A Ripple, Not a Wave

Joe Biden's Almost Impossible Task

Even if Joe Biden emerges victorious, the peaceful transfer of power still isn't yet a foregone conclusion. And as president, Biden would face the almost impossible task of reuniting a deeply divided nation.

By Matthias Gebauer, Roland Nelles, René Pfister, Ralf Neukirch und Alexander Sarovic

    Will he leave? Foto: SAMSON / DER SPIEGEL


He is, on this Thursday, just as he has been so often in his almost four years as president: huffy and cynical. More than anything, though, he is front and center, demanding attention. Donald Trump walks up to the lectern in the press briefing room at the White House and begins spewing invented accusations of voter fraud. "If you count the legal votes, I easily win," he said, "if you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us." He claimed to have won the election with "historic numbers."

His message was clear: I'm not going anywhere. And essentially, he's not wrong. He isn't going to simply disappear -- indeed, there is little in the election results to indicate that he should.

In this nerve-wracking, at times chaotic election, Trump received 5 million more votes than he did in 2016, with around 48 percent of the American electorate casting their ballots for him - and many of them are loyal fans who worship him as a demigod.

Even if he ends up losing this election to his Democratic challenger Joe Biden – and there are certainly strong indications, if not proof, that he will – one thing is certain. Donald Trump will remain an important figure on the American political landscape.

Trump has almost 90 million followers on Twitter. There are conservative media outlets that will continually invite him in for interviews and commentary. He has a following that is more loyal than that of any of his predecessors. Leading Republicans, to be sure, have begun jumping ship, with both of his sons, Donald Junior and Eric complaining on Twitter of insufficient support from the GOP. 

And even Fox News, the president's personal propaganda outlet, is carefully moving away from him. But his core voters remain largely devoted to him and his ideas, with his approval ratings among Republicans still extremely high. Even if loses this election, he will be able to continue playing an outsized role in American politics – as the leader of a furious opposition that doesn't recognize his successor. 

A squatter who settles into the people's consciousness. It can't even be ruled out that he will run again in 2024 at the age of 78.

And maybe he'll just stay.

The Battle Will Continue

Those hoping that the election on Nov. 3 would result in a rapid return to something approaching normality are likely bitterly disappointed. The battle for the most important office in the world's most powerful democracy will continue to be fought, including in court.

And as this grueling election week comes to an end, the only thing clear is that much is unclear. Biden, to be sure, appears to have a slim lead in important states like Arizona and Nevada, which would be enough for a victory, and by Friday afternoon, media reports suggested he had also taken over the lead in Pennsylvania and Georgia. 

But Donald Trump and his Republicans aren't ready to accept defeat. Many of them still believe that the tide can be turned. And the margins are razor thin in a number of key states, even if the trend seems to be in Biden's favor as the final votes are counted.

The president and his allies have thus launched a slew of legal challenges in an effort to reverse that trend and to prevent purported election fraud, for which there is thus far no evidence whatsoever. In Wisconsin, for example, Republicans want the votes to be recounted. And the struggle could occupy various courts for several weeks.

In the worst-case scenario, it could be up to the Supreme Court to decide who won the election. During his term, however, Trump was able to install three conservative justices on the court, bringing the total of conservatives to six, against just three liberal justices. On Thursday, Trump pledged on Twitter that his team would mount legal challenges to the results in important states that have been declared for Biden. And he tweeted: "STOP THE COUNT!"

Neither Trump nor many of his supporters are apparently concerned about the fact that his behavior is a direct attack on the democratic norms of the United States. Never before has a U.S. president proclaimed himself the victor before all the votes have been counted and branded the continued counting of legally cast votes as "fraud."


The election has highlighted once again the deep divide in American society - indeed, it looks as though that divide has now grown deeper and wider. Trump fans and Democrats are irreconcilable. There is hardly any nuance anymore in the shrill political debate in the country, hardly any self-reflection and virtually no listening. 

There is only anger, hate and mutual contempt.

In a number of states, the two candidates are only separated by a few thousand votes. America, it seems, is divided almost exactly in two halves that having nothing in common except for the same nationality. Those who support Donald Trump tend to do so unconditionally, loyal and ardent. On the other side, Trump's opponents are hardly any less passionate in their hate for him.

Should Biden emerge victorious, he will have managed to drive Donald Trump out of office after just a single term. He will have managed to free the U.S. and the entire world from this president, one that Biden has frequently referred to as an "aberration."

That is no small achievement. The last president to only serve a single term was George H. W. Bush, the 41st president. He was defeated by Bill Clinton in 1992.

Should Biden be inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States on Jan. 20, there are high hopes that normalcy might return following the delirium of the Trump years. Without a doubt, Biden would stand for an end to the nepotism that has characterized Washington under Trump.

Biden has been in politics for over 40 years, but in all that time, nobody has seriously accused him of abusing his political office to enrich himself. For decades, he has lived off a senator's salary, which currently stands at $170,000 per year. 

He has released his tax returns every year since 1998. He only began amassing more wealth after his tenure as vice president came to an end and he wrote his memoirs and began giving paid speeches. Compared to Trump, Biden's finances are as clear as a glacial lake, which is likely one of the reasons that the GOP's unfounded claims - that Biden was involved in dubious business deals in China – never gained much traction.

The Anti-Trump

In contrast to the leftist Senator Bernie Sanders, Biden's campaign for the White House was not rooted in a vast reform project. From the very beginning, his message was that of ridding the country of Donald Trump. Biden offers the wounded country a kind of group therapy session to cleanse itself of the hate and discord. As president, he wants to be the anti-Trump.

Biden has promised to introduce a minimum wage of $15 per hour, he wants to offer public health insurance to low-wage earners who can’t afford a private policy. His plan also calls for the children of parents who earn less than $125,000 per year to be able to attend college tuition for free.

But all of these plans will remain just that if the Senate remains majority Republican. 

That, too, remains up in the air. It currently looks as though there will be a run-off election in January between the Republican David Perdue and the Democrat Jon Ossoff in Georgia. In the other Senate race in the state, a run-off has already been assured. 

The results of these two races will determine whether the Democrats have the say in the Senate.

If the Republicans do manage to cling to their majority, Biden will have a hard time getting any laws through Congress, says Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton University. He'll have no other choice than to govern by executive order.

Trump has shown how that might look. In the first 100 days of his term, he issued more executive orders than all other post-World War II presidents. Some of them were enormously significant.

Biden, too, would be able to push through some of his plans via executive order, such as reversing Trump's extremely restrictive immigration policies. The more far-reaching reforms that the country so badly needs, however, are not possible without Senate approval – things such as expanding health insurance coverage, educational reform and an aggressive climate change strategy. Without the Senate, Biden would be a less effective president.

It would, of course, be nothing new in U.S. history for a president to face a hostile Senate or House of Representatives. Still, until deep into the 1990s, it was still possible to build bipartisan majorities. Biden himself has negotiated countless deals with the Republicans. But that was a different era. 

Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was resoundingly re-elected in Kentucky – and even before the election, McConnell committed his troops to vote against a coronavirus aid package because passing such a bill could help Biden if he in fact wins the election.

      U.S. President Donald Trump Foto: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images


If Biden does move into the White House, he would be 78 years old at inauguration, by far the oldest president in U.S. history. Biden has hinted that he would likely only stay in office for a single term, which would mean that the race to succeed him would begin from day one.

Kamala Harris, Biden's running mate, would be the most obvious candidate, and she is 22 years younger than Biden. The daughter of a doctor from India and an economics professor from Jamaica, Harris was still in elementary school when Biden was first elected to the Senate. In Trump's narrative, Harris is a radical leftist who would control the elderly Biden like a puppet on a string.

In reality, though, there is plenty of evidence that Biden and Harris will make a good team. They are on the same wavelength politically, with both representing the moderate Democratic mainstream. Furthermore, as a former public prosecutor, she doesn't exactly support an anti-police agenda.

No Free Pass for Germany

On foreign policy, at least, Biden would have a fair amount of flexibility. As president, he would do what he could to win back the trust of America's allies that Trump has destroyed. He has already said that he intends to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and revive the Iran nuclear deal. 

Furthermore, Antony Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state and the favorite to become Biden's National Security Adviser should Biden win, has joined Biden's Europe expert Julianne Smith in publicly announcing that a Biden administration would likely reverse Trump's plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany.

Of all the people on Biden's team, Smith knows Germany the best. She spent one-and-a-half years as his deputy security adviser when he was vice president before then moving to Berlin for a year as a fellow of the Robert Bosch Stiftung. 

During her stay in the German capital, she developed a critical view of the shortcomings of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who she believes has intentionally maneuvered Germany to the global political sidelines. "Merkel has the power to initiate something big," she told DER SPIEGEL in an interview last year. "But what we're experiencing is a paralyzed Germany, and that's bad for Europe and bad for the U.S."

Indeed, even a Biden presidency wouldn't be particularly comfortable for Germany, that much already appears to be clear. Should he move into the White House, he wouldn't sow doubts about the U.S. commitment to NATO, but he would also have little patience for European allies trying to shirk responsibility. 

His adviser Michèle Flournoy reacted with significant anger when Rolf Mützenich, floor leader for the Social Democrats (SPD), which is Merkel's junior government coalition partner, demanded that Germany withdraw from NATO's nuclear sharing, a system that could, in the worst-case scenario, see U.S. nuclear weapons being dropped by German warplanes.

A former undersecretary of defense in the Obama administration, Flournoy's voice carries weight. If the Democrats win, the 59-year-old could become the first female secretary of defense in U.S. history. In that position, she would likely seek to pursue a more resolute course against Russia and China and invest more money in deterrence. 

She has little patience for the fact that Germany still doesn't spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense and she will insist on Berlin fulfilling that promise just as much as Trump has. That is a goal that we have all agreed to, Flournoy told DER SPIEGEL, and it's not going to change.

    Trump challenger Biden Foto: Angela Weiss / AFP


Berlin would also be misguided in hoping that a Biden administration will show more understanding for the natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, an almost completed project known as Nord Stream 2. One of the few things that Congressional Democrats and Republicans agree on is that the pipeline is a completely unnecessary gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Even leftist senators like Bernie Sanders have little understanding for why Germany should shower money on Putin, who is doing everything in his power to weaken American democracy. "There are both environmental and geopolitical objections to Nord Stream 2, and they are shared by the left wing of our party," says Matt Duss, Sanders' foreign policy adviser.

Domestically, though, this election has made the political map of the United States even more complicated. Trump didn't just attract support from a large share of his base in the white working and middle classes. He was also able to convince new voters who had traditionally been seen as belonging to the Democratic camp, including Black men and Latinos.

Joe Biden, meanwhile, was able to make advances into traditionally Republican strongholds, including among white voters. In the Atlanta suburbs in the state of Georgia, for example, and in Arizona. He was able to win over conservative voters who weren't impressed by Trump's political style.

A Hopeless Divide

It is difficult to see how the U.S. might begin shrinking the divide that currently runs through the country. A second Trump term would doubtlessly lead to a large share of the population no longer feeling at home politically in the country. 

And if Biden ends up with the most votes, but loses in the Electoral College, more than half of Americans will be frustrated and angry. According to the current count, Biden has received more than 4 million more votes than Trump. It isn't difficult to imagine protests and unrest should Trump emerge victorious anyway.

In states like California, Oregon and Washington, the debate over secession could even receive new impetus. The conflict between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C., would get even worse and the Congressional stalemate would deepen right in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and a deep economic crisis.

Should Biden win with a slim majority, by contrast, millions of Trump voters would be unwilling to be governed by a man who Trump has spent months branding as the leader of a dangerous socialist movement. It is uncertain whether deep red states will ever accept a Biden presidency, even if the Democrat wins with a decent margin.

Among Democrats, there is significant concern that right-wing, potentially violent organizations like the Proud Boys could launch a revolt against Washington. Under such conditions, it seems almost impossible for Biden to be the president of "all Americans," as he promised on Wednesday evening. Many of those Americans want nothing less.

It became clear long before the election that Donald Trump wouldn't simply walk away. His comments left little doubt that he would do everything in his power to cling on to the presidency - at all costs.

Phase one of this operation has been underway for months, with Trump having repeatedly cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election. Over and over again, he has insisted that mail-in voting – which proved a particularly popular way to vote, given the coronavirus pandemic – is extremely vulnerable to fraud.

At the same time, he consistently urged his followers on Twitter and at his rallies to cast their ballots in person. And that is what they did. Republicans streamed in huge numbers to their polling stations on Tuesday – with a huge number of Democrats, by contrast, preferring to vote by mail in important states like Pennsylvania and Michigan.

The result was that in states where the votes cast on Election Day were counted first, Trump initially enjoyed a significant lead. But that was before the several hundred thousand votes cast by mail were included, which have tended to be overwhelmingly in favor of Biden. The difference was particularly extreme in Pennsylvania. 

On Wednesday morning, Trump had a lead in the state of 600,000 votes, but that was before counting of the almost 2 million mail-in ballots had begun. By late Friday afternoon (European time), Biden had moved into the lead in the state by nearly 7,000 votes, with ballots still left to be counted.

The unequal distribution of the mail-in ballots was key to phase two of Trump's plan, which he sought to implement on the night of the election. In a bizarre appearance before followers at the White House at 2:30 a.m., he claimed that his opponents were doing all they could to steal the election from him and that the mail-in ballots were fraudulent. 

Yet vote counting was continuing completely normally in many states and Trump could offer up no evidence for his claims. In three of the last five elections, wrote prominent U.S. historian Michael Beschloss on Twitter last Sunday, the winner hasn't been known until after midnight. That was also the case in 1960, 1968 and 1976. "No one should pretend that there would be anything historically unusual if that happens again in 2020."

A Flurry of Legal Challenges

Trump's move to prematurely claim victory has been joined by a string of legal challenges. The legal battle between the Republicans and the Democrats began several months ago, with more than 200 cases underway in almost all states of the union. Since Wednesday, they have been joined by additional lawsuits. 

In Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – everywhere the election could be decided – Trump's lawyers are now active. The hope is that if a court ruling means that Biden loses a few tens of thousands of votes, Trump might emerge victorious after all.

Trump and the Republicans are focusing on trivialities: Were the correct envelopes used in accordance with the instructions? What about the stamps? And the voter's signature: Did he or she sign on the correct line or is the signature in the spot where the date belongs? 

The army of Republican lawyers has plenty of money and is extremely well-organized. And they are challenging every single formality, no matter how small.

  Trump supporters in Michigan: Republicans are mostly focusing on trivialities in their efforts to get votes discarded. Foto: JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP


Most recently, the Republicans failed dramatically in their attempt to get almost 127,000 votes thrown out in Harris County, Texas, because they were cast in drive-thru polling stations. The state supreme court, despite all of its justices having been chosen by Republicans, rejected the effort, with a federal judge affirming the verdict on appeal.

The Electoral College

But it could be that the legal challenges are just a delay tactic to perpetuate doubts about the election results until the next opportunity to undermine the wishes of the electorate. That opportunity comes on Dec. 8, in accordance with the Constitution. 

By then, all 538 electors of the Electoral College must have been chosen - who will then go on to elect the next president. Should the legal challenges from Trump and his allies succeed in delaying the final results in important swing states until then, the GOP could then invoke Article 2 of the Constitution.

According to that article, state parliaments are responsible for determining the system by which electors are chosen. In recent history, that system was essentially appointing electors in accordance with the outcome of the popular vote. But in the Constitution, there is nothing prohibiting state legislatures from appointing electors directly.

Trump could try to force Republican-dominated legislatures in important swing states to do exactly that. The GOP hold the majority in both chambers of state congress in six of the states where the outcome of the presidential election has been closest. In Arizona and Florida, the governor is also a Republican, while Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have Democratic governors.



According to a report in the magazine The Atlantic, the Republican leadership in Pennsylvania has already explored the possibility of appointing the electors themselves. 

The danger would be that one or more of the electors might ignore the result of the popular vote in the state and cast their vote for Trump, even if Biden ends up with a majority in the state.

Edward Foley, an expert in election law, has examined precisely this scenario. He believes that in such a situation, the Democratic governors would move to certify the official vote count. They could then declare the selection of electors by the legislature was illegal. 

The consequence would be that on Dec. 14 - the day on which the electors in the Electoral College come together in their respective state to elect the president – there could be two competing groups of electors in Pennsylvania.

Then, the focus would shift to Congress in Washington. According to the Constitution, the electors must send their votes "to the President of the Senate," who is Vice President Mike Pence.

In a situation where both Trump and Biden claim the presidency, much will depend on who has control of Congress. The newly elected representatives and senators gather for the first time on Jan. 6. What then happens is only vaguely outlined in the 12 Amendment: "The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted."

Trump opponents with security guards in front of a government building where ballots are being counted in Arizona Foto: Matt York / AP / dpa


It isn't entirely clear who should count the votes, nor is it clear what happens if there is a conflict over who the legitimate electors are. The 133-year-old Electoral Count Act, which was intended to provide clarity, is considered particularly ineffective and unclear.

"The Constitution is clear on only one point," says Edward Foley. "The president's term comes to an end at noon on Jan. 20." In theory, even the speaker of the house, the third person in the hierarchy according to the Constitution, could claim the presidency on an interim basis. At the moment, the position is held by Nancy Pelosi, a passionate Trump detractor.

The "What If" Scenario

If Trump were to manage to stay in office, he would likely use his second term to continue foisting his "America First" doctrine on the world. And that would mean a number of difficult years ahead, particularly for Europeans. In the last four years, the president has made it more than clear just how little he cares about established relationships and about allies who can rely on each other. 

When a senior German diplomat visited Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner in the White House and raved about of the durability of the German-American friendship, Kushner's response was: We don't have friends, just business partners.

At the time, the Germans discounted it as a comment born of inexperience, but soon it became apparent that Kushner really meant it. Trump levied punitive tariffs on European steel and French wine, he called the European Union "a foe," and if Trump were to only slap tariffs on German cars, that would be tantamount to escaping relatively unscathed for most German states.

There is, after all, much more at stake than just a few billion euros in trans-Atlantic trade. Should he end up leveraging a second term, Trump could completely destroy the entire postwar order. Even at the July 2018 NATO summit in Brussels, Trump's advisers say he had wanted to threaten America's departure from the alliance if not every member state immediately began spending the equivalent of 2 percent of GDP on defense. John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser at the time, had his hands full with convincing the president not to issue such a threat.

Trump already went much further in his first term than most of his predecessors: He fired five independent auditors in government ministries in addition to asking his Attorney General to open an investigation into his challenger Joe Biden - as though William Barr were his personal servant instead of a crucial official in charge of upholding the rule of law.

If Trump were to manage to stay in office, it would mean a number of difficult years ahead, particularly for Europeans.

He awarded Rush Limbaugh, one of the worst rabble-rousers on American radio, the highest civilian honor and declined to distance himself from QAnon followers, who believe that the Democrats are part of a demonic cult that kidnaps children and drinks their blood.

It seemed impossible to go any lower than all that, but in the final days of the campaign, Trump showed that it was. On Sunday, he praised those of his followers who had tried to force a Biden campaign bus off the road. And he announced that if he won re-election, he intended to fire Anthony Fauci, the widely respected head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It was just the latest indication that Trump has no qualms about transforming the U.S. into an autocracy. From his very first day in the White House, he demonstrated an extreme aversion to accepting the democratic ground rules of the office he held.

Instead, his admiration was reserved for autocrats like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who had managed to secure a life-long hold on power. The authority of the president is "absolute," Trump insisted at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, ignoring the fact that the Constitution said otherwise.

Little Aptitude for Strategy

Trump didn't get particularly far in transforming the U.S. into an autocracy during his first term because he has very little aptitude for strategy. He never had enough patience to focus on technicalities, despite their importance when it comes to securing power. 

And at the beginning of his tenure, he appointed business and military leaders like Rex Tillerson and James Mattis to his cabinet - people who tried to save the country from Trump's most dangerous propensities.

Before long, though, Trump had managed to eliminate almost all of the independent thinkers from his team. The only one remaining is Defense Secretary Mark Esper, whose fate has been sealed ever since he publicly countered Trump's suggestion that the military be used to quell the protests in American cities. 

Richard Grenell was seen as his possible successor, a Trump lackey who gave up his position as ambassador to Germany to campaign for his boss.

The president learned that political appointments have a direct effect on his power. He managed to establish a stable conservative majority in the Supreme Court, and though Republicans didn't offer Trump much resistance in his first term, they would no doubt fall completely silent in a second. 

GOP leadership said nothing when Trump sought to blackmail Ukraine into producing dirt on Joe Biden. And they said nothing when Trump referred to North Korean President Kim Jong Un, one of the cruelest dictators in the world, as a personal "friend."

The U.S. does, at least, have newspapers that are critical of the government, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, but the pro-Trump channel Fox News is so mired in propaganda that it makes Chinese state TV almost look serious by comparison. With the help of Fox, Trump was able to convince a significant number of his followers that truth no longer exists. Echoing Trump, Fox News tells its viewers night after night that the "mainstream media" consistently lies.

If everyone is pulled down into the filth, Trump seems to hope, then the most scrupulous among them will emerge on top. It is a strategy that brought him a long way. Trump was the first to posit that Barack Obama was a completely illegitimate president because he allegedly was not born in the United States. 

He claimed that his predecessor had not, in fact, been successful in killing Osama bin Laden. Most recently, he said that every American could receive the same COVID medications that he did at no extra cost - even though the drug cocktail hasn't even been approved and would likely cost several thousand dollars per dosage.

The central question, though, is whether a president who has lost his re-election bid can pardon himself.

For Donald Trump, a Biden victory wouldn't just represent the greatest defeat of his life, but perhaps also a reason to use what remains of his time in the White House to sow chaos and commotion. He has around two-and-a-half months left as the most powerful man in the world, and he has a free hand with every decision that does not have to be approved by Congress.

In the past, even presidents who respected the traditions and conventions of the office they held have used the last days of their tenure to push through controversial decisions, not least when it comes to presidential pardons. George Bush senior pardoned six officials mired in the Iran-Contra scandal, Bill Clinton did the same for the financier Marc Rich, who was wanted by the FBI. Barack Obama released whistleblower Chelsea Manning from prison.

What might Trump do? Particularly given that he could be facing legal troubles once his is no longer protected by presidential immunity.

Will Trump Seek Pardon?

In the history of the U.S., no president has ever moved from the White House into prison. But after four years of Trump, that scenario is not completely implausible.

"The possibility that Trump will face criminal prosecution is quite high," says Bennett Gershman, a legal professor at Pace University and a former New York state prosecutor.

In recent years, numerous Trump loyalists have faced legal difficulties. His former campaign chief Paul Manafort was handed a lengthy prison sentence and Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen was also locked away. New York state prosecutors have charged former chief strategist Steve Bannon with fraud and he is now out on bail.

During the investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 election, Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team looked into 10 different incidents where Trump himself may have obstructed justice. Because Trump was a sitting president, Mueller did not pursue prosecution. 

But with the end of his tenure, Trump would lose such protection. Federal prosecutors and a new attorney general could revisit the work of Mueller and of various Congressional committees.

All of that raises the question as to how Trump might use his pardoning powers as his tenure approaches its end. He has already issued 44 pardons, including controversial ones such as the pardon of Roger Stone, who was facing three years behind bars.

The central question, though, is whether a president who has lost his re-election bid can pardon himself. "That is absurd," says Philip Bobbitt, a Constitutional lawyer at Columbia University in New York. The issue has never been decided by the courts, but Bobbitt cites the established legal principle that nobody can act as judge in their own case and also refers to the position taken by Richard Nixon's Justice Department. In the 1970s, Nixon had asked the judiciary to explore the question. The answer was a resounding no.

Nixon managed to avoid prosecution by a different path. After his resignation following the Watergate Scandal, Vice President Gerald Ford took over, and then pardoned him in September 1974 for all crimes he had been accused of committing while in office.

In Washington, that past has triggered intense speculation this week if something similar could be repeated. The idea is that Trump would resign prior to the end of his term so that Mike Pence could be president for a few days, or maybe just a few hours, so that he could pardon his former boss.

According to Bobbitt, who worked as a legal advisor to Ford's successor, Jimmy Carter, in the White House, it is unclear if such a move would be legal. In the case of Nixon, there was no pre-arranged agreement, he says. Ford decided on his own to pardon his predecessor in order to preclude harm to the office of the presidency and to put Watergate in the rearview mirror. A "corrupt deal" between Trump and Pence, though, he says, could likely be challenged legally.

But the greatest danger for the president could be lurking in his home state of New York and not in Washington. New York Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance are investigating Trump for business deals Trump engaged in prior to becoming president.

Vance could prove to be the greatest threat to Trump. He is investigating hush money payments allegedly made to porn star Stormy Daniels and one other woman, both of whom say they had affairs with Trump years ago. The investigations have recently been expanded to include possible banking and insurance fraud committed by the Trump Organization, the holding company for Trump's business empire.

Joe Biden's team has apparently prepared for the eventuality that the transfer of power may not adhere to past norms. According to media reports, his advisers believe that the normal meetings between the outgoing White House team and the incoming administration won't take place this time around. It would likely be his final effort at taking revenge against the man who forced him out.

A distracted US is dangerous for Taiwan

Political turmoil in Washington may open a window of opportunity for Beijing

Gideon Rachman

© James Ferguson


The idea that a US election can be shaken up by an “October surprise” is a well-worn staple of political commentary. 

Less discussed is the danger that, if China takes advantage of political confusion in the US to make a move on Taiwan, international affairs could be convulsed by a November or December surprise.

The din of the American campaign is drowning out increasingly aggressive words and actions by China, as it threatens to use military force to combat what it regards as intolerable “separatism” by Taiwan, which is, de facto, an independent state, but claimed by Beijing.

Chinese military aircraft now regularly cross the median line between Taiwan and the mainland, forcing the Taiwanese air force to scramble. Last week, a flight from Taiwan was prevented from reaching the Pratas Islands — a Taiwanese-controlled outpost in the South China Sea. The flight was turned back by Hong Kong air traffic control, which cited unspecified dangers in the area and said the airspace is now closed.

Aggressive rhetoric in the Chinese media has been ramped up. Earlier this month, Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, a nationalist paper, wrote: “The only way forward is for the mainland to fully prepare itself for war . . . The historical turning point is getting closer.”

For decades, the threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan has been held in check by the US. Washington has stopped short of an explicit security guarantee for Taiwan. Instead, it has maintained a policy of strategic ambiguity — selling arms to Taiwan and leaving open the possibility that the US would fight to defend the island. In 1996, when China fired missiles into the seas around Taiwan, the US sent aircraft carriers to the region to warn Beijing off.

In the countdown to the 2020 election, stay on top of the big campaign issues with our newsletter on US power and politics with columnists Rana Foroohar and Edward Luce. Sign up here

Since then, however, China has engaged in a massive military build-up. And the US is now consumed by the most divisive presidential election campaign in living memory. Under these circumstances, the Chinese government may doubt continuing American commitment to Taiwan.

Beijing’s window of opportunity could look even more tempting, after the US has voted on November 3 — particularly if the election result is disputed and the country is plunged into a political and constitutional crisis. Even if Donald Trump suffers a decisive and uncontested defeat, he would remain president until January 20, capable of causing all sorts of turmoil.

The background to the current crisis is a radicalisation of Beijing’s position on Taiwan since President Xi Jinping became leader in 2012. Mr Xi says “reunification” with Taiwan is a crucial part of the “great rejuvenation” of the Chinese nation — his signature project. He also says that the Taiwan issue can no longer be passed on “from generation to generation”. He may see Taiwan as a way of securing his place in the pantheon of China’s great leaders — alongside Mao Zedong.

Mr Xi has already demonstrated that he is willing to take military risks and repressive actions that antagonise the west and scare China’s neighbours. As well as pumping up the rhetoric on Taiwan, China has imprisoned more than 1m Uighur Muslims and other minority groups, crushed the democracy movement in Hong Kong, built military bases across the South China Sea and killed Indian troops in the Himalayas.

The fact that China has coped with the coronavirus pandemic more successfully than the US has also led to widespread talk in Beijing that its old rival is in inexorable decline. Beijing knows that if the US failed to defend Taiwan, American allies across the region might lose faith in US protection — making Chinese hegemony in the Asia-Pacific seem inevitable and irresistible.

Nonetheless — even without American intervention — a full-scale Chinese assault on Taiwan would be formidably risky. Attempting to cross the Taiwan Strait and land troops on the island would entail mass casualties. China might need as many as 1m troops to stage a successful invasion and subsequent occupation. There is no sign that an invasion force of this size is being assembled.

It is more likely that Beijing will attempt to erode Taiwanese morale and autonomy by staging a series of smaller military, economic and psychological interventions. Cutting off the Pratas islands, which have an airport and administrative buildings but no permanent civilian population, would be exactly this kind of measure. If Taiwan responds forcefully, it risks giving Beijing an excuse to hit back. But if it fails to respond, it looks powerless and suffers a symbolic defeat.

There is an array of other graduated steps — involving embargoes and territorial encroachments — available to China as it increases pressure on Taiwan. The danger, however, is that Beijing will misread Washington’s response. For, while the US is indeed in a state of political turmoil, there is a bipartisan determination in Washington to retain the country’s status as the dominant power in the Pacific and to stand up for fellow democracies.

Wars between great powers — including the first and second world wars — have often broken out because governments have miscalculated each other’s reactions. As the historian Margaret Macmillan puts it: “What really becomes dangerous is when people begin to read the intentions of the other side and get them wrong.” That could easily happen over Taiwan.

Divided America: it’s a good election outcome

Rejection of Donald Trump does not mean voters endorsed the Democrat agenda; they want moderation instead

Charlie Dent

© Ingram 


The dust is still settling on the US election, and “election day” may well become an “election week”. Joe Biden has said he is confident he will “emerge victorious” after all votes are counted. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s campaign team has demanded a recount in Wisconsin and launched lawsuits in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state.

Yet amid all the to and fro, some things are already clear and some encouraging conclusions can be drawn.

First, on the volume of mail-in ballots and counting delays. Such ballots increased dramatically due to the pandemic and no one should be surprised by that. Democratic voters were also more inclined to vote by mail, while Republicans preferred to vote in person on the day. In addition, some states, such as Pennsylvania, have little experience with mail-in voting on this scale — another factor slowing the count.

In Pennsylvania, which may end up determining the presidential result, that scenario manifested itself as Democrats returned about three times as many absentee ballots as Republicans. Predictably, these ballots skew heavily Democratic. 

They are also counted after the in-person vote, which takes time. That is why Mr Trump’s initial lead on election day has been narrowed by the flood of mailed-in votes.

What does this all mean? On the current trajectory, Mr Biden will reach the needed 270 electoral votes and become president-elect. Though unexpected, the Senate is likely to remain under Republican control. Even more surprising, Republicans have picked up seats in the House of Representatives, which will embolden their minority.

Partisans on both sides of the aisle may be dissatisfied with this outcome, but Americans have reason to celebrate. They are tired of the endless drama, chaos and disturbing behaviour of Mr Trump’s presidency. So they voted to change the executive leadership. However, rejecting Mr Trump does not mean they endorsed the Democratic agenda.

On the contrary, to check its far-left wing, a substantial number of Biden voters also supported Republican candidates down-ballot as a way to provide political balance and protect the nation from the excesses of a one-party Democratic government. 

Off the table now are packing the Supreme Court with additional justices; statehood for Washington DC; defunding the police; fracking bans; a “Green New Deal”; and punitive business tax increases. The Senate filibuster, one of Congress’s few mechanisms that compels bipartisan co-operation, will remain intact.

This divided government represents a repudiation of both Mr Trump and the Democratic party’s left wing. Neither party has a clear policy mandate. Congressional Republicans would be wise to find common ground with Mr Biden, assuming he becomes president, and seek incremental changes that benefit the American people.

Issues such as the pandemic response, transportation infrastructure, rural broadband and rebuilding relationships with US allies are plausible areas to find common ground. 

If all goes well, there may even be opportunities to clean up the rough edges of Obamacare and the Republican party’s tax reform. Just imagine that: Democrats and Republicans acknowledging and remedying the shortcomings of their marquee legislative achievements.

No doubt there will be partisan fights and gridlock that impede progress in some, or many, areas of public policy. But better that than grand reforms passed on a partisan basis that are not durable or sustainable, and become grist for endless vitriolic debate. 

Mr Biden may not have a policy mandate, but he clearly has a governing one: to steady the ship of state after the trauma of Mr Trump’s rule. Republicans would be wise to a co-operate in this endeavour.


The writer is a Republican politician and former Pennsylvania congressman.

domingo, noviembre 08, 2020

DIVIDED WE STAND / PROJECT SYNDICATE

Divided We Stand

With America heading for one of the most fraught and potentially disastrous presidential elections in its history, it is difficult to see how such a deeply polarized country could ever be made whole again. In fact, today's divide is between two broad social types that both are essential to group maintenance and survival.

Mark W. Moffett


WASHINGTON, DC – The words nationalism and patriotism are commonly bandied about to describe people’s entrenched political commitments, and both labels have made frequent appearances in the run-up to next month’s US elections. 

For a psychologist, however, these terms represent distinct but variable expressions of how humans identify with their society. 

In fact, the personality differences between nationalists and patriots seem to be universal across cultures, suggesting they are part of our common heritage as humans.

Although nationalists and patriots are both nominally devoted to their society, they relate to it differently. Patriots show pride in a shared identity and sense of belonging – sentiments that come naturally to native-born citizens and naturalized immigrants alike. With their passion directed toward their own group, patriots emphasize the quotidian needs of their communities: food, housing, schools, and so forth.

By contrast, nationalists couch their identity in glorification. As concerned as patriots are with caring for their fellow citizens, nationalists are preoccupied with preserving what they perceive as a superior way of life, and with keeping their people safe from outside threats.

But patriots and nationalists also have divergent ideas about who constitutes “their people.” Nationalists prize those aspects of their identity that set them apart from others. Hence, they place great importance on demonstrations of loyalty, customary rules of order, obedience to recognized authorities, and the preservation of established social relationships. 

These values gained purchase as once-egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies settled down and differences in individual and group prestige and power emerged.

Patriots also give “their people” a high standing, but they regard that status as something to be earned rather than merely defended. By implication, patriots allow for the possibility of continual improvement.

Looking across the natural world, we find the closest parallels to nationalists shown by the ants, which stick tightly to what amounts to a colony flag: a particular scent that all members share as a kind of emblem of the group’s identity. 

In humans, a patriot can become as teary as any nationalist in displaying allegiance to emblems such as a flag or anthem; however, nationalists are especially sensitive to such symbols.

For nationalists, even a brief exposure to the national flag or a respected leader spurs an intense reaction, as does the absence of a symbol when one is expected. This is exemplified by the uproar among American white nationalists over black professional athletes who kneel during the national anthem to protest police violence.

While nationalists are much more suspicious of diversity than patriots are, that doesn’t mean the latter are immune to prejudice. By reserving their ardor for fellow citizens or members of their own race or ethnicity, patriots may also end up discriminating, at times unwittingly, against those unlike themselves.

As it happens, the emergence of these conflicting perspectives may have been integral to our survival. After all, each mode of thinking can be beneficial in certain contexts. In my own work as a biologist, I’ve found that groups ranging from chimpanzee communities to termite nests tend to serve two overlapping purposes: to provide for community members and to protect them. Whereas protection focuses on outsiders, the provisioning role looks inward.

The patriot-nationalist dimension of our identities could be an adaptation to coping with these divergent social needs. Similar balancing acts between responsibilities exist in other animals, too. Scientists have found that ant colonies are most successful when they contain not just individuals who boldly rush to the colony’s defense, but others who retreat from dangers while fastidiously tending the nest. Take away too many of the latter group, and the young will starve; remove too many of the former, and parasites will steal the colony’s resources.

While we think of healthy societies functioning through cooperation between their members, conflicts can be advantageous, too. Even though people with opposing outlooks seldom see eye to eye, the fact is that human societies with too few or too many people at either end of the spectrum will be vulnerable to catastrophe. 

Still, modern humans face far more social complications than any other social animal – including our distant forebears. If today’s social tensions had arisen among our hunter-gatherer ancestors, those societies of just a few hundred people would have fragmented.

Many of our current social divisions reflect the fact that we evolved in largely homogeneous societies. Multiethnic and multiracial societies are relatively new in our history, and many people – patriots and nationalists alike – remain partial, consciously or not, to their own ethnicity. 

That is why one wicked act committed by a lone member of a minority group – such as the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting by an Afghan-American – sets off outrage against the entire population, even creating a backlash against other ethnicities unconnected to the tragedy. When people feel fear for their safety or way of life, they are prone to lump together all perceived outsiders indiscriminately.

In the early 1990s, when Americans were surveyed on whether they would like to have Wisian-Americans as neighbors, almost 40% of respondents said they would not, even though no such thing as a “Wisian” exists (the authors made them up). And yet, despite such deeply embedded prejudices, modern multiethnic and multiracial societies have held together, and usually done well, if not thrived.

A standard explanation for this resilience was offered over a century ago in the book Folkways by the sociologist William Sumner, who argued that friction with outsiders will draw a society together. But, clearly, that is not always the case. 

As we’ve seen in recent years, external forces also can sow discord and pit groups within a society against one another. And even when an outside threat does galvanize the majority of the population, minority groups can find themselves even more marginalized – or even demonized – than they already were.

In any case, Americans with contrasting political leanings are too intermixed now for the country to fracture in the way that a hunter-gatherer society would. We are stuck with each other, and in the grand scheme, that is probably for the best.


Mark W. Moffett is Research Associate at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. This essay draws from his book The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall (Basic Books, 2019) 

SWISS NATIONAL BANK – $1 TRILLION CURRENCY SPECULATION

by Egon von Greyerz


As global central banks’ balance sheets are exploding, with disastrous consequences, the Swiss National Bank (SNB) stands out as the “biggest hedge fund” and speculator in the world. 

Its balance sheet is over $1 trillion or 136% of Swiss GDP. 

The Fed balance sheet is 35% of US GDP. 

So to compete with the SNB in percentage of GDP, the Fed would need to increase its balance sheet from the current $7 trillion to $27t. 

That seems like a big jump but not at all unlikely in the next few years.


We need to remind ourselves that the Fed’s balance sheet is up 90% since Sep 4th 2019 from $3.7t to $7.1t. 

With money printing likely to accelerate, an exponential increase of another $20t does seem very likely. 

The growth from 2006 is 8.5x which is just below the SNB’s 9x.



THE SWISS PEOPLE’S REJECTION OF SOUND MONEY AFTER SNB PROPAGANDA

In 2014 I supported actively the Swiss Parliamentarians who introduced the Swiss Gold Initiative. I wrote an article in October 2014 which started as follows:

On 30 November 2014 the Swiss People has the opportunity to determine not just the fate of their own financial system but also to be the catalyst for the return to sound money in the Western World.

The “Gold Initiative” referendum November 30, 2014

On November 30th the Swiss will vote on:

1) Returning their national gold which is held abroad back to Switzerland

2) Requiring the Swiss National Bank to hold 20% of their assets in physical gold

3) Prohibiting further gold sales

To read the rest of the article click on this link.


Since 2006, the balance sheet of the Swiss National Bank (SNB) had exploded from CHF 100 billion to CHF 550B in November 2014. This explosion of the balance sheet was purely due to a ludicrous policy of pegging the Swiss franc to the Euro at 1.20. 

The Swiss franc had always been one of the strongest currencies in the world due to low debts and no deficits. A strong currency follows a soundly managed economy and also leads to low inflation. But a policy to suppress the currency by inflating the SNB’s balance sheet could only lead to problems.

Also, to peg the currency was always likely to have dire consequences. To that effect, I wrote and published, in early December 2014, after the gold initiative had been voted down, a fictitious memo from the President of the SNB to his board as follows:

Internal Memo Swiss National Bank

From: Thomas Jordan, President

To: The Board of Directors

Date: December 1, 2014


I have been quite concerned about the outcome of the Gold Initiative referendum. That is why I have been in the media virtually every day for the last few weeks. I know that the National Bank should not conduct a campaign during a referendum of this kind but since it was a matter of national importance I had no other choice.

As you know, until 1999 we had over 40% gold backing in our balance sheet. At the time it was thought that this amount of gold was critical for the stability of the National Bank and our national currency. But fortunately we managed to change the constitution which allowed us to sell more than half of the nation’s gold at the bottom of the market. We have been bloody lucky fortunate that the Bank’s reputation was intact after this decision which cost our nation CHF 30 Billion. It was clearly incompetent unlucky to sell the gold at the lows but market timing has never been our strong point.

I am extremely pleased that 77% of the voters agreed with my propaganda statements that gold plays no role in modern banking. Gold is a relic of the past. We can’t print gold and that is a major disadvantage when we want to manipulate manage our currency and financial markets. Our principles for managing the National Bank are now laid down by the Federal Reserve and ultimately Goldman Sachs. Here at the Bank we fully subscribe to the statement of the wise Mayer Amschel Rotschild: “Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who make its laws.”

So fortunately we don’t have to buy any more gold and we should probably consider selling the 1,000 tons we may still own since it serves no purpose and has no yield. That would also give us ammunition to buy more euros.

The one concern that I would like to share with the board is our currency position. As you are well aware, we have printed over CHF 400 billion and bought mainly assets in euros but also in other currencies in order to hold the peg above 1.20. We are all aware that printed pieces of paper are not really worth anything but since we are a national bank, we can just tell the people that it is real money. Fortunately they are foolish wise enough to believe us.

The reason I have been so nervous about the referendum is that the Bank is now sitting on the biggest speculative currency position of any major central bank in the world. Our balance sheet of 522 Billion is over 80% of GDP which is an extremely dangerous position for our country. It is virtually impossible to get out of this massive position without a loss of 10s of Billions or even as much as 100 Billion. Obviously the people would ultimately pay for this loss.

The 1.20 peg is artificial and throughout history no currency peg has ever held in the longer term. Over time currency rates always reflect economic and monetary differences between countries. Since our economy, for a while at least, is likely to continue to be stronger than the weak eurozone, our home currency will naturally outperform the euro. 

We are of course extremely grateful that the voters listened to our propaganda information during the campaign and rejected the Gold Initiative. But sadly the Bank’s problems are not over.

This peg was critical to save the bankers banks that had lent massive amounts of our national currency to mainly Eastern European banks. So now we are totally linked with the eurozone and at some point we should perhaps discuss to make this permanent. There are of course disadvantages to be tied to a very weak currency. Everything we buy in the shops is now more expensive. Also, we could be dragged down by euroland and end up with the same economic disaster they are in. But fortunately the people don’t understand these major drawbacks.

But the biggest problem with taking the euro as our currency is that the Bank would lose its ability to be irresponsible independent. The ECB would take over and we would lose all our power to print money.

Therefore I recommend to the Board that we stay as we are. But that still gives us the headache of our CHF 470 billion speculative currency position. This is a timebomb and we know we will never be able to extract from it without very major losses. Hopefully the current board will have retired from the National Bank before this happens so a new board can be blamed for it.

Finally I would like to thank the Board for their support of my actions. The Bank now retains total “control of the Nation’s money” which is comforting.

Thomas Jordan

President

P.S. The above is a fictional account


SNB ABANDONS EURO PEG

Six weeks later, on January 15, 2015 after having penned the fictitious memo to the board of the SNB, the peg was abandoned and the Euro initially fell against the Swiss franc by 37%. 

This caused massive losses for the banking system and futures exchanges. 

Later on the decline settled at -13%. It also led to losses for the SNB of around CHF 40 billion as I had predicted.

You would have thought that the SNB would have learnt something from this painful experience. But NO is the answer! 

At the end of 2014 their balance sheet was CHF 550 billion. Today, 6 years later the balance sheet has exploded to CHF 950B as the graph at the beginning of this article shows. 

Of that 90% is in foreign currencies, primarily in euro and dollar forex positions. The SNB holds over $100B in stocks, one third of which is in US tech stocks.

So here we have the biggest hedge fund in the world, with a balance sheet of over $1 trillion, borrowing/printing almost the same amount of Swiss francs to speculate in foreign currencies. 

The Fathers of the Swiss confederation are most certainly turning in their graves against this mind-blowing speculative position which defies everything that Switzerland and the Swiss constitution stands for.

If the Swiss Gold Initiative had been accepted, the SNB would now be obliged to hold 20% of their balance sheet in gold. Of a CHF 950b balance sheet, that means CHF 190B in gold or 3,400 tonnes.

Interestingly 3,400 tonnes of gold is equal to one year’s gold production. Since the SNB already holds 1,000 tonnes, they would have needed to acquire another 2,400 tonnes. It would of course have been impossible for the SNB to acquire all this physical gold since it wouldn’t be available. 

Also, if they borrowed or printed additional funds to acquire this amount of gold, their balance sheet would have exploded, necessitating further gold purchases.

This was the whole purpose of the Gold Initiative, to restrain the SNB from irresponsibly expanding its balance sheet for currency speculation purposes. That is why the SNB campaigned so vehemently against it.

The one positive point for the SNB is that all these printed Swiss francs have not gone directly to the Swiss economy but to buy foreign currencies, primarily dollars and euros. 

Thus the positions are easier to unwind than the Fed’s or ECB’s printing which is virtually impossible to unwind. 

Still the unwinding would involve massive losses.

WORLD CENTRAL BANKS WILL SOON CATCH UP WITH THE SNB

But this is where the world is now going. As the world’s central banks desperately fight for the survival of the world financial system, they will print unlimited amounts, initially in the hundreds of trillions and when the derivative bubble bursts, we are likely to see quadrillions of dollars, euros etc being magically created out of thin air. 

Whether this will be current dollars or euros or new digital currencies will make zero difference. 

Fiat money will always remain fiat money, whatever spin central bankers will put on it.

So investors who are not yet prepared for this, still have a small window of opportunity before currencies, led by the dollar, collapse.

Precious metals, especially physical gold and silver will obviously reflect the collapse of the fiat currencies and continue their uptrend, which will soon be exponential.