For two nights I was a happy camper in the deep woods of Massachusetts, and like Henry David Thoreau I’m back with some new thoughts on resisting a corrupt American government. If you’re as worried about Trump, the USPS and November’s election as I am, forward this electronic missive to another voter and ask them to sign up for the newsletter weekly at inquirer.com/bunch. It’s easier than sending a letter these days.
Before any votes were officially counted, the corrupt incumbent president declared himself the landslide winner based on his own government’s exit polls, even as recounts at several polling stations showed the exact opposite result. As the sun set, furious residents poured into the streets of the capital and dozens of other cities, only to be met by armed troops firing tear gas, flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets.
This time, a nation’s descent into political madness took place 4,500 miles away in Belarus, where 24-year dictatorial president Alexander Lukashenko is clinging to power in the former Soviet republic. But the violent images out of strife-riven Minsk are sparking anxiety among the millions of Americans who fear that our own unpopular autocrat will play similar dangerous games in the hours following the Nov. 3 U.S. general election.
It’s a totally legitimate worry. Throughout American history, our unique federal system — with elections managed by state and local officials from both major parties — has shielded us from what once felt like a remote scenario of a wannabe tyrant stealing control of the process. But you might have noticed that 2020 is not your typical year.
The one-of-a-kind challenge of holding an election amid a global pandemic led state and local officials from coast to coast to embrace what seemed — at first — like the safest and most practical solution: To make it easier for citizens to vote by mail, and to encourage folks to do so. After all, five states have been voting by mail for years now without major problems. The linchpin was Americans’ deep trust in a centuries-old institution: The United States Postal Service.
But just like Tom and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, Donald Trump is a careless person who smashes things up and then retreats into his money or his vast carelessness or whatever. The president has smashed America’s post offices and our faith in them. But this time, there may be a method to Trump’s madness. On the long night of 11/3, he clearly hopes to channel his inner Lukashenko and declare himself the winner before millions of mail-in ballots have been counted — assuming his goons haven’t already tossed them down a manhole.
Trump — who already hated USPS because of a bizarre connection he makes between it and its No. 1 customer Amazon gazillionaire Jeff Bezos, also owner of the Washington Post — has been laying the groundwork for his coup-by-mail for months, claiming on Twitter that “[b]ecause of MAIL-IN BALLOTS, 2020 will be the most RIGGED Election in our nations history...” But the crazy-like-a-fox part of his scheme is that now the American president is taking active measures to make sure vote-by-mail actually is a disaster.
After going to extreme lengths to deny USPS the money it needed this spring for a coronavirus bailout, Trump then politicized the postal service in May by naming one of his largest donors, Louis DeJoy, as postmaster general (the 1st one, Benjamin Franklin, must be spinning in his grave). Postal service — already a disaster in the COVID-19 era, with customers here in Philadelphia reporting delays of three weeks for deliveries of things like badly needed medications — is about to get a lot worse this fall.
In a Friday night massacre, DeJoy axed the top two USPS officials in charge of day-to-day mail delivery and reassigned two dozen more — obliterating the know-how needed to make things run smoothly in the run-up to Election Day. Before that, he’d ordered rank-and-file postal workers to stop working overtime or making extra trips to catch up on the current lag. They’re barely hiding a crusade to end postal service in America as we know it. Politico reports Trump is pondering executive actions to make vote-by-mail even more of a muddle.
Here’s a “tell” on their real game. Here in Pennsylvania — the state many experts have pegged as most critical to a Trump victory — the president’s re-election campaign, the state GOP and several Republican congressmen are suing to sharply restrict the number of boxes where voters could deposit vote-by-mail ballots. If they succeed, Philadelphia, for example, and its 1.5 million people would have just one drop-off location. They want Pennsylvanians to put ballots in a mailbox, even as Trump fulfills his dire prophecies by killing the mail.
I’m not going to mail in my ballot this fall. No way. Putting a stamp on it and hoping for the best is not a strategy, now that the president has put his political stamp on USPS. It’s like handing your ballot directly to the short-fingered vulgarian. I’ll vote in person — yeah, there’s a tiny health risk, but voting is more important than going to the supermarket as we now do every week — or use a secure dropbox.
And unless there’s a major intervention by Congress, you shouldn’t place your ballot in the mail, either. What we need is a massive, D-Day-sized operation of thousands of volunteers, political activists and democracy-minded public officials to ensure that every vote is delivered securely and is counted, as quickly as possible. Lawmakers should try to increase dropbox locations and speed up counting — reducing Trump’s ability to demagogue the early results — but GOP obstruction might make that impossible.
We need a fair election because we need a new president — whose very first job will be fixing the postal service that Trump has wrecked.