Trump Attempts One More Preelection Power Grab

Trump Attempts One More Preelection Power Grab

Trump Attempts One More Preelection Power Grab

An executive order establishing new hiring and firing practices will, if he is reelected, give him extraordinary control over almost the entire civil service.


With a week to go until Election Day, I am wracking my brains to remember if I have ever heard a closing argument as incoherent as Trump’s, and I can’t.

If Trump had espoused a coherent ideological vision, no matter how much I opposed it, I might have had to accept that at least it was internally consistent. But there’s no there there. Trump’s reelection bid has devolved into the world’s most destructive vanity project.

When CBS’s Lesley Stahl asked Trump about the tone of his campaign, the pandemic, and his plans for a second term, he got so irate that he walked out of the interview—and then tried to puncture the impact of his on-camera tantrum by leaking the White House tape of the interview days before it was due to air. Noise, Noise, and yet more Noise.

More recently, at one of his Covid super-spreader campaign rallies, this time in Lumberton, N.C., Trump again bemoaned what he believes to be a mega-conspiracy to hype the disease just long enough to ensure his election defeat.

He said that for the television news programs, it was all “”Covid, Covid, Covid”—and then added bitterly that if a plane with 500 people goes down, the media pays no heed to it.

Ponder that inane comment for a moment, coming as it did on the day America posted a high of more than 83,000 new coronavirus cases, meaning that a few weeks from now the country will likely see a sharp increase in daily deaths.

First, the idea that the media routinely ignores mass-casualty plane crashes is simply untrue. The last time (in fact, the only time) that many people died in the United States as a result of planes crashing was on September 11, 2001. And while I know memory can play strange tricks, I’m fairly certain that the media, not just in the United States but globally, devoted more than passing attention to the horrors of that day.

In fact, whenever a jet plane goes down, it makes world headlines. Witness Boeing’s travails in the wake of the 737 Max crashes in Indonesia and in Ethiopia. When I key “Boeing 737 Max Crash in Indonesia” into Google search, it instantly generates more than a million results. When I search under “Missing Malaysian Flight MH370” to find information on the ghost flight that simply vanished off tracking radars in 2014, the search generates nearly 400,000 results.

But, second, even if it somehow were true that the media routinely ignored massive air crashes, to compare more than 220,000 dead Americans from Covid-19 to a single air crash demonstrates, if any more evidence were needed, the combination of ineptitude and staggering uncaringness that Trump is, bizarrely, pitching to the public as a personality plus in his reelection bid. In fact, day in day out, ever since the administration lost control of the virus’s spread back in the late winter, the daily death toll has been the equivalent of between one and three packed 747 planes going down in mid-flight. At this point, to push Trump’s offensive analogy, the country has lost more than 440 jumbo jets’ worth of passengers, with hundreds more planes on the runway just waiting to be destroyed over the coming months.

Trump might not want to see it, but that vast scale of devastation is precisely why the media and the general public are paying close attention to the pandemic and to the administration’s criminally inept response.

No. 45, by contrast, is focusing on other things.

He is, for example, reveling in the vast power grab Senate Republicans have carried out this past month in their Operation Warp Speed effort to hold hearings for and confirm—a week before Election Day—a new Supreme Court justice. All in one-tenth the time that majority leader Mitch McConnell sat on the Merrick Garland nomination back in 2016.

And Trump is using his executive-order pen to lock into place new hiring-and-firing practices for federal employees that will, if he is reelected, inevitably lead to a Trumpification of almost the entire civil service, since they will permit what are, in essence, political loyalty tests and purges for huge numbers of career officials. The executive order in effect strips much of the civil service work force of union protections, and if anyone is deemed to be a “poor performer”—read, non-loyalists—makes it far easier to fire them.

This really is banana republic territory. In fact, the change is so stunning in its implications, so destructive of the very concept of a professional, politically independent federal bureaucracy, that in most weeks it would have dominated the headlines and created huge pushback pressures. But this week, it became a reality that received almost no public attention.

For the final Signal this week, there is of course the ongoing effort to challenge vote counts around the country. First, Trump tried to slow down the Postal Service so that votes wouldn’t arrive in time to be counted. When that didn’t work, he began to challenge the vote count itself. Late last week, the Trump team went to court to try to stop the counting of early votes in Clark County, Nev., which includes Las Vegas and its environs and is thus critical to Democratic hopes of victory in that state. Although a judge denied the Trump attorneys’ initial motion to stop the count, the case will be heard more fully later this week.

Trump’s lawyers are arguing that there isn’t adequate oversight of the count, in particular that observers aren’t being given an opportunity to see how signatures are being verified, and they are claiming that not enough votes are being rejected during the count.

This is a glimpse into Team Trump’s likely postelection strategy, a throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks effort to gum up the vote count in the courts, in the key weeks leading up to December 8—when states need to certify their votes so that electors can vote in the Electoral College—wherever it looks like things aren’t going Trump’s way.

Which brings me back to the core issue. There is no room for complacency in this final week, no room to simply assume that things will work out in this election, in which everything is at stake. If you haven’t yet voted, do so. If your friends and colleagues and family members haven’t yet voted, don’t be shy about badgering them to make the time to cast their ballots. For the larger the vote margins against him in key states, the harder it will be for Trump to implement successfully his democracy-destroying, burn-it-all-down strategy.

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