Trump AWOL         

Photograph Source: Bart Everson – CC BY 2.0

After World War II ended in 1945, I lived as a pre-teen who went to bed with my silver cap gun under my pillow with nightmarish visions of Hitler still alive and able to resume hostilities against America.

That’s how I feel about Donald Trump, minus the cap gun.

He’s not finished. He may be around for a long time, out there bellowing more lies. With more than 72 million voters behind him, he will be a Republican power to be reckoned with. He may do it from the confines of a TV studio, emerging to conduct rallies to assuage his need for adoration. He reportedly has ruminated privately that he may run for a second term in 2024, if he’s not in prison.

“When you look at the number of votes that he got, you look at the kind of enthusiasm, I mean – he’s going to be a very, very significant figure whether he’s in the White House or not,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo, told The New York Times. “I don’t know who else would be considered the leader, if not for him.”

Scary, eh?

Trump’s refusal to concede defeat soon after the election came as little surprise. He just doesn’t want to be a “loser,” which he is in more ways than one. He told us he was not going to go easily. These childish antics of claiming “fraud” in the election and legal challenges in states in which President-elect Joe Biden has a huge vote advantage are meant to appeal to his followers, to keep them in the Trump camp for future machinations.

Unrelenting Republican loyalty to Trump has shown that the party was “now a full-on cult personality,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, told the Times.

“I think they understand that Trump will continue to dominate their politics for the next decade and they’ve all made a decision that they can’t survive personally if they get crosswise with him,” he said. “That’s a devastating development for our country.”

That’s an understatement. And it explains why many congressional Republicans haven’t been urging Trump to concede or even to recognize Biden’s victory.

That he won’t concede is hurting Biden’s transition to the White House Jan. 20. Biden’s aides have not been given the necessary briefings from Trump administration officials that are required for routine transitions. Complicating the issue, the head of the General Services administration, appointed by Trump, has refused to certify Biden as the winner. That holds up federal money and office space for aides working on the transition.

“Trump’s refusal to concede and his congressional allies’ refusal to object to what he is doing is indeed most dangerous,” Jonathan Gienapp, a history professor at Stanford, told Thomas B. Edsall for his illuminating New York Times column Nov. 11.

“If it continues to be given oxygen, it’s hard not to think that there could be lasting damage to the republic,” he said. This “is what rot looks like.”

If Trump denies Biden’s victory as legitimate, “it would be a brutal renunciation of American democracy,” another history professor, Sean Wilentz of Princeton, told Edsall.

“Trump would be trying to establish a center of power distinct from and antagonistic to the legitimately elected national government – not formally a separate government like the Confederacy but a virtual one, operating not just out in the country but inside the government, above all in Congress,” he said.

Of course, the Republican Senate headed by obstructionist Mitch McConnell of Kentucky gave a powerful glimpse of such a scenario during President Barack Obama’s tenure. How? One major way was denying a hearing for Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court many months before the 2016 election. He also denied hearings for about 100 of the Democratic president’s nominees to lower federal courts.

Yet McConnell rammed through Trump’s nominee to the high court, Amy Coney Barrett, only days before the recent election. To blithely be so hypocritical takes someone with no conscience.

McConnell bowed slightly to Trump when he served notice that it was the president’s legal right to question the outcome of the election. That’s true, but it’s not right – not with Biden’s overwhelming margin of victory.

If Trump takes the low road and incessantly battles Biden from afar, he and McConnell would be a team bent on obstructing the new president.

The majority leader alone certainly could cripple Biden’s ambitious agenda to deal with health care, climate change, job-creating infrastructure rebuilding, relieving student loan debt and securing another virus relief package. Much of this requires congressional approval.

The Trump administration, what’s left of it after all the firings and hollowing out of various agencies, appears to be dead in the water.

It’s gone AWOL on COVID-19 that has taken more than 240,000 American lives as it surges anew nationwide. New cases of the virus hit a record 163,000 Thursday. More than 10 million Americans have been infected.

No one seems to be in charge as a petulant Trump sulks like a 5-year-old whose crayons were taken away. This is the commander-in-chief who was intent on looking John Wayne tough, afraid to seem weak. He couldn’t look weaker than he does now, his true colors. Sick.

“From the inside looking out, it feels all very deranged,” a Republican election official from Philadelphia, Al Schmidt, told 60 Minutes. “Counting votes cast on or before Election Day by eligible voters is not corruption. It is not cheating. It is democracy.”

The boy with the cap gun? He turned out okay. Hitler didn’t return. And the gun wasn’t loaded. But there’s always another demagogue, more frightened boys.

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.