Trump’s final days could divide US for years to come

 

After months of denial and a last-minute concession on the back of a violent coup attempt by his supporters, Donald Trump will finally hand the White House to Joe Biden this week.

For the small army who have been working for almost a year towards an orderly transition of power to a new administration, it couldn't come soon enough.

Mr Trump wasn't the first contender to challenge a presidential vote but some experts say his refusal to accept the results after November 3 may have long-lasting ramifications.

Mr Biden will inherit a nation riven by civil conflict, sharply escalating tensions with China and Russia and a flailing coronavirus response and its resultant shattered economy.

While his transition team was given belated intelligence briefings and updates on threats to national security in late November, it was only in the past week that COVID vaccination data was shared.

"There are really things that the Trump administration has done to make it harder on us," said Mr Biden as he outlined his plans to vaccinate more than 100 million Americans in his first 100 days.

 

Some commentators believe the delays could come with a heavy price.

"When a president and his team come in, they're jumping on a moving train," said Martha Kumar, the director of the White House Transition Project.

"The government operations don't stop. They continue, and you want to know what's ahead."

The stalled presidential election results in 2000, which Democrat Al Gore eventually conceded to Republican George W. Bush, is widely seen as having set back the US response to the then-growing terror threat from al-Qaeda and is partly blamed for the scale of the September 11 terror attacks.

"The dispute over the election and the 36-day delay cut in half the normal transition period. Given that a presidential election in the United States brings wholesale change in personnel, this loss of time hampered the new administration in identifying, recruiting, clearing, and obtaining Senate confirmation of key appointees," said the 9/11 Commission Report.

These delays meant "the new administration … did not have its team on the job until at least six months after it took office".

 

Presidential historian Mark Updegrove warned the Trump administration's delays could be felt for years to come.

"Like so many aspects of this presidency, this is unprecedented," he said.

"I can think of no administration where the incumbent and ultimately outgoing president has not only refused to concede the election, but has offered up baseless claims of the election being rigged and has taken steps to … if not sabotage, at least compromise the pending administration of his successor."

He said the messy handover and its potential issues could damage the nation.

"For all his flag hugging and MAGA talk, Donald Trump's patriotism has to be put into question given his mishandling of this transition," Mr Updegrove said.

The most common complaints critics have about Mr Biden is his age - at 78 he will be the oldest president - and his four decades as a Washington insider, but these factors could help smooth the delayed transition.

"We saw the President taking a long time to essentially allow his administration to ascertain the win and to allow the transition to begin," said Dr Lara Brown from the Graduate School of Political Management at The George Washington University.

 

"So there are briefing delays. There are delays that are happening in terms of execution. But I don't think that we should focus too much on that, because at the end of the day Joe Biden has been vice president and he has been in the Senate for decades.

"If there is anyone who can kind of hit the ground running because he knows what is going to happen, it's him.

"It is actually quite fortunate that we did not sort of elect somebody who, say, was a governor from a state who had never had experience in Washington. I think given Biden's history, the country is going - and his administration's going to be able to start very quickly."

Dr Brown said the most lasting impact of Mr Trump's refusal to concede could be to the Republican party and to his legacy, with his approval rating dipping ten points to historic lows in his final days in office from the 43- 46 per cent he enjoyed throughout his term.

"Presidents who have done these transitions gracefully have also gone on to have kind of a rehabilitation and a kind of political capital in essentially their post presidency," she said.

"Those who have not done it well have essentially been reviled and dismissed.

"What you see in President Donald Trump's most recent approval numbers is that Americans are really displeased by what he is doing."

"His actions are also dividing the Republican Party, and I think it is quite clear that going forward we are going to see essentially a Trump faction and a not-Trump faction of the Republican Party.

"Those two sides of the kind of Republican Party will fight each other until there is some resolution or until one decides to form its own party."

Originally published as Trump's final days could divide US for years to come