While it’s likely Biden will take office, the Republicans will try to make governing impossible. Biden must be pushed to force effective climate change policy through executive order and not cave to the GOP Senate, says Larry Wilkerson on theAnalysis.news podcast with Paul Jay.
Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to theAnalysis.news podcast, and please don’t forget the donate button.
A razor-thin majority for Biden, relying on the mail-in vote. This is the election result Trump and people
like Steve Bannon expected. They were right and the polling was wrong. Again. Bannon declared a few
weeks ago that the war would begin on November 3rd, and here we are. Trump has already declared
victory and is saying the Democrats plan to steal the election.
This is, without question, the latest news conference I’ve ever had.
Well, that’s the opening shot. Get the troops ready for battle. What might this war look like? Will the
American financial elites allow the political system to descend into chaos? Can they prevent it? Will the
Supreme Court issue another partisan decision, as they did in 2000, handing the election to the
Republicans? After Trump’s disastrous role in allowing the pandemic to get out of control, why was this
election even close? And assuming Biden does take office — and that’s anything but assured at this point
— will he have the guts to confront a Republican-controlled Senate and a fired-up Trumpian mass base or
will he, “try to bring the country together” by giving the super-rich and the far right exactly what they want?
Now, joining us to talk about all of this is Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. He’s a retired United States Army
colonel and is the former chief of staff for the former Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Larry is a
distinguished adjunct professor of government and public policy at the College of William and Mary. And
he’s a member of the National Task Force on Election Crises.
Thanks for joining us, Larry.
Good to be with you on this most interesting day.
Well, you’re on a task force for election crises. You got your crisis. So, what are you guys thinking? I think
you had a meeting today of some sort.
We did. The webcast today was mostly for major media, national media like The New Yorker, AP and so
forth. But we had an opportunity to e-mail-exchange and talk beforehand. And frankly, your
characterization is a bit off. I think, from our analysis, we see things happening pretty much the way we
predicted they would happen. I might add, the way the Transition Integrity Project’s war games went, too:
that it’s going to be extremely close; that there are still as of noon, for example, 30 million votes to be
counted; that there is a real, satisfactory, very methodical process going on all across the country right
now. This process could have been much swifter had the Republicans — and it was Republicans — not
kept states from changing their laws so they could start counting this new huge volume of early votes
earlier. They had to, because of these cases, start on the day of the election. But it’s going well. It’s going
extremely well. We had a report on violence across the country. There was a little bit here, a little bit
there, but not anything like what some of our scenarios predicted. That could change also.
But it’s pretty much going the way we assessed it in one of our scenarios. And it’s pretty much going the
way we would like it to go. That is to say, the laws are being followed, legal action is being taken, legal
action is being supported or thwarted, accordingly. Votes are being counted. That’s what’s going on now.
No more ballots are being cast whatsoever. They’ve all been cast. Now they need to be counted. And in
some cases, according to state law or other people’s objections, they’re going to be recounted. And we’ve
got to have all that done by 14 December. And we pointed out today that in most elections of the past,
since World War Two, we have had the counting go all the way up to the last weeks in November. So
that’s what we anticipate this time.
The one disquieting thing I heard was from one of our really talented electoral politics experts: that we
might have a Hayes-Tilden event, ultimately.
Which means what?
A complete tie or an indecisive, ambiguous result that gets resolved by the Constitution. And as I’ve said
many times, that’s something you could drive a Mack truck through in terms of the way it goes. If Pelosi
becomes the president, the House and the Senate have to decide and they have to agree. It gets to be a
real messy, messy proposition.
Well, before we get into that, and we should, let me just say my introduction wasn’t an analysis. It was a
bunch of provocative questions to get you going.
True. Typical newsman. [Laughter.]
Because I lean towards thinking that the system and the institutions will assert themselves. And when I
ask the question, will the financial elites allow this to completely spiral out of control? that’s because all
the various institutions and political representatives — I shouldn’t say all: most — depend on the financial
and other elites for their livelihoods. I don’t think they’ll let it get out of control, but we’ve been surprised
But let me just ask you this —
Let me say this before you get off of that, because I think you can lay at the feet of Charles Koch, and all
the allies who knew they were allies — and maybe even as importantly, all the allies he had who didn’t
know they were his allies — working at the grassroots level, disdaining Washington, not even caring about
Washington, working in the states to take power.
And when you look now at what the Republicans have done in the states where they own the governor
and both houses, or one of the houses and the governor, or both houses and the Dems have the
governor, those are the states that are usually the ones that are perturbing the [election] process. And
Koch knew that. He got into the states and he got the states.
So, do you think, as Trump is hoping, this ends up at the Supreme Court?
I don’t think so. There’s certainly the possibility of it, but I don’t think so. From what I’m seeing right now
and what I’m hearing in our briefings, I think we’re probably going to have a really squeaky finish, maybe
where one person wins in the electoral college, just like we did in 2016 and 2000, and the other one wins
the popular vote. But of course, the electoral college vote is the decisive vote. Or one wins in both, but the
other one just won’t stop contesting it.
Well, right now, it looks like Biden is likely to win both, but not by much. Why don’t we just dig into that a
bit? How the hell is this election close?
That’s a wonderful question. It’s the reason I said in our preliminary remarks before we came on the air
that I think we just moved from 1850 to 1856. And you, as a Canadian, rightfully so, said you didn’t know
much about our civil war. But I’ll tell you, it looks like we are divided precisely the way we were in those
pre-war years. That is to say, 50-50 roughly. And most political scientists will tell you can’t govern in a
democracy — even a pretend democracy like we are, increasingly — you can’t govern and maintain that
facade if you’re 50-50. You simply can’t because you can’t forge compromise.
You know, Paul, the last time we really forged an important compromise, I think it was 2011 — maybe it
was ’10 when we passed it, ’11 when we ratified it — the New START treaty. Nuclear weapons. And even
there, there were a hell of a lot of Republicans that voted in that almost one-third against it. (It takes two
thirds to ratify a treaty, of course.) I think that’s probably the only treaty of consequence we’ve ratified in
the last 30 years. That’s an indicator. We cannot do it even on nuclear weapons, or we do it barely on
nuclear weapons. We barely got a two-thirds majority to renew that treaty. And it’s coming up in February
for renewal again. Trump’s policy so far has been anything but positive with regard to its renewal. And
Putin has been literally begging him to get off the dime and do something about it.
The Bannon-type forces and the forces inside the Republican Party that are allied with him, either
ideologically or even organizationally — and I don’t know that he individually is so important, but certainly,
he represents some pretty serious forces, not the least of which are people like Opus Dei, the far-right
Catholic organization, and we know they have influence in the military and in politics.
The fact that we let six of the nine justices be Catholics is beyond me, absolutely beyond me. I think back
to when John Kennedy didn’t think he’d get elected president of the United States, because he was a
Catholic and the American people thought the pope would give him orders. And now we’ve got six. And
each of them looks, if they’re not actually, like they’re members of Opus Dei.
This is incredible that we would let this happen.
So, don’t these people see this as a sort of, I don’t know, last chance? The fact that the Republicans are
likely to control the Senate is going to mitigate what I’m saying, because they can’t give — if I understand
correctly — there’s no way to get statehood to Puerto Rico and D.C., which would completely change the
electoral map. But if the Democrats don’t control the Senate — and frankly, even if they did, I don’t know if
they got the guts to actually do that [i.e., grant D.C. and Puerto Rico statehood].
Nor do I.
But the fact that they don’t control the Senate gives the elites an enormous control over this Biden
administration. Not to say that they wouldn’t have had all kinds anyway, but they can’t pass anything
serious now like this big green infrastructure plan. I mean, to me, that’s the real tragedy of this election, is
that even though the Biden climate plan has gaping holes, especially the reliance on carbon capture, at
least there would have been a conversation about effective climate [policy]. This is kind of more or less off
the table unless Biden can really do stuff by executive order. How much can he do by executive order?
Not a lot that isn’t immediately reversible. And I don’t see him as anything more than a one-term
president. So, you have it for four years. It’s barely executed. It’s very randomly executed, too, because
executive orders are never very well executed. And then you have a reversal of it when the next president
comes in. I’m somewhat encouraged by this legislation that’s on the Hill right now for a national
infrastructure bank. That legislation is well-written and there is interest on the Republican side. And there
could be a couple of issues [on which there could be compromise and forward movement], that being one
of them. We desperately need to do that and we’re not going to finance it with taxes, so this is an
innovative way to finance it. That could be an issue where we see enough compromise, enough interest
that we could have something happen. And that’s desperately needed.
Let me go back to where we were because I sort of jumped ahead in the conversation.
Do some game-theorizing with me. If you are a Bannon or Bannon type and you’re in that cabal, what
weapons do you have to try to steal this election? Because what Trump and those people do is whatever
they’re planning to do, they accuse the other side of doing.
Yes, they’re very much like the communists. Communists don’t believe anything they can’t prove and they
can prove anything they believe.
I used to think everything the United States said about the Soviet Union was more or less true, but
everything the Soviet Union said about the United States was more or less true. [Laughter.]
Anyway, given all of that, what —
I understand your question.
What can they do to try to create what would amount to a kind of judicial coup?
If it is, as we heard today, proceeding fairly smoothly — the vote count is going on and that if it’s left alone
and reasonably efficient, we’ll know something in a week or two, and that something is a slight win in both
the electoral college and the popular vote — I think would be more than a slight win in the popular vote for
Biden — what then can they do?
Well, they can start a racket in the press and the media in general that belongs to them like Fox and talk
radio and other similar things out across the country that belong to them, too. They can start a tidal wave
that will make it, I think, virtually impossible for Biden to rule, to govern, to do anything significant. And I
tend to think that would be their smartest move. And I don’t mean “smart” in the sense that I’d support it. I
just mean that would be a move that would give them the presidency probably for sure in four years, and
Pence would be their candidate, of course.
They’d move right on back where they were and they would probably have done significant damage,
which is what they are seeking with regard to the Democrats, in the process. So much damage that
maybe the Democrats — unless they could get their act together, and they haven’t shown me any
indication that they can — would be, as I’ve said about the Republican Party, in the wilderness. But
instead, the Democratic Party would be in the wilderness. It will be very difficult to recover.
Why do you think [that would happen] after four years of sabotaging or restraining a Biden
Because it’s going to make all those people out there who were formidably behind Trump think not only
they were right, but it will convince two or three of their colleagues that they were right. And so, you’re
going to get even more of a tidal wave for the opposite [of Democratic candidates].
One of the ways you do this political game is you make your opponent look really bad. And in that
consequence, you become the rescuer because there’s only two of us. I’m just rereading Bill Safire’s
book, Scandalmonger, which is about Washington, Adams, and then Jefferson. And it’s about Hamilton,
Burr, and really Madison and Monroe in the middle of it all combating for the heart of this nation at its very
And it’s a marvelous book. Bill Safire did a tremendous job because the words [i.e., smears] flowing out of
these players’ mouths — whether it’s James Callender and Sally Hemings or it’s The Porcupine and
Cobbett, the British citizen who was a Federalist mouthpiece — all these people, the words flowing out
through Safire’s pen or from their pens in letters and so forth: you go back and you find everything we’re
seeing right now right there in the very beginning of the republic.
You find Hamilton really wants to be king. You find Jefferson who is as slick and underhanded as
anybody you can imagine. And he wants [to support] the farmers and the French, and he’s not put out,
put back, or put off by the French Revolution or Napoleon. It’s almost like reading about today, without all
the technology. You realize it’s always been this way. It’s always been vituperative and bitter and personal
with shenanigans in the background and money, money, money. You wonder whether Hamilton really
was a good secretary of the Treasury. I mean, you know, this book just blows away the Broadway version
of Alexander Hamilton as Aaron Burr blew the real Hamilton away. And you have a little bit more respect
for Burr when you read this, although you don’t have much respect for any of them. You even learn that
Washington cheated on his expenses and got money that he wasn’t supposed to get.
So, you don’t expect that they can — assuming Biden wins all the races he is now leading in, and that
seems to be what all of the television pundits are suggesting — you don’t see a way for Trump to prevent
Biden from coming to office here?
Unless he really wants to go all the way and has people who will support him in going all the way. And by
that, I mean, some of the scenarios we looked at that we didn’t necessarily take all that way, but we
certainly talked about it. And that is that when he’s losing, he’s got a considerable number of people out
there — so far, most of whom we haven’t heard from. A little bit in southern Florida in Broward and Miami-
Dade, a little bit in Texas, which got a lot of visibility — cars driving people off the road and so forth. But
he’s got some people out there that if he really wanted to call them forth, use his “finest rhetoric” to call
them forth, and to contest this long, drawn out vote count or its results, it could really get messy.
Yeah, so let’s — I tend to agree with you that it won’t — even if it gets messy, eventually the institutions will
assert themselves and Biden will win.
So, what does this mean for the Democratic Party? I mean, I think one of the things this election has
revealed again, but perhaps even more so, is that the corporate Democrats actually don’t have a way to
talk to whole sections of the country, whole sections of the working class. Meaning that the media, which
is Democratic-Party-aligned, whether it’s MSNBC or CNN or most of the major networks, really — a lot of
people don’t watch them. They don’t listen to them. They listen to Fox and the radio shows you were
referring to. But the corporate Democrats actually lost the media battle so profoundly that they can’t
influence almost half of the voting public.
You’re putting your finger right on it. I was on a show last night with the UK and we had Americans, we
had Canadians, we had Australians. And there was a mystery on there about how we could be so
divided, and so ramified in our views on both sides.
And yet when the expert on media began to talk, he nailed it. In my view, he nailed it. Why do the
American people not see Trump’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic as a damning factor? Well,
because they don’t know about it. They don’t know it at all, because Fox has not been presenting it to
them and they don’t watch anything else. Should they stumble on something else it’s immediately “fake
news.” Bang — it’s off. They’re not going to listen to that. They’re going to tune in to Rush Limbaugh or
they’re going to tune into Fox or whatever. No one listens to the other side, period, and you can’t break in.
I’ve found that out myself in going all across the country.
You can’t talk to people on the other side of the aisle anymore because they will not listen. You are the
enemy, and they think you think they’re the enemy, and never the twain shall meet. That’s how we’ve
become so polarized.
And it’s interesting because the financiers who are supposedly against this kind of right wing, you know,
the liberal billionaires and multimillionaires who finance the Democratic Party, it’s kind of obvious what to
do, which is either set up a competition with Fox or, you know, buy up a significant ownership of Fox, but
they don’t. This is a lever of power for them. They want this push from the right, even it, you know, may
go a little too far sometimes. It’s useful to have this.
That’s part of it. I remember when I was campaigning for Jim Webb, Mark Warner, and Tim Kaine when I
really sort of switched over to Obama after I served in the Bush administration. And I remember coming
out of a middle school rally for all three men, Kaine, Warner, and Webb. And my wife turned to me in the
parking lot and she said, “You know, these Democrats aren’t really bad people. Not like those
Republicans we’ve been mixing with all these years who are a bunch of high-powered lawyers and don’t
really socialize with you if you’re dirtier than shit because you’re not one of the high-powered lawyers or
whatever. You’re not one of the cognoscenti; you’re not one of the elite or whatever. You’re not Colin
Powell or Henry Kissinger or C. Boyden Gray. You know, these Democrats are all right.” And I looked at
her, and I said, “Yeah, but they don’t know squat about how to politick.”
I still believe that. They don’t. They simply don’t. And they don’t understand that their party at the top is
braindead, utterly braindead. From Schumer to Pelosi, from Pelosi to Schumer, from Hoyer to Menendez
— they’re braindead. They will not allow their young people to come up. They will not allow them to grow
and mature and take committee positions and so forth. It’s crazy. I had a Democratic woman say to me
the other day, who is in charge of one of the most powerful Democratic groups in Virginia, “I just don’t
believe how utterly soundproofed these people are.” And I said, “What do you mean by soundproofed?”
She said, “Nothing gets to them. They believe their mantra. They stick to their mantra. And when it falls
apart all around them, they look up and say, ‘Well, tomorrow’s another day.’”
You’re talking about the corporate Democrats, the leadership?
Because their nest is feathered, or whatever that expression is. They’re looked after. So, this is a game
they play. They may believe in certain things, but if they lose, they don’t really lose.
As long as the game gets played in accordance with the rules or somewhere close. What we’re skirting
close to right now is avoiding the rules, leaving the road, and maybe having violence. That’s going to
scare both sides. And you would think that would energize them to do something. But I think right now
they’re all thinking with crossed fingers and toes: “We’ll get through this. The institutions will hold and we’ll
get through this. And even if Trump wins, we’ll get through those four years and we’ll be back in power.”
And so forth, and so on: the system will continue to work. I’m sorry to inform them that it’s 1856.
Well, there’s one big difference between now and 1856, as little as I know about American history, when I
put on my Canadian hat. [Laughter.] Which is: there was no climate crisis in 1856. See, that much I know
And no nuclear weapons.
And no nuclear weapons. These two things I know for sure.
So, however the civil war would have turned out at that time, and we know how it did, it wasn’t the end of
organized human society, to quote Chomsky. Organized human society wasn’t at risk. And now it is, even
if Biden takes office. I don’t know, through executive order, can he have a $2 trillion green infrastructure
plan? I don’t think so. I don’t know what he was really planning anyway for real. But on the face of it, if
there isn’t something like that and there isn’t a real plan, to lose another four years — and if you’re right,
this creates the conditions for a Republican win in 2024 –
And add another three or four annual trillion-dollar deficits to the already 23-plus trillion-dollar aggregate
Well, I’m not so worried about that because, you know, there’s a very interesting study done on how much
wealth there is in private hands in the United States. Wealth, meaning after liabilities, assets. And I think it
was Brookings Institute. It’s something like $98 trillion are in private hands. So even if there’s a big
government debt, it’s actually mostly a domestic debt.
It’s about 50, 55 percent domestic; it’s about 45 percent other than domestic.
But if you had to, you can tax that some of that 98 trillion and it wouldn’t take very long to get rid of that
Yeah, let me see you do that.
Well, without question, that’s the real story. They’ll tax that, but they’ll tax it out of working and ordinary
people. They won’t tax the rich, but at least, you know, it’s there, if you had to, if you were ever in a
Every time I pick up a major Asian paper, I find there’s another little deal over there where everything’s
going to avoid the dollar, everything’s going to be denominated in renminbi or maybe yen. It’s going to
avoid the dollar. Creeping, slow movement toward eliminating, as Charles de Gaulle said, that most
pernicious weapon America wields, the power of the dollar. It’s going to happen. It’s going to happen.
And then when inflation takes off and we can’t deal with that inflation by devaluing our currency because it
will be a disaster if we do, it’s going to change the whole ballgame, in my view. And then you’re going to
see these people come out of the woodwork, maybe, but will it be in time? Will they be able to arrest
what’s going to happen when the world decides the hell with the United States and the hell with our
Well, that’s a whole ‘nother conversation.
And at the same time –
It’s a long, long way off.
Well, maybe not. I might even live to see this, and I’m 76. Oil may be, and I think probably already has,
crossing its tipping point. So, the fact that at least the majority of oil sales are denominated in dollars
these days — although that’s changing, too — is going to become a nonfactor in less than a decade,
probably. So, where’s our power other than our bullets and our bombs?
Well, let me get back to where I was headed, because I don’t disagree with that. If Biden — assuming he
takes the office, assuming they lose the Senate — if he doesn’t come out with an extremely bold climate
plan done through executive order… Maybe it gets reversed if the Republicans win in 2024 or maybe with
enough pressure from the people — and this is where I’m headed — there’s an actual bold plan that
excites people. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the Republicans don’t win in 2024.
Of course, the next few years are going to be a deep economic crisis. And it’s in some ways an
advantage to Biden that the depression is going to get deeper as the pandemic continues to get worse
because Wall Street doesn’t mind a big stimulus plan right now. I’ve heard interview after interview on
Bloomberg radio of Wall Street hedge fund guys and all the others saying, just keep the money flowing
right now. We’re not worried about inflation and so on.
Of course, of course. Worked well in 2008, didn’t it?
Well, it’s a little different now because it’s a much deeper crisis now.
And there is a perceived need to get more money into consumer spending, where in ‘07, ‘08, they didn’t
give much of a shit about that. Certainly, if you listen to the financial press, they recognize that if you let
the consumer demand collapse, this thing goes on for a decade.
So, there’s a possibility here, given pressure from people who actually get the urgency of the climate
crisis, to use executive orders to enact a really bold plan.
If you tied that to what’s happening in the marketplace. I’m amazed, frankly, at what’s happening in the
marketplace. I have key people in the Citizens’ Climate Lobby all across the country who are sending me
correspondence almost daily, usually multiple pieces of correspondence. What’s happening in the market
right now and what’s happening in states with regard to getting rid of coal-fired power — if you look at
Trump’s promise to coal miners, it’s a joke. It’s a total joke. They’re going away. People are going to
natural gas, they’re going in Iowa and Texas to wind and solar, for example. It’s happening. We are
changing. I looked at my Ford stock and threw it away. I didn’t want to own Ford stock anymore because
they don’t get it. They simply don’t get it. I think the last time I looked at my Ford stock, it was five dollars
and seventy-five cents a share. That’s an indicator.
The market is going away from the technologies that are most contaminative and it’s going towards those
that are either regenerative or less contaminative or both. The market’s going to take us to this place.
Whether it does it in a timely manner or not is a huge question.
So, he needs to time these executive orders, coordinate them, and make them in sync with what’s already
happening in the market and encourage that to happen even more. The most powerful way to do that, of
course, is with subsidies. Which — guess what? — the state of Texas is doing with wind power and solar
power. It’s been fought mightily by the Republicans in that state. But it’s gaining every week a little bit.
And so, if you let this market go and you help it a little bit, as government can do — as FDR did, for
example — you could change this whole thing overnight.
The big question is going to be, are we going to do it fast enough?
Yeah, I think if it’s really just dependent on market mechanisms, it will never be fast enough.
It’s got to be government-market cooperation. I mean, I think that’s just clear.
There has to be a massive investment in sustainable energy projects: wind and solar and refurbishing of
buildings. I mean, what needs to be done, everybody knows. The math has been done. And one of the
things Biden has to do — and if it has to be through executive order, so be it – is promise all the workers
that are working in the fossil fuel industry a just transition. Biden has used the words a little bit, but why
wasn’t he campaigning on that point in Pennsylvania and some of the other places?
He was probably getting money from somewhere that wouldn’t have liked it.
It’s such a pernicious, pernicious influence campaign out there.
Yeah, the fossil fuel industry is money. They’re terrified of it. But obviously that would have been a
message in Pennsylvania: that the whole society created this problem, so the whole society has to chip in
to pay for the solution. You can’t stick it on the backs of fossil fuel workers.
I mean, it’s obvious, and the math has been done. It’s a pittance-amount of money in Pennsylvania. Like,
Pollin, the economist, did the math.
But getting them to trust, in a political sense — getting them to trust you, that you’re going to do that when
you say you’re going to do that, that’s a challenge. It really is a challenge.
I agree. But I think the reason Biden didn’t do it is what you said in the first place, because then you’re
really acknowledging you’re phasing out fossil fuel and that’s going to really piss off the fossil fuel
And the Chevron station owner up here at the top of the hill and everyone else is going to see his
livelihood going away.
Well, unless everybody gets taken care of. It would be a fraction of the money they’ve used to prop up the
Exactly. I watched this guy up here in the BP [gas station]. Now he’s got a whole bank of Tesla power
generators. And people are in there using it because Fairfax County [Virginia] is full of Teslas. There’re
three or four Teslas around my car every time I drive somewhere. So, it’s happening. I mean, and as soon
as he finds out he can make as much money out of that — and besides that, he’s going to have to
because there are so many Teslas around — that’s going to change that [attitude].
But how do you scale that up all across the country? And how do you help it with, like you said, executive
orders, government action, and so forth when the other side is trying to keep you from doing that?
Well, you just have to say, forget bipartisanship, forget hands across the aisle, and all the rest of that.
Obama wasted eight years with that shit.
Absolutely. He gave us Trump because of that shit.
All right. Well, let’s pick this up again when we know who’s president. [Laughter.]
All right. Thanks very much for joining us, Larry.
Take care. Bye-bye.
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