Encouraged by the pain, suffering, misery and distraction caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump is continuing his assault on American democracy and the rule of law.
Trump is a malignant narcissist with authoritarian tendencies and may well be a sociopath. Like a Mafia boss, he views personal loyalty as more important than loyalty to the Constitution and the rule of law. Aided by Attorney General William Barr, Trump appears poised to loot the coronavirus relief funds passed by Congress, harass and silence his political enemies, speed up the country’s downward slide into failed democracy, and unleash more cruelty against those Americans he deems to be insufficiently loyal or otherwise “undesirable.”
On Twitter, Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, summarized recent developments:
A last line of defense in this war on ethics and law is the Inspector General community. They’re the eyes of the American people, objective investigators traditionally freed to pursue accountability by the safeguard of bipartisan congressional protection.
What began with the fall of the ethics program is entering the end game with the potential fall of the Inspector General community. The government is failing us, safeguards that took two centuries to build have crumbled, and fascism is eyeing this republic like lunch.
Shaub is perhaps being optimistic: Donald Trump and his allies, both foreign and domestic, are already gorging on democracy. Trump makes no effort to hide his contempt for American democracy. He is obvious and unapologetic.
Last week, Trump admitted that “You’d never have a Republican elected in this country again” if Americans were universally permitted to vote by mail.
Trump is just channeling a belief that has long been expressed both in private and in public by Republicans and other members of the right-wing movement. On this, Trump and the Republicans are correct: According to public opinion polls and other research, the American people overwhelmingly reject their policies and goals.
Because democracy is antithetical to today’s Republican Party, Donald Trump has repeatedly condemned voting by mail because he believes it will be disadvantageous to his chances of winning another presidential term in 2020. In the final analysis, Republicans want to make voting more difficult even if it means more Americans will fall ill and die from COVID-19.
Last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed Trump and the Republicans’ ongoing assault on American democracy. In a 5-4 decision, the court’s “conservative” majority ordered that Wisconsin’s primary election could not be delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and no extension would be allowed for mail-in ballots. This decision forced the people of Wisconsin — most notably non-white people, students, young people, and other Democratic Party’s base in cities like Milwaukee and Madison — to choose between their lives and their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.
The Democratic Party’s leaders have apparently decided that expanded mail-in voting is a necessary measure, and the best way to defeat Donald Trump in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
In reality, matters are not so simple.
Greg Palast is an investigative journalist whose work has been featured by the BBC, the Guardian, the Nation, Rolling Stone, as well as on Salon.
He is the author of the bestselling books Billionaires & Ballot Bandits and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Palast is one of the country’s foremost experts on voter fraud and how elections are rigged to suppress and otherwise interfere with the will of the people in a democracy.
He warns that mail-in voting as it currently exists is likely to guarantee Donald Trump’s victory in the 2020 election. Palast also explains how the Supreme Court decision on the Wisconsin primary election was really about purging nonwhite voters in order to maximize Trump’s chances of winning that key battleground state.
Palast says, however, that the Democratic Party’s new mail-in voting proposals can be improved so that the will of the American people can be fully realized at the ballot box — which will likely ensure Trump’s defeat in November.
You can also listen to my conversation with Greg Palast on my podcast “The Truth Report” or through the player embedded below.
Chauncey DeVega: What is democracy? What does it mean to you?
Greg Palast: To me, it’s very simple: Every citizen gets to vote, and every vote gets counted. If you don’t have those two things, you don’t have a democracy.
DeVega: Donald Trump has repeatedly said that he opposes mail-in ballots and if mail-in ballots are allowed that no Republican will ever get elected in the United States again. What were your thoughts when you heard the president of the United States making such bold and obvious threats against the country’s democracy?
Palast: Of course, it shows Donald Trump’s totalitarian mindset. My second thought is that the Democrats are making a mistake by thinking, “Well, if Trump says mail-in ballots are a bad idea, then let’s make sure all Americans mail in their ballots.”
Just the logic of it. Donald Trump says, “I hate mail-in ballots,” and the Democrats are saying we must have expanded mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus. But how do we work through the puzzle that the Republican Party actually does much better with mail-in voting? Shouldn’t Trump be encouraging that way of voting, because Republicans have great experience in suppressing votes and other ways of rigging elections?
Republicans know that they can just throw out the mail-in ballots.
Remember, when a person fills out a mail-in ballot it is not the simple task of just picking a candidate, sealing the envelope and then mailing it. You must have the right envelope. You have to answer questions on the outside of the envelope. You have to have the correct postage. You have to have all this information. In many states there has to be a witness or a notary, which is not easy to do. The mail-in ballots in many states are not postage-paid. This is a big problem because, for example, Ohio has a little square where it says, “Put your stamp here.” Well, that envelope requires two stamps. But if you were to look at the envelope, most people would assume it is just one stamp.
There is no question that Republicans do much better with mail-in voting than the Democrats. Republicans are better with mail-in voting because more of them do it. So there is a practical advantage with experience. Ultimately, there should not have been in-person voting and elections held in Wisconsin on Tuesday. To do such a thing is insane. There have to be other and better ways to vote, especially given the coronavirus. These solutions include early in-person voting and improved mail-in voting.
For example, in Hollywood there is drive-up voting where a person does not have to leave their car. There should also be drop-off boxes and other ways to get a ballot other than waiting for a card that a person may never even see or get. The Republicans are using this trope where mail-in voting is a bad thing — if it benefits Democrats. Do not forget that Republicans actually use mail-in voting more and they are defeating the Democrats using it.
DeVega: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the coronavirus pandemic does not constitute an emergency sufficient enough to delay voting in Wisconsin and that people should not be given more time to mail in their ballots. To a reasonable observer the court’s decision makes no sense and is obviously endangering the lives of voters. What was the real motivation here?
Palast: The basic logic is there are five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court who can tell the other justices “Screw you! Case closed!”
Here is their real argument: “We’re Republicans. This is what we want. Period.”
Consider what happened several weeks ago. Mike DeWine, the Republican governor of Ohio, did not want the vote to take place. The Democrats sued to force him to hold the primary. Being the governor, he said, “Screw you. I’m not holding the election.” He shut it down.
When the Republicans decide to delay or not have an election it is fine with the U.S. Supreme Court. The Democrats could not even get a hearing with the court about what DeWine did in Ohio. But when the Republicans wants to stop a delay in Wisconsin, the Supreme Court intervened.
The big picture: Why is this all happening? What is this fight really about? The Republicans do not care about Bernie Sanders versus Joe Biden. That is a settled issue, it’s over. The Republicans threw a fit in Wisconsin because the real issue is the Wisconsin State Supreme Court.
The Republican legislature voted that the state must remove 232,000 voters, who they claim have moved. That is not true, of course. Those voters have not moved. Most of the people on that list have never moved anywhere. They have not moved out of their county. The governor and lieutenant governor are Democrats and they are not going to purge those voters. The Republicans then went to court to force the Democrats to make those voters ineligible. Tuesday was also the general election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. That was the real issue.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court is controlled by the Republicans, and the Democrats were trying to take it away from them. With the decision about the coronavirus and mail-in ballots, the Republican Party’s control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court is not locked in. The Republicans will be able to remove a quarter million people from the voting rolls — voters who are more likely to support the Democrats.
Donald Trump supposedly won Wisconsin by 22,000 votes in 2016. Now 10 times that number will be purged by Republicans. That will give Donald Trump the state of Wisconsin in 2020. That is what the controversy and the U.S. Supreme Court decision is really about.
DeVega: This is all part of a much larger strategy where Republicans rig elections. In urban and predominantly black and brown areas of Wisconsin there were almost no voting machines. People were waiting in long lines and risking their lives because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Palast: In rural areas of Wisconsin, where the virus has not yet hit in a real way, there is in-person voting. Republicans are more likely to mail in their ballots than Democrats and so they’ve already voted. Rural areas are also not as crowded at the polls. That makes it safer. Poll workers are older and they’re high-risk. They are also not reckless. There was a problem getting a sufficient number of polling officials and workers for Milwaukee. As such, the number of polling stations was reduced from 180 to three.
Because many people do not have cars, even getting to the polls in more populated urban areas during the coronavirus is dangerous. And there is the risk of going on mass transit as well. Tuesday’s election was a total fix by the Republicans. It was a joke of an election. The Republicans loved it. They do not want to expand mail-in voting.
On mail-in voting, make note of how Trump complained about the Democrats’ proposals. He was not complaining about mail-in voting in general. He was specifically condemning the Democrats’ proposals for mail-in voting. Trump knows that if instituted, the Democrats’ mail-in voting plan will wipe out the Republicans.
The Democrats want to make mail-in voting really work, and they want to extend early voting to a three-week period. That would also include evening voting. If the public is allowed to vote at different times, it will make it easier to keep a safe distance during the coronavirus epidemic. Voting will be much safer. What the Democrats want to implement about mail-in voting and other such changes is excellent.
But if there is mail-in voting as it is currently implemented in most states, Donald Trump cannot lose. The mail-in voting system as it exists will almost guarantee Trump and the Republican Party’s victory. Mail-in voting is a disaster for Democrats and it has always been a total disaster.
But Trump does have one thing right: If every eligible American votes then the Republicans are screwed.
If the Democrats know that they are heading for a mail-in election in 2020 because of the coronavirus, however, then they can improve the process and also have time to educate the public about this new and better system.
DeVega: There is this hopelessly naïve and in many ways pathetic narrative being circulated by too many journalists and other political observers that any talk about Donald Trump canceling the 2020 presidential election is somehow ridiculous, that such a thing cannot happen in the United States. But many such people have zero credibility given that they also said that Donald Trump could not possibly be elected president. How do you evaluate these concerns?
Palast: What we are heading for in America is not Donald Trump canceling the 2020 presidential election but just canceling the American people’s right to vote.
Donald Trump can just hold a pretend election. America has a great deal of experience with doing such a thing. There is a massive system in place to purge voters. Many Americans will never receive their mail-in ballots. Ballots will never get counted. They also get disqualified for ridiculous reasons.
Every time there is an impediment to voting and registration in America it targets young people, black people and brown people. Low-income people are targeted. This is another version of Jim Crow racially segregated voter suppression and vote theft. Trump and the Republicans have many ways of holding an election and pretending that he was legitimately elected when, of course, he was not.
DeVega: What are some specific tactics and strategies the Republican Party and Donald Trump’s agents can use to amplify their interference in the American people’s right to vote — and have their vote properly counted — in the 2020 election?
Palast: A study from MIT puts the loss of mail-in ballots at 22 percent. That is 25 million ballots if the United States goes to an 80 percent mail-in voting system.
The Republicans would not need to bring in new people or ramp up their voter suppression oppression. With the Electoral College, it is easy to steal an election. Stealing an election is much easier because in that system all one has to do is target the “battleground states” such as Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Places that we don’t think of as “swing states” — North Carolina and Georgia, for example — are gradually becoming “minority majority.” The Republicans know they are in trouble in Georgia. How do they keep control of the South? They manipulate the vote by purges, gerrymandering, tricks with mail-in voting and other techniques. The Republicans have many ways of keeping people from having their vote counted. Again, if the Democrats fix the system, they can lessen the impact of Republican Party interference and thus make sure that votes in support of the Democratic Party are fully counted.
DeVega: What is the role of the coronavirus pandemic in the 2020 presidential election?
Palast: The coronavirus is voting for Donald Trump. If in-person, in-precinct voting is required and the coronavirus is present in that community, then people are going to be afraid.
There may be lingering fear of the coronavirus even if it is “officially” gone because no one trusts Donald Trump and his administration. That fear of the coronavirus is going to massively hurt the urban vote for the Democrats. If that happens, Trump wins again in 2020. If the United States continues with the mail-in system it currently has, then Donald Trump wins again in 2020. The coronavirus votes for Donald Trump. It is really that simple. The vote won’t even be close.