Trump Blurring The Line Between Governmental And Political Activity
Donald Trump and his Republican party are whittling away at our democracy on a remarkable number of fronts and with remarkable speed. As I’ve noted earlier, “While a new President and administration may be able to reverse many of these undemocratic and frankly un-American policies, the fact of the matter is that much of what the Trump administration has already done will create precedence for future abuses of our democracy and that can not ever be undone. As Eugene Robinson writes, ‘It’s easy to lose the habits and values of democracy, but incredibly hard to get them back’”.
One of these areas in which Trump and the GOP are sabotaging are democracy is the use of government resources to campaign for Republican candidates. The perpetual campaign is one of the more dismal aspects of our politics, forcing legislators to continually raise money for the next campaign. And Presidents have continually used their bully-pulpit power to visit certain areas of the country on a government-funded trip in order to promote certain government actions that support a local candidate. While the partisan nature of those visits may be clear and Presidents are not covered by the Hatch Act, these trips are deliberately and decidedly devoid of overt political campaigning by the President in order to avoid potentially violating existing campaign finance laws. Often, however, these trips are combined with distinct but separate partisan activity such as fundraising dinners in order to take advantage of the taxpayer-funded travel while being able to avoid the campaign finance issue.
From the very start of his Presidency, Trump has taken full advantage of taxpayer-funded trips that were primarily political, including a fundraiser in Texas that included a short briefing on hurricane damage and a fundraiser in New York that included a short meeting with UN Representative Nikki Haley. As the executive branch ethics watchdog at the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) noted, “It appears to be unprecedented to the extent that Trump is taking part in political travel this early on as it relates to his 2020 campaign”.
But even on those trips Trump at least paid lip service to the prohibition against actively political campaigning in those various governmental meetings and briefings. Last week, however, Trump blatantly ignored that prohibition on his taxpayer-funded trip to Illinois to trumpet his tax cuts and tariffs. In an address at a recently re-opened steel plant, Trump declared “You’ve got to vote Republican, folks, you’ve got to vote Republican. Vote for these two congressmen; they know what we’re doing. They know what they’re doing. They’re tough, and they’re smart.” The congressmen he was referring to were Republicans who were there with Trump at the plant. Trump later added, “China tried to hurt the American farmer because that way, they were going to hurt me, and that way, you would go in November and you would vote for people that don’t want borders, they don’t care about crime, they want to get rid of ICE — Democrats.”
This kind of breach will only become more common as Trump steps up campaigning for Republicans as the midterms approach. In typical fashion, a White House spokesman denied anything inappropriate, saying “there is no legal prohibition” on endorsing political candidates at taxpayer-funded events and “it is no surprise that the president would want people in Congress who support his agenda.”
In a similar vein, CREW has also filed complaints against ten Trump officials for violations of the Hatch Act. These violations primarily involved the use of their governmental Twitter accounts for partisan political activity and the violators include Mick Mulvaney and most of the White House press and communications team. According to CREW, “We continue to see Trump Administration officials at all levels engaged in unprecedented partisan political activity using their official Twitter accounts in direct violation of the Hatch Act. Despite multiple investigations and violations found, the Trump Administration clearly has no intention to stop the misuse of government offices and resources for political purposes.”
Of course, these abuse by Trump and his minions will continue unabated. After all, they know there is really nothing to stop them. They know there is no real enforcement measure for any of these violations and prior administrations have only abided by them for fear of popular opprobrium. Trump and the current GOP do not have that fear.
In fact, on this issue, like many others, the Republican party sees no downside to these violations. In red states, they have been drawing and redrawing illegally gerrymandered districts this entire decade, leaving some voters disenfranchised for virtually every election this decade. When a district is ruled illegally gerrymandered by a court, the GOP just appeals the decision and the map remains the same. When finally forced to redraw the districts, they just create another illegally gerrymandered map and the process starts all over again. They know full well that the courts have no interest in drawing those maps themselves and have no real enforcement power as there is no real individual responsible.
Similarly, the Trump administration knows its inability to abide by the court decision requiring those separated families be reunited will have little repercussions. Again, what exactly would the court’s enforcement actions be? More likely, as is happening, the judge will continue, to cajole the administration to do what it requires even as the Trump administration continues to drag the process out.
These Hatch Act violations and Trump’s breach of the line between governmental and political activity are hardly earth-shattering. But once those lines have been crossed, it will be hard to restore them. As Eugene Robinson said, “It’s easy to lose the habits and values of democracy, but incredibly hard to get them back.”
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on August 4, 2018.