I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is the word “sabotage” is being used more often and with more feeling by leading Democrats and liberals than I have witnessed since the president took office. This is an important development. Too few Americans appreciate the depth of Donald Trump’s malice. If there’s a way to betray the republic, he will find it. The more people understand this, the more prepared they will be when this chapter in our history comes to an end—if it comes to an end.
The bad news is people are seeing only one dimension of Trump’s multi-dimensional sabotage. However, that’s to be expected. It’s not every day a demi-despot blurts out his intentions the way Trump did Thursday on the Fox Business Network. He “explicitly noted two funding provisions that Democrats are seeking in a relief package that has stalled on Capitol Hill,” according to reporting by the AP. “Without the additional money, he said, the Postal Service won’t have the resources to handle a flood of ballots from voters who are seeking to avoid polling places during the coronavirus pandemic.” He told Maria Bartiromo: “If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting; they just can’t have it.”
Trump, probably: “I’m gonna starve the post office to keep Americans from voting me out, even if that means taking the economy hostage, even if that means kicking meemaw and peepaw out of the nursing home and into paupers’ graves.”
Sabotaging the United States Postal Service got the headlines, as it should have, but the problem doesn’t stop with a president saying, “Yeah, I’m gonna starve the post office to keep Americans from voting me out of office.” Remember the political context: the stimulus talks. The last round of fiscal spending—$2.2 trillion—is all but gone. The $1,200 in direct payments were spent months ago. The $600 a week in extended unemployment benefits dried up last month. The moratorium on evictions has expired. Scores of millions, according to the Times, are now faced with choosing between essentials: the car or food. By sabotaging the USPS, Trump is sabotaging, well, everything: “Yeah, I’m gonna starve the post office to keep Americans from voting me out of office, even if that means taking the economy as my hostage.”
I’m afraid there’s even more sabotage to report. Again, context: He thinks he has the advantage over the Democrats pushing for USPS funding as well as billions in relief for cities and states fighting a resurgence of the new coronavirus (thanks to Trump’s negligence). He believes, evidently, that four executive orders signed over the weekend do what the Congress can’t (on account of Trump’s obstruction). In particular, he apparently thinks ordering the Internal Revenue Service to stop collecting the payroll tax is going to stimulate the economy. The president, therefore, thinks he doesn’t have to agree to the demands for USPS funding, which he believes would undo him.
If only life were as simple as our simpleton president! First, not collecting the payroll tax won’t help the unemployed, because, you know, they aren’t on a payroll. Second, not collecting the payroll tax is not the same as a payroll tax cut. Those taxes, even if they are not collected, are still due. For the millions of businesses in this country, that means a gigantic tax bill at some point in the future—unless the Congress forgives it. The Congress is unlikely to waive taxes due for a very good reason. Payroll taxes fund popular programs like Social Security and Medicare. Not collecting them, or forgiving them some time in the future, means Social Security and Medicare take a bigly hit. Believe it or not, Trump wants to make all of this worse. He’d like to eliminate payroll taxes, which would mean, consequently, eliminating Social Security and Medicare.
As you can see, Trump has bumbled his way into a multiverse of sabotage. He started out thinking he’d starve the post office to save his ass, but he’s doing more than that. “Yeah, I’m gonna starve the post office to keep Americans from voting me out of office, even if that means taking the economy as my hostage, even if that means kicking meemaw and peepaw out of the nursing home and into paupers’ graves.” He may not have planned this out (I doubt he did) but he’ll sure as hell insist on doing this—if the Senate Republicans don’t step in. That, I think, is the question. Will they?
More certain is the Democrats don’t need to budge. Indeed, they must not. The pandemic means voting in-person is dangerous, especially to the elderly, who are the most habitual voters, and to Americans of color, who are the Democratic base and the demographic most vulnerable to Covid-19. The Democrats must hold the line on USPS funding for health reasons as well as for political reasons. If they cave, they’ll kneecap Joe Biden. They must stand firm and united even when the economy free falls while accusing the president of sabotaging the republic for his own political gain.
John Stoehr is the editor and publisher of the Editorial Board, a newsletter about politics in plain English for normal people and the common good. He’s a visiting assistant professor of public policy at Wesleyan University, a fellow at the Yale Journalism Initiative, a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly, and a contributing editor for Religion Dispatches.
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