Who is steering the American ship of state?
This isn’t a philosophical question; we’ve spent four years wondering about the roots and motivations of Trumpism. It’s a specific question: Who is in charge right now when the White House has to make a decision?
On paper, the answer is simple: Until noon on January 20, Donald Trump is the president. Then Joe Biden will be sworn in and become president. In practice, matters are less clear. Even by the low standard he has set, Trump is reportedly disengaged from the work of governance, and is instead mainlining television news and raging over his social-media defenestration. Some reports suggest that Vice President Mike Pence is making some decisions. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is back-channeling with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Unelected staff members may be wielding power in the executive branch. Others have quit, or quit showing up.
There are two bitter ironies to the January 6 attempted coup. First, the mob was seeking to overturn an election in order to keep in office a president who manifestly has no interest in performing the job. Second, the riot seems to have accelerated rather than prevented the weakening of Trump’s presidency. Many attempted coups leave behind power vacuums and uncertainty. Until Biden is inaugurated, or Trump leaves office via resignation, the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, or impeachment, the federal government may remain in the fragile state of having no clear leader.