With the November election barely 80 days away, Trump is ramping up his efforts to sabotage the country’s political systems: the checks and balances between executive, legislative and judiciary; and the processes by which elections are held and votes tallied.
The Signal this week is America’s escalating democracy crisis.
Witness: Despite the Supreme Court ruling last year prohibiting the Census from collecting data on respondents’ immigration status, Trump signed an executive order barring undocumented immigrants from participating, and mandating that undocumented populations not be counted when congressional seats are reapportioned in the wake of the decennial population count.
A politicized Census Bureau is being urged to rush through completion of this year’s Census before hard-to-reach populations (read: poor, nonwhite, and non–English speaking) have been successfully canvassed and counted; to use secretive modeling programs, based on data from the Social Security Administration and other agencies, to guesstimate the number of undocumented immigrants in each state and region at the back end of the Census process; and to then use those numbers—which will be certified by Congress before the inauguration of the next president and the swearing in of the next Congress—as the raw material for a reapportionment of congressional seats clearly designed to negatively impact California and other progressive states with large numbers of immigrants.
Make no mistake, this is gerrymandering on a national scale, using a politicized Census Bureau to do Trump’s and the GOP’s dirty work.
A similar thing is happening with the US Postal Service, where a political appointee, Louis DeJoy, is now in charge. Postmaster General DeJoy is purging its senior ranks, and—following a GOP Senate and White House blockade of additional funding for the service—refusing to pay postal workers overtime, to clear backlogs of undelivered mail, and to update sorting machines and other systems vital to the smooth functioning of the system in the run-up to the November election.
With certain exceptions—see Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’s honorable executive order last week re-enfranchising felons who have completed their sentences—the GOP is now fully on board with the project of systematically making it harder for Americans to cast their ballots. Crippling the USPS is a core part of that project.
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Trump’s poll numbers are not good—which is why he has spent weeks hammering away at the claim that mail-in ballots open the door to fraud. This isn’t just his usual Noise; rather, it’s a calculated effort to undermine faith in the system and confidence in the results. And his deliberate attempt to undermine the USPS is, likewise, an effort to make his predictions of chaos surrounding the election a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Meanwhile, the slide into rule-by-diktat continues apace. Trump has issued executive orders that defer tax payments vital to funding Social Security and Medicare and that extend unemployment compensation through questionable means. He has banned TikTok and WeChat, and has attempted to impose, via executive order, regulatory changes in the broader social media ecosystem. He has promised to unveil sweeping immigration system changes, also via executive order. And he has mused about executive orders to limit voting by mail, with aides reporting that they are looking at ways to order the Postal Service not to deliver certain ballots, and to order election officials not to count certain mail-in ballots. And he has said he is willing to deploy up to 75,000 federal officers to flood Democratic-controlled cities.
Much of this is theatrics, aimed more at public spectacle than significant policy change. And many of the most inflammatory proposals will likely be blocked by the courts. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, these orders, and the broader political culture they seek to create, are attempting a massive shift of power toward the executive, which could make Congress little more than a talking shop. This isn’t unconstitutional so much as extra-constitutional. It is an attempt to rule without any regard for limits on presidential power.
These actions are disconcertingly reminiscent of the Rome of Julius Caesar, before the formal crowning of emperors, when a series of strongmen effectively neutered a chattering-class Senate. And despite words of discomfort from Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, who called Trump’s executive orders “unconstitutional slop,” by and large the GOP is once again abetting Trump—happy to pass the buck to the White House on how to aid the public in response to the pandemic and, more generally, hoping to embarrass Democrats by pitching Trump as a leader able and willing to untie the Gordian knot of a gridlocked Congress.
Trump—who castigated President Obama for executive overreach—is now using executive power in a sweeping manner that no other president has previously attempted. He is modeling himself on autocrats who reign by fiat, unencumbered by constitutional and legislative limits. Sure, much of this is bluster; but there’s enough meat on these demagogic bones to merit deep concern.
That’s this week’s Signal. Stay healthy, stay energized, and keep on fighting like hell to drum Trump’s thugocracy out of power.