One of the more vexing issues for the incoming Biden administration is whether and how to handle the outgoing tinpot dictator and his enablers in the Grand Old Party. Already showing supreme grace in dealing with Trump’s escalating authoritarian actions over the past month aimed at overturning the 2020 election, Biden and his team must now make a clear strategic decision on what to do about Trump as he ungracefully exits the presidency.
With good reason, many hardcore Democrats and Biden supporters in Congress want to go forcefully against Trump and company through litigation, impeachments, and other means of accountability for their seditious acts against America’s constitutional order. After all, the only thing a liberal order can’t tolerate is illiberal assaults on the rule of law. This would certainly feel good to a lot of anti-Trumpists, and this approach may be necessary in some specific state situations where Trump’s actions clearly crossed the line. But overall, this strategy seems unlikely to produce much positive gain for Biden nationally and only gives Trump an open path for constant whining about his supposed persecution without improving the overall standing of the new president.
Thankfully, Biden’s own instinct, as well as that of many of his senior advisers and legal team, is to defend American democracy and elections in a forceful and formal way but to let Trump’s flame of anti-democratic delusion die out from lack of political oxygen. Going after Trump right now is like the kid who fails the marshmallow test. It sure tastes good in the moment but the patient kid gets twice as many treats down the line. Trump is free to marinate himself in self-adulation and to grift his way to a post-presidency existence built on revenge. The rest of America will at least be spared a blissful period without constant back-and-forth about his antics. This would be a tremendous service to the country on its own.
But Biden clearly needs to go beyond turning the other cheek on Trump and aggressively promote his vision and agenda for the country, one that is inclusive of all people and focused exclusively on controlling the Covid pandemic and ensuring national economic recovery and social renewal in all parts of the country.
How is Biden supposed to do this with Mitch McConnell putting up a potential roadblock of obstruction of his agenda in the Senate? As we wait for the Georgia runoffs, I’m not sure anyone has a good answer to this yet. If team Biden wants legislative action, they are going to need to keep all Democrats in line and in many cases add a few Republicans. The compromises necessary to do this will upset a number of progressives and base Democrats and will have to be handled with care.
Yet that’s the political reality and the sooner all pro-democracy, anti-Trump factions face up to the reality, the easier it will be to shape the outcomes in the most productive way possible.