Tensions are climbing in the United States as a desperate President Donald Trump takes drastic measures to overturn the election result during his final weeks in the White House.
The outgoing president has even flirted with the idea of using military action to pursue claims of election fraud – an extreme act that all 10 living former secretaries of defence have warned against.
The 10 men, both Democrats and Republicans, signed on to an opinion article published in The Washington Post that implicitly questioned Mr Trump’s willingness to follow his Constitutional duty to peacefully relinquish power on January 20.
“Efforts to involve the US armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory,” they wrote.
The article was signed by Dick Cheney, William Perry, Donald Rumsfeld, William Cohen, Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, Ash Carter, James Mattis and Mark Esper.
It was published on Monday (Australian time) – the same day a secret tape recording emerged of Mr Trump pressuring Georgia’s top election official to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat in the southern state.
In the hour-long phone call, published by the Washington Post, Mr Trump can be heard begging and threatening Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his legal adviser with vague criminal consequences in an effort to reverse his loss in Georgia to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.
“All I want to do is this – I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state, so tell me, Brad, what are we going to do?” Mr Trump told Mr Raffensperger, according to the audio recording.
Mr Trump narrowly lost the presidential race in Georgia to Mrby 11,779 votes, so it’s little wonder he wants Mr Raffensperger to “find” exactly 11,780.
However, it’s too late.
Several weeks ago, Mr Raffensperger signed official documents that certified all was conducted fairly in the November 3 election, and that Georgia’s 16 Electoral College votes were won by Mr Biden.
Respectfully, President Trump: What you're saying is not true. The truth will come out https://t.co/ViYjTSeRcC
— GA Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (@GaSecofState) January 3, 2021
Even if Mr Trump did win Georgia, it still wouldn’t be enough to stop Mr Biden from becoming president on January 20.
Until that date, millions of Americans will be “holding their breath”, according to Kim Hoggard, a former adviser to Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush.
“The hour-long phone call was very revealing of (Mr Trump’s) state of mind,” she told The New Daily, slamming the incident as “totally inappropriate and completely appalling”.
“He’s prepared to go to these lengths of walking right up to the edge of criminality by suggesting they find these extra votes, plus one.
“It’s an extraordinary moment in an extraordinary four years in which he has pushed every boundary and norm and tradition, and challenged the democracy of the United States and its electoral system. It’s exceedingly dangerous.”
But it’s not only Mr Trump’s actions that pose a threat to Americans.
It’s his inaction also.
As Mr Trump has been busy plotting new ways to overturn the election results, thousands of Americans have been dying every day under his watch.
“I’m concerned there’s a man in the White House who’s in charge, who has not done anything to discuss the extraordinary loss of life due to the coronavirus,” Ms Hoggard said.
The US coronavirus death toll has now topped 350,000, with predictions another 150,000 Americans will die by the end of February.
Mr Trump’s refusal to peacefully hand over the reins to Mr Biden has also left the incoming Democratic leader in the dark about important top-security matters.
It comes as tensions escalate between the US and Iran over the US killing last January of top Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani.
Washington is worried that Iran could order further military retaliation.
“This President-elect is saying that he’s not getting the information he needs from the Pentagon and White House officials,” Ms Hoggard said.
“That’s terribly dangerous. We can only hope nothing happens between now and January 20.”
Before Mr Biden’s inauguration on January 20, two more events stand in the way.
The first is on January 5, when the state of Georgia is due to hold two Senate run-off races.
“It’ll be just as important as the presidential election practically,” Ms Hoggard said.
That’s because the outcome will decide the future of the US Senate, and will be crucial to how much Mr Biden will be able to achieve in his first term.
In both run-off races, there is a Republican incumbent up against a Democratic newcomer.
The upper chamber of US Congress, the Senate, has been controlled by the Republican Party since 2014.
If the Democrats win in Georgia, the extra two seats would give them effective control, but if the Republicans hold on, then that would result in two more years of divided government and potential legislative gridlock.
It may also, according to Ms Hoggard, “fuel the conspiracy theorists and Donald Trump’s assertion that he should’ve won the election in Georgia”.
A day earlier, on January 4, Mr Trump is expected to hold a rally in Georgia to talk up the Republican candidates and reiterate his claims the election was “rigged”.
The next event is on January 6.
That’s when Vice President Mike Pence is due to tally the election results and declare Mr Biden the winner, a largely ceremonial role assigned to him by the Constitution.
There is going to be drama – not only because a pro-Trump “Stop The Steal” rally is scheduled in Washington, DC on the same day.
On Saturday, Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, announced a coalition of 11 Republican senators have agreed to reject the state tallies in support of Mr Trump’s bid to overturn the election results.
Their plan is nearly guaranteed to fail, given the Democrats control the House of Representatives.
However, the charade will set the tone of the next presidential election by forcing Republicans to publicly choose between backing Mr Trump – and potentially attracting his fan base – or abiding by the Constitution.
“There’s a Republican party and a Trump party now,” Ms Hoggard said.
“It just shows you the control Trump still has over these people, and the fact he’s got these voters in his thrall and they want access to those voters.”