The Winter of Our DiscontentBreaking News
tags: Donald Trump, 2020 Election
This is a horror story.
Maybe you think that way about the past three years: the corrupt self-dealing, the fusillade of lies and ignorance, the corporate handover of the regulatory state, the authoritarian repression. The oncoming election may provide you with a crack of hope for America to reverse what many consider a grave mistake.
But while Election Day will signal the end of a campaign, it’s not the end of Donald Trump’s term in office.
The 78 days from November 3 to January 20, known as the transition, have kept me awake at night since I started reporting out this article. The coming interregnum is likely to be one of the most politically, economically, and socially fraught periods in American history, one that could set the trajectory for the nation’s future. “If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can,” Michelle Obama counseled in her Democratic Convention speech. Trust me on that as well; they will, immediately after the election.
We have had a few catastrophic transitions in the past. After the 1860 election, seven states seceded from the union rather than endure under President Abraham Lincoln, who had to sneak into Washington with armed guards for the inaugural to avoid assassination plots. The 1876 election between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes wasn’t decided until just a couple of days before the term began, with an election commission flipping three states to Hayes in exchange for his agreement to remove federal troops from the South, ushering in nearly a 100 years of Jim Crow.
In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt romped over Herbert Hoover, and then watched banks fail, European debtors default, and the economy deteriorate. Hoover refused to intervene unless Roosevelt gave up on the New Deal and accepted his policies, while threatening to veto key relief measures as the country sank further into depression. Roosevelt also narrowly dodged an assassination attempt during the transition, which killed Chicago mayor Anton Cermak. The Hoover-Roosevelt transition was so bad that Congress shortened the length of all future transitions by a month and a half.
This post–Election Day interregnum will be much worse.
Several elements of those historic failures exist today: political disunity, economic collapse, the possibility of a razor-thin electoral margin, and corrupt challenges to the results. But none of those other transitions incorporated all of that at once, and a deadly pandemic. And none of them featured someone like Donald Trump. Whether he wins, loses, or just decides that he’s won, the whole nation must prepare to navigate treacherous territory this winter.
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