Art by Marián Palacios Fernanández
With Joe Biden as our president-elect, Donald Trump is currently in the course of his very own lame duck period. Trump has about 11 weeks to freely exercise presidential power with no concern for public opinion. This gives the president several weeks to abuse many significant powers and make the job of running America much more difficult for the incoming president and administration.
President Trump has selectively exercised his powers of pardoning, commuting, and rescinding during his lame duck presidency. He has granted clemency fewer times than many other modern presidents, but he has exercised his right to do so in a corrupt and irresponsible manner. According to the Pew Research Center: “While rare so far, Trump’s use of presidential clemency has caused controversy because of the nature of his pardons and commutations. Many of Trump’s clemency recipients have had a ‘personal or political connection to the president,’ according to a July analysis by the Lawfare blog, and he has often circumvented the formal process through which clemency requests are typically considered,” The lack of substantial impact from public opinion on presidents during their lame duck period demonstrates their ability to behave recklessly.
Additionally, a lame duck period could be used by a president to create conflict in order to make the incoming president’s job more difficult. Transitions between administrations are already notoriously hard since it is easy for knowledge and information to be lost. Demonstrated by the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and Israel’s strike on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. A president in their lame duck period is given plenty of time to make the next presidency even more difficult by deliberately sabotaging the country. According to The Atlantic, Biden is being dealt an extremely tough hand: “…the Trump team is reportedly working to lock in its foreign-policy priorities by killing the Iran nuclear deal, pushing through troop withdrawals from Germany, and levying new rounds of tariffs and tech restrictions,”2 These are a few of the current examples in which the lame duck period can allow for a president to ruin the chances of success for the incoming presidency.
Despite all the potential harm lame duck periods can have, they still exist for a reason, but it is not unreasonable for them to be shortened lessening the potential risk of damage. Lame duck legislation is ingrained in our constitution as a result of attempts to fix an earlier issue where a president’s travel to Washington was not a quick and easy task backed by advanced technology as it is now. However, the 20th amendment already shortened the period by moving inauguration day from March to Jan. 20. The current inauguration date gives the newly elected Congress just enough time to address a tie in an election. Therefore, the lame duck period has its reasons for its length, but it is also important to acknowledge the harm that comes with it.