Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New York. Here we talk about the Biden-Harris presidency.
*Interview conducted November 16, 2020.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, you had an election in the United States. So, basically, statistically, it is ultimately going to be a Biden presidency and Kamala Harris vice presidency. So, you talked to your mother. As the first question, what happened in the New York streets? What was her comparison for that uproar? How has that played over or played out over the last week?
Jonathan Engel: I’ll tell you, when the election was more or less called for Biden by my news services, etc. They call results that they get from each individual state that runs its own election. For days, there was nothing worth watching in the news, simply hoping we’d get a call and finally go forward from Saturday morning. And I was busy doing other things. And we started to hear it out on the street. From my apartment, on the 18th floor, I started to hear people cheering and honking and people ringing bells and things like that. And I’m like, “What’s that all about?” And then we said, “Maybe, they called it for Biden.” So, we turned on the TV and sure enough. I found out it had been a call for Biden.
And in cities all over the country, I know that from keeping the TV on, but also in New York City, which I knew from both had seen on TV and just walking around outside. There were these huge spontaneous, not demonstrations, but they were celebrations. People just so happy. I think it was a combination of things. People taking a lot of news stories in the United States over the past number of years about how much people call Trump supporters love, and they go to rallies and so on. But you haven’t seen quite as much as we saw happened in the news about the people that don’t like Trump, hate him. And that’s especially in New York City, we hate Trump. I think it is because we know him better than anybody else. He is from here. And we never liked this guy.
And so there was that fear about, “Oh my God, he might win again.” And it was such a big relief when it was actually called, “Okay, no, Biden’s going to win.” So, you had that. I think it was people also partially had just a beautiful day and people hadn’t been outside in so long. And, yes, when you saw the pictures, I saw myself. I went to Union Square in New York. That’s like a place where there’s a lot of history of protest. So, it is going to be something going on probably in the Square. But also, I saw pictures. I knew it was happening in Washington Square and in Times Square, too.
But, we hadn’t been outside and people did wear masks. Something, I have not stepped foot outside my apartment door since March without a mask on, even when I’m walking down the hallway. I’m just staying in the hallway in my building to go to the room where we could throw out the garbage. Even that I have not, I always put a mask on. As I said, I haven’t stepped outside the front door of my apartment since March without a mask on. And there were people. People who were celebrating, where only 90%, at least, had their masks on. So, that was a good thing. But everybody had been so caught up, being nervous about this election and terrified that if Trump won another term, it would be the end of our democracy. And I don’t think that’s hyperbole. I think that people felt this way. I felt this way. I thought it was potentially true. So, it was just this outpouring of emotion.
Now, my mother, you mentioned, my mother’s 96-years-old. She was born in 1924. She lives in a retirement home on Long Island, but she said as far as she could tell – and I asked her about it and she said – there has been nothing like this in the United States since the end of World War Two, especially the D Day. It was a little different, I think, because people were coming out because of the use of atomic weapons, which I think creeps people out. Even if they were glad the war is over, when the war ended in Europe a few months earlier in Europe with D-Day, people just ran out to the streets to celebrate. This iconic picture of this sailor kissing a woman in Times Square. Just because everybody was just celebrating the end of the war, also, there has not been anything like that spontaneous celebration, not just in New York, but all over the country since the D Day, since the war in Europe ended in 1945.
Jacobsen: Now, I heard some of the clips. You aren’t kidding. There is uproar and honking of horns throughout the day in New York on that day. Yes, that’s amazing. It was quite startling. How has the opposite side of the political aisle, the Republican aisle, in the United States reacted to the current well-substantiated projections of a Biden presidency and Kamala Harris vice presidency? The overwhelming projection or extrapolation from the current vote count.
Engel: How Trump has reacted not surprisingly, this is not a guy who would ever say he lost fairly. In fact, if you go back in history, not only has he never admitted that he lost anything fair and square, but he also tends to sow that idea before the thing actually happens. Remember, before the 2016 election, when most people thought he would lose, including probably him, he was complaining about the election being rigged against him, so that if he lost, he would have his, “Oh, I told you it was rigged against me. “And this year’s election was no different. And of course, Trump has refused to concede and refused to acknowledge defeat. And he’s got a bunch of lawyers who are making some money. Although, some of them have decided to get it. And we’re not doing this anymore. Drop them on the plane and drop his re-election campaign as claimed, but going into court and losing and losing and losing and losing, trying, you can’t just go into court and say, “There was a fraud.” You can see that on the news. You can see that on Twitter. But when you go to court, they want to have evidence. I have been on the wrong end of that judge’s time, where I really didn’t have much going on. The judges don’t like that. They don’t like you to come in and just make conclusory claims. To just say in a conclusory way, “It is this, your honour. And they did this so well.” Where’s the proof? Where’s the evidence? And so, that’s when the case from Trump, Trump supporters, have been largely following Trump’s lead, and grassroots supporters following Trump’s lead, and saying, “Oh, it must have been rigged, it must have been, etc.” Meanwhile, Trump’s own head – this is the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, said, “This is a most secure election the United States has ever had.”
But the interesting thing comes from Republican officeholders, the Republicans in the Senate and the House, not so much on a state level, but on a federal level – the members of Congress. They have largely said nothing. Out of four senators, Republican senators, out of whatever it is, the total number is right now 50 or something like that. And there are two reasons that are going to be runoffs. But of the 50 and several hundred in the House of Representatives, only four members of the Senate, have said, “Congratulations to Biden, and said, “Okay, Biden is going to be the next president.”
And this week, I was watching Meet the Press and Chuck Todd. The Sunday talk shows where usually members of Congress always want to get on there. It is great publicity. But he invited all 50 Republican members of the Senate to come on today to talk about the election and not one of them agreed to. And in fact, there was little Republican presence on the shows, on these shows, because they knew that if they went on the show, they had, basically, a choice of two things. They could either back up Trump and say, “Oh, it was rigged, was fraudulent,” etc., in which case they look ridiculous. And nobody likes that. Or they could say, “Trump lost,” in which case they’ll have the fury of Trump and his supporters again.
So basically, John Kennedy, President John Kennedy, once – not to be confused with the Republican senator from Louisiana, John Kennedy, but President John Kennedy – wrote a book called Profiles in Courage about times when people were put against their own interests, put themselves on the line to do what was right. And what we’re seeing here are profiles in cowardice of these people, it is funny because I see it routinely on television where we have a reporter. NBC or MSNBC will have a reporter outside Congress. They’re in a place where Republicans are going to lunch or something, and then ask them to comment, “Do you think Biden won?”, etc. They just all walk by without saying a word because they’re afraid to either tell the truth, which is Trump lost; in which case, they’ll be hurt politically. Or, they don’t want to look ridiculous by telling lies, by saying, “Yes, Trump won.” They don’t want to make them look ridiculous. So, they, basically, say nothing.
And that’s what we’re getting out of Republican elected officials. I saw Mitch McConnell the other day saying, “I don’t know. But I certainly know the president has the right to challenge this election in court,” which is not exactly true. As a lawyer, I can tell you that is not exactly true. Because anytime you go into court to start a lawsuit for the plaintiffs, the plaintiff’s lawyer has to certify that they have a belief that they have a legitimate claim. Yet, they’re getting all the cases thrown out of court. You can go into court. You can file a lawsuit and the judge looks at you, and says, “What’s your basis for your belief that this is a legitimate claim?” And right now, the lawyers who are going in there are basically saying the judge is giving him the old Ralph Kramden – because they don’t have any evidence. And at some point, judges will, I believe, start to sanction this, fine lawyers and will fine Trump’s election committee, which is bringing these cases. Because unlike what Mitch McConnell says, you can’t just walk into court and say, “This is a fraud, your honour. I want to stop this vote.” The judge will say, “Where’s the proof?” And if you don’t have any, you get thrown out of court. And again, you can get fined by the judge for bringing this claim.
So, that’s what we’re seeing right now. The followers are basically either bewildered, “I can’t believe he lost,” or believing that nonsense they were told that if he lost that must mean that there was some chicanery. But the Republicans, federal elected United States representatives in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, they’re basically just hiding in a hole because they’re, again, a profile in cowardice.
Jacobsen: So, what will happen on January 20th? What will happen in the United States based on the premise of a transition of powers, peacefully?
Engel: I think basically what’s going to happen – I think most people think of this – is that Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States. I guess that’s what’s going to essentially happen. But the damage is still being done in terms of sowing discord, sowing disbelief in our electoral system. And also, a big problem that’s happening is that the transition is not happening in terms of Biden getting funds to help him get his transition up and running. Those funds are not flowing because the Trump administration refuses to provide them. And also, he’s supposed to be getting security briefings. He’s supposed to be getting what they call the President’s Daily Brief (PDB). He’s supposed to be getting that by now. But Trump is refusing to cooperate. We see video of the day after the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton conceded; she gave a speech in which she conceded and said, “Let’s all help President Trump to do the best he can, which is the type of thing that happens, supposed to happen, on a regular basis.”
When President Obama invited Trump into the White House, they started giving him security briefings, which, by the way, he didn’t read. He didn’t want to transition in 2016. If he had learned anything or knew anything, he just wanted to go out to more rallies to stroke his ego. But they were there, and they were awesome. Now, Biden is getting those reasons; and there are people, serious conservative Republicans in the intelligence establishment, like John Bolton who was for a while national security adviser under Trump, but who also is a long time, hawkish rightwing guy and Republican guy. And he’s out there saying Biden has to get these briefings. They can’t come in not knowing what’s going on. But this is exactly what is right now happening. But on January 20th, I can tell you; I think most people think that what’s going to happen on January 20th is that Joe Biden is going to be inaugurated as president. There’s a deadline that all states have to give their certified results to the American Electoral College. And then sometime in mid-December, the Electoral College certifies that the winner is Joe Biden. So, that’s the next step that’ll happen, which I do believe also will happen. And then on January 20th, simply, Biden will be inaugurated.
Now, I saw Michael Cohen. The famous Trump lawyer/fixer who has turned on Trump and served time in prison for committing crimes on behalf of Trump. He said what he thinks is going to happen. What he thinks is going to happen is that sometime around Christmas or New Year, Trump will go to a resort in Florida and just simply not come back. I hope that will be the case. And I see why he thinks so. But regardless, I do believe that on January 20th, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the next president. He will be operating, stepping in, on a handicap, because unlike every other transition before this, in which the new incoming president was given briefings and knowledge and said about what’s happening, “Looks like he’s not going to be getting there.” But he will be inaugurated on January 20th. If I prayed, I would say, “I’ll pray.”
Jacobsen: Jon, thank you for your analysis as always.
Engel: Pleasure, Scott, as always, to think about that. Take care.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight Publishing and Editor-in-Chief of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal (ISSN 2369-6885). Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and the advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.
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