2020年5月22日 星期五

Will Trump actually leave office if he loses?

Either way, you can still enjoy these kebabs.
Erin Scott for The New York Times
Author Headshot

By Jamelle Bouie

Opinion Columnist

During the week I waded into a discussion on Twitter over the small but real chance that Donald Trump refuses to leave office if he loses the election. I said that even if he tried, the fact of the matter is that the transition doesn’t depend on his consent. If he loses office, then on Jan. 20, 2021, at 12:01 p.m., he loses his authority as president. No one at that point has to listen to a thing he says, and critically, Joe Biden — assuming he’s the one elected president — will be able to exercise the power of the office.

To this, the response was that I was being naïve. That Trump has never respected the limits of his power and that there’s no reason to think he would respect this particular constitutional mandate. What’s more, he has allies throughout the government. Why wouldn’t Attorney General Bill Barr or the Supreme Court legitimate his claim? And if push came to shove, isn’t the military conservative? Wouldn’t it support him over a liberal?

The whole conversation left me convinced that a lot of people have a skewed idea of how the transition works, the process for transferring power and the vulnerabilities therein. It also left me convinced that people have an unrealistic view of how the illegitimate seizure of power actually works in practice. Rarely do authoritarians overturn the entire political system in a single fell swoop. Instead, the initial seizure of power almost involves a veneer of legitimacy. The process is subverted before it’s destroyed. And in the United States, the process of ratifying a presidential election is very robust. If the election itself was free and fair, then it is very difficult for the loser — if he’s an incumbent — to challenge the results.

Here is that process:

On the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, each state holds an election to select electors.


On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December next following their appointment,” the electors cast their ballots for president, in accordance with the November election vote.

Electors send six certified copies of their votes:

One to the president of the Senate, who is usually the vice president; two to the archivist of the United States; two to the respective state’s secretary of state; and one to the chief judge of the district court where the electors voted.

On Jan. 6, after the new Congress is seated, a joint session counts the electoral votes in the House, with the speaker and the vice president presiding. Members can object to any state’s vote count, so long as the objection is in writing and signed by at least one member of each chamber, but it takes a majority vote of both houses of Congress to reject electoral votes from a given state.


Once all objections are addressed or dismissed, all certificates read and all votes counted, the presiding officers announce the result of the vote. The majority winner is declared president and vice president, and the election is thus “certified.” On Jan. 20, the new president takes the oath of office, traditionally administered by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

If Biden wins a majority of electoral votes on Election Day, there is actually very little Trump (or anyone) can do to render the outcome null. It is a stretch to think that he could keep the Democratic electors from casting their ballots and sending certified copies, and it is even more of a stretch to think he could persuade a majority of Congress to dismiss Democratic-won electoral votes, especially since a Biden win almost certainly would mean a Democratic House majority.

To the extent that Trump has been able to corrupt and subvert the executive branch, it is because our system gives the president wide leeway to use his lawful authority. But once that authority is gone, there is nothing to compel other actors in the system to listen to or obey the president. And if another president has been chosen and certified, then there’s no actual pathway through which a defeated incumbent can continue to act as president.

If there’s anything to worry about this November, it’s not whether Trump will leave office if he loses, but whether we’ll have fair elections in the first place. Given the president’s attacks on mail-in voting and the Republican Party’s mounting effort to “monitor” polling places, that is the thing I’m worried about.


Now Reading

Jacob Levy on intersectionality and classical liberalism at Cato Unbound.

Lizzie Presser on the black American amputation epidemic at ProPublica.

David French on the Ahmaud Arbery shooting at Time magazine.

Sarah Jones on how to handle the nation’s mounting economic crisis in New York magazine.

Kim Phillips-Fein on the legacy of the New Deal in Dissent magazine.


If you’re enjoying what you’re reading, please consider recommending it to friends. They can sign up here. If you want to share your thoughts on an item in this week’s newsletter or on the newsletter in general, please email me at jamelle-newsletter@nytimes.com.

Photo of the Week

A Revolutionary War re-enactment outside of Richmond, Va.Jamelle Bouie

I’m still not feeling great about any of my photography from the past few months, so here is another photo from the archives. It was taken in 2017. The men re-enacting the British side of the Revolutionary War were just hanging out, waiting for activities to begin.

Now Eating: Simple Lamb Kebabs With Greek Flavors

Since finally getting a charcoal grill for my backyard, I have been on a kebab kick, making some kind of grilled meat on a skewer once a week for the past month. This recipe is next up on the rotation, since I intend to get some lamb from my local organic butcher. I will probably serve it with grilled potatoes (take baby yellow potatoes, steam them, toss in olive oil and salt, then finish on the grill) and a salad with arugula from the garden. Recipe comes from The New York Times Cooking section.


  • 2 pounds boneless leg of lamb
  • ¼ cup plus ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • ⅓ cup roughly chopped fresh marjoram


Build a fire in your grill; when the coals are covered with gray ash and the temperature is medium high (you can hold your hand 5 inches above the coals for 3 to 4 seconds), you’re ready to cook. (For a gas grill, turn all burners to high, lower cover and heat for 15 minutes, then turn burners to medium high.)

While the grill is heating up, trim the lamb of all but a thin layer of fat and cut into 32 more-or-less-equal chunks. Combine in a bowl with the ¼ cup of olive oil and the salt and pepper, and toss well to coat, then thread them onto skewers, about 8 chunks per skewer; they should snuggle up to one another but not be tightly pressed.

Put the skewers directly over the coals and cook, turning to expose all 4 sides to the direct heat of the coals, until done to your liking, 2 to 3 minutes a side (8 to 12 minutes total) for medium-rare. To check for doneness, cut into one of the chunks and check to see if it is done to your liking — remove from the heat when it is just slightly less done than you want it to be when you eat it.

While the lamb is cooking, prepare the remaining ingredients but keep in separate containers. Slide the lamb chunks off the skewers into a large bowl, add the remaining oil, lemon juice, garlic and marjoram one after another, toss well to coat, season to taste if needed and serve.

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