It’s not just that America is mired in both a pandemic and an economic crisis while the country is being led by a lame duck president. It’s that this particular president is Trump, who no longer has much incentive to try to steer the country toward a safe harbor — and diminished power to do so — but still retains all his well-developed instincts for mischief and troublemaking. We’re at the mercy of a troll with not much left to lose.
It probably doesn’t have to be this way.
In Britain, an incoming prime minister and cabinet take office almost immediately after winning election. Which means the contending parties all have to arrive at Election Day ready to govern from the start. The obvious benefit of this system is that there is no lame duck period — no confusion in the country and the world about who really speaks for the country, no waiting to start getting stuff done. It just happens.
America’s government is bigger and more than a bit unwieldy. Given that staffing a presidential cabinet requires Senate confirmation, it seems impossible for our transitions to completely take place within 24 hours of election results. It is already the case that the General Services Administration — the human resources department of the federal government — already works with both major candidates during the campaign to prepare for a possible transition. It’s time to tighten up the timeline so the winner can move toward governance more quickly.
Trump has already started settling scores, on Friday firing several government officials for no apparent reason other than insufficient loyalty, with names like Defense Secretary Mark Esper and CIA Director Gina Haspel reportedly also on the chopping block. That will probably make the transition messier. In many companies, fired employees are immediately escorted from the premises rather than given a chance to make trouble. America deserves no less.
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