Opinion: Can a lame duck stage a coup? Trump won’t just let us move on

President Trump listens during a news conference at the White House on Nov. 20.
President Trump listens during a news conference at the White House on Nov. 20.
(Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. California’s nearly statewide coronavirus curfew takes effect at 10 p.m. tonight. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

This was supposed to be around the time that this newsletter would transition to discussing forward-looking pieces on policy and culture, and away from reacting to whatever outrage President Trump had recently inflicted on us. Even with the president’s lame duck-induced irrelevance, there would have been plenty to be alarmed about with the coronavirus — but in a slightly more sane universe, we’d be focusing on the incoming Biden administration’s pandemic response plan developed with the help of service-minded Trump White House officials, even if the president himself had checked out for a 60-day sulk.

Problem is, there aren’t enough service-minded people around the president or in the Republican Party to blunt the effects of Trump’s post-election fit, which involves him not only refusing to do his job but also attempting to stage what can honestly be called a coup. His behavior alarmed some of our readers enough for them to call for a second impeachment.


Most disturbing has been the willingness of entrenched mainstream Republicans and political appointees to enable the obstruction of the next administration’s transition. Of particular interest is Emily Murphy, the head of the General Services Administration, who has effectively blocked anyone in the executive branch from formally working with the Biden transition. Before the election, scarcely anyone outside Washington had heard of her; now, says columnist Virginia Heffernan, she is sure to go down in history as another one of Trump’s loyal liars.

But if Trump cannot be legally compelled to acknowledge reality, surely a high-ranking government bureaucrat like Murphy can? Well, sure, but by filing suit against Murphy, the Biden campaign could cause a lot more problems than it solves, warns columnist Harry Litman. For starters, there’s always the chance that a court could rule against Biden, which would further embolden Trump. Second, federal judges are generally not inclined to accuse the president of acting in bad faith.

Litman’s conclusion is that “Jan. 20 cannot come soon enough,” a wish not only for the nation but also for a certain newsletter curator who desperately wants to write about something besides this president.

Is it even worth it to try to “bridge the divide” with Trump supporters? A full page of pro-Trump letters, with an introduction written by me, was poorly received in some opinion circles. Elsewhere, pundits have expressed skepticism at the need to reach out to people who support a presidency defined by its racism, incompetence and plain cruelty. Today, in response to the reaction we received to last week’s pro-Trump letters section, we’re publishing a page devoted exclusively to the responses to those letters, with an introduction by editorial page editor Sewell Chan. L.A. Times

Guess who’s buying Trump’s election fraud conspiracies? Average Republicans. New polls reveal a depressing fact: The president’s fantastical allegations of ballot wrongdoing may actually make it hard for Biden to govern. Depending on which poll you consult, between 50% and 70% of Republicans think Biden cheated in the election or that the president is the rightful winner, two beliefs that are so far from reality you would think it pointless to conduct surveys on them. L.A. Times

My name’s Paul, and I’m a COVID-19 vaccine guinea pig. In early August, I typed my name and contact information into an online database for vaccine trial volunteers, thinking I might as well put my functioning immune system to use. To my surprise I was called back, screened and eventually given two doses of Pfizer’s experimental vaccine (or a saline placebo). Since September I have been swabbed and poked with needles more times than I can remember. For the op-ed page, I wrote about the pride and gratitude I felt when Pfizer announced that early data indicated its vaccine candidate was more than 90% effective. L.A. Times


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Hey, Orange County, the coronavirus is still a thing. With the state facing its third and potentially deadliest COVID-19 surge, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a curfew and pleaded for members of the public to follow safety guidelines. The Orange County Board of Supervisors reacted with outrage — not at the fact that more of their fellow Californians would soon suffer and die, but at the state’s effort to tamp down infections. The science on COVID-19 will not change simply because Orange County leaders find it inconvenient, says the editorial board. L.A. Times

Never forget one of the Trump administration’s worst outrages: its cruelty to children. A federal judge recently ordered the administration to halt its deportation of thousands of immigrant children, mostly to Mexico, regardless of whether they had legitimate asylum claims or had an adult to care for them outside the United States. “There will be a special place in history for the people who crafted these draconian and inhumane policies and enforced them, in many cases, against defenseless children,” says the editorial board. L.A. Times

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