A Desperate Trump Will Do Desperate Things – Larry Wilkerson

Video ThumbnailLarry Wilkerson and Paul Jay discuss a possible rout of the GOP, and what a desperate Trump might do before the transfer of power. If Biden wins, massive pressure is needed to make him reduce deep income inequality, or a new authoritarian threat will emerge by 2024. Transcript Paul Jay Hi, I'm Paul

Larry Wilkerson and Paul Jay discuss a possible rout of the GOP, and what a desperate Trump might do before the transfer of power. If Biden wins, massive pressure is needed to make him reduce deep income inequality, or a new authoritarian threat will emerge by 2024.

Transcript

Paul Jay

Hi, I’m Paul Jay and welcome to theAnalysis.news podcast. Please don’t forget there’s a donate button at the top of the webpage.

The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, which has never taken a partisan political position before in its 208-year publication history, urged readers Thursday to vote Trump out of office for his COVID-19 response, saying his administration has, quote, taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy. Trump told Fox News that now, quote, the gloves are off. So too, any pretense of sanity. A desperate Trump is likely to do desperate things.

Now joining us to talk about what we might expect is Lawrence Wilkerson. He’s a retired United States Army colonel and former chief of staff to the United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. Larry is a distinguished adjunct professor of government and public policy at the College of William and Mary. He’s a member of the National Task Force for Election Crises. Thanks very much for joining us, Larry.

Lawrence Wilkerson

 Good to be with you, Paul.

Paul Jay

So, since we talked last, there’s been a presidential debate. There’s been a vice presidential debate. President Trump has had COVID. President Trump has been visited with a miracle cure and seems to be more loony than ever. What do you make of the status of things?

Lawrence Wilkerson

Just as you said, it is an insane moment, and I’m thinking it can get even more so, between now and November the 3rd and then after November the 3rd unless we have and this is what I’m hoping for as a member of these different political groups looking at the elections, a popular and Electoral College blowout. And I hope it’s for Biden. That way I think we have less of a chance for some of this contention, maybe even blood in the streets that we’re talking about and that we’ve simulated and seen in the simulations.

Paul Jay

So, what has changed about the simulations, if anything, as a result of the COVID situation? He seems to be recovering, although it’s pretty hard to tell whether this cocktail of drugs is just sort of floated him up and there’s still a big bang to come. Or maybe it actually was effective. Who knows? I mean, this disease is so hard to predict.

Lawrence Wilkerson

More than that. I think the personal situation with the president and now possibly even the vice president and certainly a lot of people around the president, the White House, I was told yesterday, is like a tomb. The West Wing in particular. People were very frightened. People are really scared to even go to work. And that includes the Secret Service, which is not the way it usually is with the Secret Service.

But I think the bigger implication in the way you asked your question for the elections is what our advisor, Dr. Michael Osterholm, has told us is probably coming. And that is a situation in October and November, possibly December that’s much worse than the summer.

Paul Jay

In terms of the pandemic.

Larry Wilkerson

Yes.

Paul Jay

 Yeah. Hasn’t he been recommending that when Biden’s elected in the reasonable course will be like a two-month national shutdown?

Lawrence Wilkerson

Yes. And his point and we have economists who agree with him but not all of them, but most of them do, is that if we do that, we should have done that in the summer, of course. We should have shut down and then we would be looking at a different situation right now. That we didn’t do it caused a lot of death, not a lot of useless death, which is, I think, one of the most powerful criticisms of Donald Trump right now. But we need to do it. And if we don’t do it and then suffer the consequences, whatever they may be, the ultimate consequences economically, financially and certainly death wise will be far worse. That’s his point. We should have done it earlier. We’d have a better situation economically and otherwise. But we got to do it now or we will really regret it come December or January.

Paul Jay

So the task force, your part of, you guys were working out scenarios of what might happen and certainly Trump and including Pence in the vice-presidential debate, they’re, saying fairly straightforwardly that if he wins the Electoral College on November 3rd, they’re not going to respect any mail-in vote and changing the result afterward. You and I have talked before about what Republican governors might do, so what does that scenario look like? And it’s still possible, isn’t it?

Lawrence Wilkerson

It is possible. Is it probable? I don’t think so anymore. And I say that based on what I’m seeing in the polls and what I’m sensing around the Trump team, which is desperation for lack of any better term, I think what you’re going to see is increasing desperation as the polls continue to reflect a growing gap between Republicans and Democrats. And that includes in the Senate, the House, the whole gamut, because what we’re looking at is not just a landslide victory for the other side, we’re looking at a landslide victory that puts Democrats in both houses of Congress and in the White House.

So as they get more and more desperate, I think they’re going to do, this is my opinion now, I think they’re going to do more and more to try and unload themselves from Trump.

Does that mean the 25th Amendment? Does that mean that Trump walks out before it even comes to November the 3rd? Does it mean that there is a replacement? I don’t know. But I sense that this is becoming a Republican wide issue now. And as such, lots of people are weighing in and asking the fundamental question, how are we going to survive this? It’s looking very, very bad. Does that deepen and make even more dangerous the situation?

 If he does stay, if he does go through the election and he loses resoundingly or I’m wrong and it’s an ambiguous or an indecisive conclusion, the two most dangerous scenarios. Yeah, the probability is there that he could do some of the things that he’s already suggested he would do, the most dangerous of which, of course, is reflected in his comment about the proud boys. Come to the streets with your guns, my core base, and show America who you want to stay in office. That would be very dangerous. And it’s one of the scenarios that we contemplated.

Paul Jay

A lot would depend, I think, on one where the Supreme Court is going to end up if there is this real disputing of the mail-in vote. And that’s I don’t think that’s a given that they’re going to support Trump, but they might.

The other question is, how serious do you think the Democrats are about statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.? Because I would think that be an enormous threat to the Republican Party. I mean, people have said they may never win again, certainly never win the Senate again. If that’s true, how real is this that the Democrats would actually go through with that?

Lawrence Wilkerson

When you heard Pence in the debate with Kamala Harris talk about the Democratic plan to expand the Supreme Court, that he didn’t talk about Puerto Rico, maybe because you just didn’t have the time. But it is an issue like that. It’s an issue that makes the Democrats look for the Republicans at least more dangerous than they perhaps are. I don’t see that the Supreme Court issue or Puerto Rico being anything but deepening Republicans’ problems.

 I’ve said before, I’ll say it again. When Colin Powell told the RNC many years ago, if you don’t open your tent, if you don’t allow blacks, Hispanics, if you don’t allow all sexual orientations and so forth to come into your tent, you are damned. You will never win again unless you use illegal methods, cheating, whatever, gerrymandering, and so forth.

Well, look at what we’ve seen the Republican Party do. They’ve used every manner, form, and shape of a legal and semi-illegal activity in order to hold on to power. Look at North Carolina. If you want a really intense look at that, look at Ohio, too for different reasons. But the Republicans know they’re damned. They can’t win another election in this country. That’s the reason you have people like Mike Lee saying democracy is not necessarily the best form of government? Well, no. For people like Mike and like others in the Republican Party, it isn’t because democracy, they define it as mob rule and they quote Jefferson and mob rule, mob rule.

But what they mean, in essence, is, these black people and these brown people and these new demographics coming up are never going to cast a Republican vote or it’s going to be a rarity when they do. And look at the numbers of them. Look at New York, look at Los Angeles, look at Chicago. Hell, look at Houston. Why did Governor Abbott declare there could only be one dropbox, in Harris County with four and a half million people. Can you imagine four and a half million people trying to get to one dropbox? Well, because they’re mostly Democrats. That’s the way the Republicans hold on to power and they know that’s the only way they can hold on to power. So, you’re going to see more and more shenanigans unless we finally route them. And I’m all for routing them completely in November. And I’m a Republican, God forbid.

Paul Jay

The idea of a more authoritarian government in the United States, it has some roots that go a little deeper, I think than just Trump and Republicans who are scared of the outcome of the vote.

Lawrence Wilkerson

 Goes all the way to 1776.

Paul Jay

Yeah, but a specific kind of opinion, which you can see showing up in business, some business press, right-wing press, certainly, but even in places like Foreign Affairs, the magazine, but essentially that United States may need a more authoritarian government to properly compete with China and that this idea of liberal democracy, maybe it has had its day. How serious a conversation is that?

Lawrence Wilkerson

It’s a very serious conversation. We have had a running dialogue with America, along with several sister colleges, about this, the retreat of international liberalism, the retreat of liberal democracy. And we’ve even talked about the United States and use Donald Trump as the exemplar of that retreat. There are people in the lower classes, people in the middle classes, and as you intimated, people in the wealthier classes that are all for authoritarianism. But as I said, this is nothing new.

Look at what Barr said about our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Barr essentially said the Constitution was all we needed.

That’s Jimmy Madison. That’s most of the people at the constitutional convention. That’s the people who thought a landed white wealthy elite ought to run the new government that they were creating. Along came Annie Ferris and Patrick Henry and said on my deathbed, will you do that? And I certainly will not bring Virginia into your Constitution. And the reason Patrick Henry and the anti-Federalists did that was because they said, look, this is what we fought for. These 10 amendments do things like keep soldiers out of your home. They give you the right to a trial. They give you the right to peaceful assembly. These are the things we fought the revolution for, Jimmy Boy. You either include these in your Constitution or Virginia ain’t voting for it. And to Madison’s credit, I don’t know whether it was political expediency or whether the anti-federal was convincing him of the wisdom of their ways. But he became an advocate for the Bill of Rights and then the Bill of Rights, of course, was included for Barr to go back to those days and reopen that argument. For me, Barr needs to be gone as badly as Trump needs to be gone.

Paul Jay

So as you sort of gamed out the possibilities of things that could happen, let’s look at the moment. Trump really does seem to be in a bubble of lunacy, a delusion about who he is and where he’s at. I don’t know if anyone can speak anything about the real world to him right now. Pence is so lockstep with him. And I guess in terms of Pence’s future political fortunes, that’s what he has to do. He can’t in any way offend Trump’s base.

The White House is, as you said, practically shutting down. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are all sick. The whole echelons of the state is in disarray. The Senate, I don’t know the severo., enough senators seem to be sick that I don’t know can they really shove through this nomination to the Supreme Court? In fact, why don’t we just, where are we on that? Are they going to be able to do that?

Lawrence Wilkerson

 I think it’s going to be difficult, not impossible. And McConnell, as I said, is pretty adept at this sort of thing. So I’m sure he’s concentrated on that, if not exclusively, probably nearly so. And he wants to do it. Nothing will dissuade him from doing it, not even quoting Abraham Lincoln with regard to a similar situation in 1864. And someone said to me the other day, well, you know, Lincoln knew he was going to win. I said, Are you kidding me? Until Sherman won Atlanta and subsequent victories in Tennessee, Lincoln thought he was going to lose. Go back and read your history again, bud. He did and he thought he was going to lose, he even told his cabinet members that they needed to go and to begin to look for other occupations. Because he knew there was a real good chance and he thought, I think he was going to lose. And then, of course, Sherman gave him those victories and the whole tide turned.

Paul Jay

 So one scenario here is that this is a complete rout and, you know, virtually the destruction of the Republican Party as it’s presently formed.

 Where does this Republican Party go with this? Because so much of their base is Trumpest and the old alliances that created the Republican Party are kind of shattered. Most of the more Romney types have been actually forced even out of the party.

I guess they rebuild in some way or the other, but they’ve unleashed the hornet’s nest here. How do they rebuild? Without continuing to rely on the kind of people that are voting for Trump.

Lawrence Wilkerson

That’s a good question. It’s a question that they got themselves into the morass of. I do think that first, we need two parties. Second, this party is salvageable if it sees the error of its ways and begins to mend those ways. And I look at history and say, well, there have been times when the Republicans were out for a long time.

We just had a case study presentation in my seminar last week on the 1965 decision by Lyndon Johnson to escalate in Vietnam. And we were looking at in the process of doing the presentation, the results of his landslide, at that point, the largest margin of victory in American history against Barry Goldwater and the Electoral College and the popular vote and the House and the Senate were just overwhelmingly turned into Democratic bastions. One reason he could get the Civil Rights Act through and so forth and so on because he owned everything virtually. That’s happened before, too, not just in 64′.

 So the Republican Party’s been in the darkness several times before, as have the Democrats. I’d have to go back through the whole history of it and look at who the Republicans used to be, who the Democrats used to be, you know, extrapolate between Whigs and so forth. But I suspect the Democrats have been in the darkness less than the Republicans, because, let’s face it, the Republicans have always been for one reason or another ever since they were created and Thad Stevens stood out as a great example,  as radicals. Whether they were against slavery or whether they were, oh, let’s just keep everybody in their house and we’ll get through this depression, truly radicals in the sense of deviating from common sense and just what ought to be done. So being in the darkness is a Republican feature if you will. I think they can come out of that darkness, but they’ve got to do what Colin Powell told me to do. They’ve got to have a wider appeal to a far wider demographic. That’s what Trump shut down. George Bush started it. You could say even that. You could say Ronald Reagan started it in the sense that he gave them the ideological principles on which to close the door, by which to close the door, but they essentially said we want to be a white male and only have those white women who read the Bible and know how to follow their male husbands in our party. That’s not going to work.

You’ve got to appeal to. And so you’ve got to get a platform and some policies that appeal to a much wider array of Americans. Look at the demographics. I’m sure when the Republican Party that exists right now looks at the demographics in America, they can think of only two things. Holy shit, we’re damned forever or we’ve got to turn this into an authoritarian state and make sure we’re the authority.

Paul Jay

I think that’s where this goes, I think the most likely scenario now, barring some craziness and who knows what? As I said, a desperate Trump might do something desperate, including some provocation with Iran, although I think at this point, either the Joint Chiefs are too sick or they won’t go along with it anyway.

But I think the danger now is that Trump loses, he gets a pardon from Pence,  New York chases him around for years because he’s got enough money to keep it in the courts for a long time. He starts this media empire. You know, they want to create what is it called MAGA TV or something and they double down. And the Republican Party doubles down with him because they don’t really have much choice. And the doubling down is to organize a really more even more overt fascist movement, not stormtroopers and such more or less what we’ve seen, but more. And the problem is, is that if Biden replicates the kind of economic policies of the Obama administration under which we saw the greatest growth in inequality, I believe, of any administration in history. And essentially was a tool of finance and Wall Street. And I’m not saying the Obama administration didn’t have some reforms that were of use, there were some. And there were some reforms that the Republicans wouldn’t have passed.

But on the most critical issue of the economy and the issue of the growing inequality and the role of finance and so on and so on, if Biden replicates Obama, it’s going to create the conditions for what Obama created, the conditions for. I mean, I think it was Obama policies that helped create and set the table for Trump. And Biden you know, if they do this, is going to set the table for whether it’s Trump or a more coherent right populist. I don’t even like using the word populist when it comes to this. But fanatical right leader. I’ve been saying Trump may be the sort of megalomaniacal buffoonist tip, of a more coherent fascist spirit.

Lawrence Wilkerson

I actually have some optimism with regard to the president if he becomes president, Joe Biden, I’ve known him for a long time, arguably mostly through Colin Powell, debriefings of me, of telephone calls and so forth with him, but also some personal contact. And he’s a supreme politician. In the sense that LBJ was a supreme politician, perhaps one of the best we’ve ever had, and so I agree with two of your previous speakers, or at least Rana.

Paul Jay

 Rana Foroohar, for people that haven’t seen it, I did a podcast with Rana Foroohar and Mark Blythe.

Lawrence Wilkerson

If you haven’t seen that on the Analysis, I recommend it. It’s a great discussion, but I think Biden will be influenced and he will be influenced probably on a progressive scale, more and more by the other wing of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party wing that’s been so quiescent for so long, largely because of people like Bob Rubin and Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton and a host of others who wanted to join the fray. They wanted Wall Street’s money and so forth and so on.

So I think Biden is going to be influenced. Will he have a lot of time to exert that influence and will he have room, political room, and space to do so? It’s going to be difficult because we’re going to confront one of the worst economic situations, probably the worst we’ve ever, ever confronted in January, February. The COVID-19 pandemic is probably not going to be over. We probably won’t get a vaccine until the end of the summer at the earliest. Trump’s lying through his teeth when he says otherwise for political purposes only. It’s going to be difficult. 

But I do think there is the possibility that those people in the Democratic Party now, many of them elected the last time around, are going to be influencing the party to the extent that they might move away from that Bill Clinton engineered center and more towards what the Democratic Party has said all along, but been faults in saying it, which is why many of its black voters have abandoned it, for example, it might move towards that. And most formidably in that respect and most necessary in that respect, is reforming and resuscitating and changing our economic approach to the world. And along with that, our financial approach.

 As I’ve said before, it’s pie in the sky, maybe, but Thomas Piketty tells us all about it in his conclusion to ‘Capital and Ideology’. Can they take it that far? Certainly not one administration or even two or three, but probably by the point that we get to where the climate crisis is, do or die, and it’s already do or die in times of action.

I think when it gets to the point where shall we say 330 million or more Americans realize they’re going to drown, burn to death or not have anything to eat if they don’t do something, that’s of course, too late. But by the time we get there, hopefully, and this climate crisis and the action they take towards it will be a catalyst for this. We’ll be changed, majorly changed in the way that we approach the world. Neoliberal capitalism will be gone. It would be a vestige of the past.

Paul Jay

Well, if we wait for that, it’s going to be way too late in terms of dealing with climate because.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Well I said, you’ve got to do it all along. 

Paul Jay

Yeah. In the process and when you look at the Biden climate plan and I share, I wouldn’t say your optimism, but I certainly hope because I hope humanity makes it that when Biden actually gets elected, they take a much more serious look at climate. Because right now, Biden’s climate plan, at least the one that’s up on his website, assuming that’s what they plan to do, it’s almost completely dependent on carbon capture as the way to reduce carbon emission, not to phase out fossil fuel. He talks about phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, but he actually doesn’t talk about phasing out fossil fuel. And right now, carbon capture is completely unproven. If you put all your eggs in the carbon capture basket, you’re not serious about hitting targets, especially with, you know, less than a decade. We have to get serious.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Well, there are some people in that other part of the Democratic Party, which I was just talking about inside and outside the party, who know that, understand that, and know that there has to be far more dramatic action. And incidentally, the report that the Defense Department just rendered and the report that we just rendered in the Climate Security Working Group, working with the Defense and Homeland Security Department goes further than that. So there are people even in the government who know that you have to go a lot further than that.

And, you know, there are a lot of people who are putting their eggs in the basket of the revenue-neutral carbon tax that is now the citizens’ climate lobby is put into bill form. It’s in both houses of Congress right now and I suspect has a pretty good chance of passing ultimately. But even that, you know, those things are steps that they are, in some respects, baby steps. Yeah, there has to be a lot more, a lot more.

We have to, not just in subsidies, for example, for fossil fuels and transfer those subsidies to renewable energy so they can get off their feet much faster and much more effectively. We also have to end the use of fossil fuel, and that means taking on ExxonMobil and the other companies that say they have seen the light and are going to help us. I don’t see all that much action on their part. It means taking them on. It means taking them on the way Teddy Roosevelt took on the monopolies in his time with a viciousness, with an aggressiveness, and with an intent to end them. It’s that simple.

Paul Jay

 I agree I’d like to see that I don’t see that coming out of a Biden administration.

Lawrence Wilkerson

I don’t see it coming out of a Biden administration.

Paul Jay

But that said, there’s another alternative with some progressive economists have suggested, bribe them. I’m not against it.

Lawrence Wilkerson

I’m not against it either. 

Paul Jay

 Tell the fossil fuel companies, you know, you got 10, 15 years. Transition yourselves to sustainable energy and will fill the hole of your profits for 15 years.

Lawrence Wilkerson

 I do.

Paul Jay

 We’re making up money. We’re making trillions of dollars up anyway. So, make up some more.

Lawrence Wilkerson

 Let’s do the same thing with Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. 

Paul Jay

Absolutely. Absolutely. But change U.S. foreign policy.

Lawrence Wilkerson

 We tried a little bit of that in 1992 and 93 when we were paying the peace dividend and the American people and cutting the armed forces. It didn’t work too well. I’m for it if it works, but it’s a waste of money if it doesn’t work. And you have to be careful that you don’t incentivize something even more perverse than that what you had when you started.

Paul Jay

Well, when it comes to climate like there’s no alternative than face. 

Lawrence Wilkerson

I agree on climate. Yeah.

Paul Jay

 I mean, on arms manufacturing. I wouldn’t fill in their hole. I would just nationalize them all. I think it’s insane. Working-class kids can go out and get killed and others can make money out of war. There’s just no logic to it.

Lawrence Wilkerson

I mean you have to be careful there, too, because I don’t say I don’t sympathize with you, but and I would my target list includes the predatory capitalist state arms merchant’s way ahead of everyone else because they’re so deadly in the world. And with nuclear weapons, they threaten us like climate change threatens us. But you have to be careful that you don’t perversely incentivize this situation to the point where you narrow the field even more and create even more monopoly and make them even more powerful than they were before you got started on the effort.

You’ve got to, and you also when you nationalize something like that, you’re creating another route to tyranny in many respects. That’s the reason I have real trepidation about people talk about nationalizing the banks, nationalizing the arms industry, and so forth, because you’re putting an enormous amount of power instantaneously in the hands of whoever might be the autocrat, ultimately.

Paul Jay

The thing is and I think there’s a way to do that now that didn’t exist certainly in earlier decades, and that is a great diversification of public ownership.

You know, break it up into states, break it up into cities, break it up into regions, even non-profits, partly because of digitization, artificial intelligence. There’s way to coordinate production and activity in a way there wasn’t before, but diversify ownership. I agree with you. If you just have this all in the federal state publicly owned, then you could wind up with the same or even worse concentration of ownership and concentration of political power.

But I think there’s ways to do this now that doesn’t have to lead to that. And honestly, I don’t see the alternative to figuring that out because the current situation is leading us to a climate disaster.

Lawrence Wilkerson

And with the arms industry. I had a conversation with several people a week ago. We were sort of ending a coalition we put together to try and get the defense budget down by a hundred billion dollars a year for ten years, trillion dollars, easily done in terms of why and how effective the armed forces would be at the end of it.

They’d be more effective than they are now, but not easily done in terms of getting the Congress to go along because they’re on the payroll. So, you’ve got to figure out some way to re incentivize the legislature. And it’s not just through the ballot box because you get corrupted so fast when you come in, you’ve got to re incentivize the legislature so that they aren’t any longer supportive of the wars that make them powerful and get the arms industry in there and making them rich. But you’ve got to break that chain somehow like that.

Paul Jay

 I know how I would do it. I would buy controlling interest of BlackRock, the big asset management company. I’d public, you know, use public money, biocontrol.

If you look at who owns Lockheed Martin and Raytheon and all of that and you look at who owns the 12 major companies that manufacture nuclear weapons, it’s all the big financial institutions.

It’s financial investors are the ones that really own enough shares to affect the voting and if they had public takeover of some of those, it would be a lever to at least create some rationality, I’m not saying it changes everything.

Lawrence Wilkerson

 And don’t forget the nuclear waste industry, too, because it’s as powerful as the actual nuclear weapons industry. They make a fortune off nuclear waste. There’s one particular billionaire out in Salt Lake City that interesting Iranian American Khosro Semnani. He’s probably the monopolist in the West, if not the country, on nuclear waste management.

Paul Jay

All right. One final question, just back to where we started with Trump. You’ve got your ear and talk to a lot of people, including people in the military and former and maybe some current intelligence people and so on. How worried are they that Trump actually is a lunatic, that he’s crossed the kind of line into real madness? Are they worried enough to do anything about it before November 3rd?

Lawrence Wilkerson

Let me answer that in two parts. First, they’re like this. And if they’re Christians or otherwise motivated by a divine being, they’re on their knees trying to get to three November and hoping like heck that he’s not re-elected in the sense of doing something. I can’t help but think that there isn’t a tacit understanding that if it gets to the point where one might say it was with Richard Nixon when at the end of the day, he finished that bottle of Jack Daniels and Henry Kissinger took over as president.

There was a tacit agreement that they were not going to follow his orders if those orders emanated from that state, that condition. I suspect there’s something like that now. I just have to think there is there are just too many people interested in the preservation of this country for there not to be, I think.

Paul Jay

 All right, thanks for joining us, Larry. 

Lawrence Wilkerson

Sure, thank you.

Paul Jay

 Thank you, for joining us on theAnalysis.news podcast. And again, please don’t forget the donate button at the top of the webpage

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