President Donald Trump went to Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday, Veterans Day, to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For any other U.S. president, this simple act of remembrance would serve to reinforce the bond between the American people and the millions of our fellow citizens who have taken up arms in the nation’s defense over the past 2 1/2 centuries.
But Trump’s pantomime of patriotic fealty at Arlington was belied by his refusal to honor the most sacred obligation of any president — a commitment to an orderly, peaceful transfer of power from one chief executive to the next.
The results of this election are clear: Trump lost, Joe Biden won, and no amount of misinformation spread by the president will change that. It isn’t even close. Biden won with likely more than 300 Electoral College votes and a margin of nearly 6 million popular votes.
Dangerous refusal to work with Biden
The president’s rejection of the verdict of the American people is without precedent. His baseless and repeated accusations of vote rigging, fraud and cheating by Democrats are not only a direct challenge to governance here at home, they are also imperiling a pillar of American foreign policy by casting doubt on the fairness and functioning of our system of government at a time when the very idea of liberal democracy is under assault around the globe. Dictators and wannabe authoritarians will take notice, and emulate Trump, just as they have before.
More than undermining our standing abroad, Trump’s refusal to direct his administration to work with the incoming Biden team is dangerous. Trump is thus far denying his successor access to departments and agencies across the federal government and to classified briefings by our intelligence agencies. In doing so, Trump is preventing a seamless handoff during a deadly pandemic — and damaging the country’s readiness if there is a foreign policy crisis during Biden’s first few weeks in office.
Biden’s first priority must be to stop the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. But he must also tackle a myriad national security threats. Across the globe, from North Korea to Iran, from China to Russia to Afghanistan, and in dozens of other places, the United States faces complex challenges that will require the immediate attention of a fully briefed and informed new national security team. Instead, Trump is blocking intelligence briefings and access that the president-elect and his senior advisers will need to better understand North Korea’s missile program, the plans and intentions of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russia’s ongoing efforts to destabilize America and our allies, and more.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the bipartisan 9/11 Commission examined the transition from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush after the contested 2000 election. It found that the new administration did not have its full national security team in place for six months after it took office. As part of its recommendations, later adopted by Congress in 2004, the commission proposed steps to expedite the process for getting new leadership in position and to ensure that the incoming team has access to the information necessary to mitigate the potential for a national security “gap” at the outset of a new presidency.
Chilling revenge in final weeks
Trump also seems determined to exact revenge on his perceived enemies and to reward his friends. Days after his reelection loss, Trump unceremoniously fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and other senior Pentagon officials and replaced them with political actors whose only attribute is undying devotion to the president. It is still unclear why Trump made these moves other than personal pique, but the message is clear and chilling: Absolute loyalty to Donald Trump is the only relevant qualification, even when national security is at stake.
And the bloodletting might not end here. The president’s disdain for CIA Director Gina Haspel, who has vigorously opposed his efforts to declassify material related to Russian interference in the 2016 election and risk sources and methods, is well known, as is his oft-expressed dissatisfaction with FBI Director Christopher Wray. The simple truth is that Trump will never place the national interest above his personal interests; he never has and he never will. So Congress must.
Two months is plenty of time for a man who cares not a whit about the nation he leads, who reportedly disparages the men and women who serve and risk their lives as “suckers” or “losers,” to do the nation even greater harm. Now is the time for all of us in Congress, and regardless of party, to put an end to Donald Trump’s shameful endgame.
This piece originally appeared in the USA Today.