Leaving aside the unanswerable of whether God is a subscriber (See HL 117) we turn to elective office transition, a subject we have not insubstantial experience with. We chaired the transition of two different state attorneys general and one governor, all in New York. The second of those three for A.G.-elect Eliot Spitzer in 1998 is instructive of the damage about to be inflicted on the nation. The incumbent then, Dennis Vacco as Trump this time, refused to concede defeat and prevented the cooperation necessary for an orderly and productive transition.
The tortured ’98 New York AG transition that involved just a few thousand government employees (the 2006 governor gig encompassed 200,000) proved to be very difficult and even dangerous. This points to the peril, destruction and death that will inevitability result from the delay in orderly transition that Trump’s tantrum will inflict on America.
Among the thousands of agencies and functions involved in a presidential transition, along with millions of federal workers, are the CDC, NIH, task forces directing Covid-pandemic response, the Pentagon, Department of Education, Health and Human Services. Those are a few that not only must hit the ground running in order to stop the bleeding but also turn on a dime to begin the healing and prophylaxis.
At 11:59 pm on November 3, 1998, A.G. candidate Spitzer’s lead over the incumbent Vacco was 20,500 votes, with most already counted. Vacco would not concede, filing lawsuits that alleged massive fraud, including allegations that dead people voted and that Democrats had enlisted many illegal aliens to vote. The antics and lawsuits were supported by then NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani (see HL 116 “…Plus Ça Change, Plus C’est la Même Chose”). Vacco conceded on December 7, 1998, 25 days before inauguration. By that time Spitzer’s margin of victory had more than doubled.
In the period between election and concession we attempted to transition without any cooperation from the defeated incumbent. We couldn’t meet with the government employees we might replace but also might retain. We couldn’t get an informed grasp of the problems and deadlines that would confront us – some involving precarious and highly time sensitive issues. We could offer jobs to the people we were interviewing for key positions but could not assure them they actually would have those jobs. Those were day one problems, but we also were hampered in addressing major initiatives necessary to restore quality and stature to the once distinguished office that had been badly damaged during the preceding four years.
Our experience in that little transition will be magnified in the massive transition that is already taking place. During the current presidential transition period there would be many opportunities to minimize additional damage and permit the administration in formation to govern from its outset with knowledge of its resources and the tasks they face. Each moment Trump refuses to concede and direct his cabinet and agency heads to cooperate with transition, a quantity of that opportunity is lost and with it the welfare and lives of many Americans. Peaceful, ungrudging and cooperative transition is not merely an American tradition, honored by virtually every previous outgoing president, but it is enshrined in the Presidential Transition Acts of 1963 and 2015. If, as anticipated but not hoped for, Trump and his crony General Services Administration violate the spirit and letter of that tradition and those laws the question asked in HL 117 (“Prison or Not For Donald Trump”) will be top of mind. It was posed on Election Day when many, but a minority of, votes were cast. Trump’s conduct in the early morning hours after the polls closed and every day since should weigh heavily on federal and state prosecutors pondering how to exercise their discretion. Unless and until Trump does this right thing, there’s a killer on the road, who deserves imprisonment and mocking with such bad mixed metaphors from such good pop culture.