their fate. But we have several weeks of unhinged conspiracy theory to wade through before then. The most important date is December 14 when the electoral college votes. Each state much certify its electors by December 8. The key states, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Wisconsin, are all supposed to certify their results within the next few days.
What we are witnessing is a last-ditch attempt by Trump’s remaining campaign lawyers to “overturn” those results — a word Trump’s lawyers unashamedly used on Thursday. One way to do this is for the various boards of canvassers and electors to refuse to validate various county tallies, which would then throw the process into disarray.
State courts and legislatures would get involved with no predictable outcome. Michigan is currently ground zero for that operation. Trump has invited Michigan’s Republican senate leader and House speaker to the White House on Friday. There can only be one purpose to that meeting, which is to persuade them to shift Michigan into Trump’s column by refusing to validate the results.
But my gut also tells me to be wary of writing off a US president who is bent on achieving something — in this instance an electoral coup. Almost all of the Trump campaign’s lawsuits have been dismissed as nuisance or have been dropped. His allegations are only getting wilder. The longer the Republican party tolerates this pyromania the greater the damage to America’s democratic culture. As Giuliani demonstrated on Thursday, the Trump campaign no longer makes the pretence that it has any evidence of fraud. They are not seeking to convince judges or officials of the merits of their case. Without any evidence, that is impossible.
Their targets are the parts of the Trumpian base that swallow conspiracy theories — the more outlandish the better. They in turn will keep the pressure on Republican legislators in the swing states to flip the results. I very much doubt this desperate gambit will succeed. But we are in uncharted territory. Trump is not going to concede this election. Others will have to do it for him. My question to you Rana is whether he is breaking the law. I know neither of us is a lawyer. But it strikes me that there ought to be criminal penalties for seeking to overturn the certified results of a free and fair election. If that is legal, what isn’t?
My column this week looks at Joe Biden’s plan to hold a global summit for democracy — and whether that is a double-edged sword. My view is that he should focus on repairing US democracy. They are not mutually exclusive, of course. But Biden should be wary of embarking on any foreign policy crusade.
My colleague Martin Wolf asks the intriguing question of whether we could be returning to an era of inflation. The age of disinflation — and, in some countries, bouts of deflation — has lasted all of my adult lifetime. Martin asks whether today’s monetary and fiscal largesse and the slowing rate of globalisation may be bringing that long cycle to an end.
Finally, for some light yet serious relief watch this rant by Bill Maher against “Woketopia” in which he argues the left’s social justice warriors contributed to this month’s downballot Democratic defeat. Trigger warning: some people might find Maher’s invective offensive. I thought it was spot on. I suspect you would too, Rana.
Rana Foroohar responds
Ed, I am no lawyer either, and won’t try to make a judgment call there. I’m guessing that while Trump has a right to his legal action, denial of validated results and the subsequent prevention of an orderly transition must fall in the category of breaking the law (I invite any actual lawyers and constitutional scholars to weigh in here — does it only count if he literally refuses to leave the White House on January 20?).
What I find amazing, and what I’m covering in my own Monday column, is how long it has taken business leaders to actually start worrying about a disorderly transition of power and to speak out against the president. The very fact that they are doing so now will, of course, only make the people who believe all the various conspiracy theories more convinced of their position (“there really is a cabal of wealthy people running the country!”). That may increase the risk that things get messy over the next two months. Plenty of people didn’t like Trump but did like his tax cuts and were willing to cut a deal with the devil. We are all now paying the price.
And now a word from our Swampians . . .
In response to ‘Place matters’:
“In Prof Esther Duflo’s interview with Prof David Runciman on the LRB‘s ‘Talking Politics’ podcast they discuss the idea that people aren’t incentivised, generally, to move based on economic improvement and, so, policies which target individuals rather than places are misdirected. People live where they live because they prefer it. Accordingly, their thesis is that to fix income inequality there should be a wealth transfer from places like Cambridge, Massachusetts, to towns and counties which have below median household incomes. This is not a popular opinion in the wealthy suburbs of Boston where I’m lucky to live. But given that those who support Trump are clearly desperate, it may be necessary. I also saw it on a recent drive from Boston to Ithaca, New York, and back, in October, driving along Route 12 in New York State through Chenango Forks — mile after mile of economically hurting, failed small dairy farms, featuring sign after sign supporting the incumbent president.” — Jan Galkowski, Westwood, Massachusetts
“It might be time to drop ‘rustbelt’ from our vocabulary. It’s a pretty demeaning term when you think about it and the description may add to the belief of many that we ‘liberal coastal elites’ dismiss midwesterners as uneducated former factory workers who are incapable of participating in a more skills based economy. That of course is not the case but in this deeply divided country we should probably choose our words and phrases carefully.” — Robert S Hatfield Jr, Portland, Oregon
In response to ‘Wanted: a Brzezinski for the post-Trump world’:
“Would not a Biden initiative for a round table with equal sitting, rather than for a rectangular one with a head be the proper one as true repudiation of America First Trumpism? Perhaps in UN-sponsored G20 format? Would this be amoral foreign policy in cold national interest? Or the embodiment of the kind of bold departure from embedded DC notions urgently needed in this one-world two systems global reality?” — Georgi Pirinski, Sofia, Bulgaria