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Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, The First Two Weeks

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Give the president, his administration, and his party credit. They're doing their damnedest to undermine this election and elections to come: from voter suppression to selling doubt about the most basic aspects of American democracy (including voting by mail), from undermining the postal service that will deliver vast numbers of mail-in ballots during a pandemic moment to claiming ahead of time that the vote is rigged (and not by Republicans). And don't forget the way they're screwing up the census count (key to future elections). Admittedly it's already quite a record, but I'll tell you what worries me right now: a story that got only the most modest coverage when, in my opinion, it should have been front-page screaming headlines followed by much outrage.

Here's its essence: Donald Trump recently appointed a retired brigadier general named Anthony Tata as deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, the number three position at the Pentagon. Tata had, of course, praised the president fulsomely (and attacked his enemies) on Fox News and, in recent years, had also managed to make various strikingly racist and wildly Islamophobic comments, including calling former president Barack Obama a "terrorist leader" and his wife Michelle "borderline treasonous." The president got Tata a "temporary" appointment after even Senate Republicans refused to hold confirmation hearings for him. That means the retired brigadier general should still be in place at the Pentagon after the election.

Why should any of this matter if Joe Biden wins? Because if Donald Trump (predictably) declares that election a fraud (which he even did in the 2016 election when he won) and refuses to leave the White House, who's going to get him out of there? Not, certainly, the U.S. military if the Pentagon is staffed by and stuffed with Trump favorites and flacks. With that grim thought in mind, it's also worth imagining a future in which Joe Biden does find himself in the Oval Office on January 20th in a moment guaranteed to be one of pandemic (and other kinds of) chaos in the wake of the singularly worst administration in American history. That, as it happens, is the subject TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author most recently of The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory, takes up today. Tom

Biden Wins
Then What?
By Andrew Bacevich

Assume Joe Biden wins the presidency. Assume as well that he genuinely intends to repair the damage our country has sustained since we declared ourselves history's "Indispensable Nation," compounded by the traumatic events of 2020 that demolished whatever remnants of that claim survived. Assume, that is, that this aging career politician and creature of the Washington establishment really intends to salvage something of value from all that has been lost.

If he seriously intends to be more than a relic of pre-Trump liberal centrism, how exactly should President Biden go about making his mark?

Here, free of charge, Joe, is an action plan that will get you from Election Night through your first two weeks in office. Follow this plan and by your 100th day in the White House observers will be comparing you to at least one President Roosevelt, if not both.

p>On Election Night (or whatever date you are declared the winner): Close down your Twitter account. Part of your job, Joe, is to restore some semblance of dignity to the office of the presidency. Twitter and similar social media platforms are a principal source of the coarseness and malice that today permeate American politics. Remove yourself from that ugliness. Your predecessor transformed a presidency that had acquired imperial pretensions into an office best described as a cesspool of grotesque demagoguery. One of your central tasks will be to model a genuine alternative: a presidency appropriate for a constitutional republic, where reason, candor, and a commitment to the common good really do prevail over partisan name-calling. That's a lot to ask for, but returning to a more traditional conception of the Bully Pulpit would certainly be a place to start.

During the transition: Direct your press secretary to announce that on January 20th there will be no ritzy Inaugural balls. Take your cues from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's inauguration for his fourth term in office, a distinctly low-key event. After all, in January 1945, the nation was still at war; victory had not yet arrived; celebration could wait. Our present-day multifaceted crisis bears at least some comparison to that World War II moment. So, as you plan your own inauguration, ditch the glitz. A secondary benefit: you won't have to hit up wealthy donors for the dough to pay for the party. And with no party, you won't have to worry about inaugural festivities triggering another spike in Covid-19 infections.

In addition to selecting a cabinet and ignoring your predecessor's bleating, the main focus of your transition period has to be policy planning. When you take office, the coronavirus pandemic will still be with us: that's a given. Even if optimistic predictions of an effective vaccine becoming available by early 2021 were to pan out, we won't be out of the woods. Not faintly. So your number-one priority during the transition must be to do what Trump never came close to doing: devise a concrete national strategy for limiting the spread of the virus along with a blueprint for prompt and comprehensive vaccine distribution when one is ready.

That said, it would also be prudent to engage in quiet contingency planning to lay out possible courses of action should your predecessor refuse to acknowledge his defeat ("rigged election!") or leave the White House.

On January 20th, the big day arrives.

Noon, Eastern Standard Time: With the chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding, take the oath of office in the East Room of the White House in the presence of Vice President Kamala Harris and your immediate family. No inaugural address, no parade, no festivities whatsoever. Make like you're George Washington: he wasn't into making a fuss. When the ceremony ends, have lunch and get down to work.

That afternoon: Issue an executive order directing the formation of a National Commission on Reconciliation and Reparations, or NCRR. Recruit Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates or another scholar of comparable stature to head the effort. While likely to be a lengthy and contentious endeavor, the NCRR will provide a point of departure for addressing the persistence of American racism by taking on this overarching question: What does justice require?

That evening: Speak to the nation from the Oval Office. Make it brief. Your address will set the tone for your administration. The nation has its hands full with concurrent crises. The moment calls for humility and hard work, not triumphalism. Don't overpromise. Consider Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address as a model. Curb your inclination to blather. Abe only needed 701 words. See if you can better that.

Day 2: In a letter to House and Senate leaders, unveil the details of your coronavirus strategy, which must include: 1) a national plan to curb the existing Covid-19 outbreak and prevent future ones; 2) a nationwide approach to vaccine distribution; 3) a strategy for averting and, if needed, curbing the outbreak of comparable diseases; 4) adequate funding of key government pandemic relief and prevention facilities and activities. In the process, identify near-term and longer-term funding requirements that will require congressional action.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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