(photo credit mailbox added)
Ancient wars used catapults and flaming arrows. Later on, gunpowder led to muskets, cannon and bombs. Modern technology created drones to reduce human risk (for some) while increasing lethal accuracy (against others). Even more advanced technology eliminates war’s blood and gore entirely as cyber-warriors have learned how to attack nations by manipulating elections to install authoritarians who undermine and ultimately debilitate democracy. Now, in 2020, a new weapon against democracy emerges that is even more terrifying because it is so comfortably familiar, harmless and decidedly low-tech: the mailbox. Yes, that humble metal contraption we take for granted on the corner, and all that it represents to our way of life, including the ability of the U.S. Postal Service to do its most unremarkable job, namely, to receive and deliver mail-in ballots (aka absentee ballots) to election officials in the 50 states. The current president has taken the humble mailbox and turned it into a flaming boulder-on-the-catapult, a weapon against democracy.
Make no mistake about it, this nation is suffering through a battle for the soul of our republic, a siege of democracy that has used the weapons of racial hatred, white supremacy, official lies and egregious abuses of presidential power to assert authoritarian control of the levers of government. The current president is not the field marshal of this war, he appears to be simply an instrument of the powers whose interests will be served by the further splintering and fragmentation of the United States into thousands of small interest groups engaged in endless internecine conflicts — the exact danger to democracy that the Founders of this nation feared the most (see Federalist #10). If we’re busy fighting with each other all the time, we cannot possibly unite to defend our nation against those who are laying siege to our way of life. The most important thing we must do to regain control of our country is to VOTE, vote to elect a president capable of resisting the foreign interference that has already wreaked so much damage, a president who is the leader for ALL the people, for WE THE PEOPLE. VOTE!
The current president spent his entire term of office manifesting appalling disrespect for the fundamental democratic principles on which this nation was founded. He praises tyrants and murderous dictators while hurling childish insults at anyone who disagrees with him and women (“nasty”) in particular. He assaults and undermines the very intelligence community we need to warn us of the dangers that clearly exist to the integrity of our elections. He calls the free press “enemies of the people.” He threatens universities with elimination of their tax-exempt status as a ploy to constrain academic freedom. He issues endless executive orders to bypass legislative process in order to oppress people he does not like (immigrants, Muslims) while pandering to his base and rewarding his friends. He ignores clear rulings of the Supreme Court on matters like DACA. He claims the Constitution gives him powers that it clearly does not. He trashes cities and states drowning in the endless waves of Covid-19 rather than doing his job to ensure an effective pandemic response plan. He exalts racists, pardons egregiously corrupt political operatives, and dares to wave the Bible he has not read as protestors all around him practice true social justice in advocacy for those whose rights and lives have been trampled and ruined.
Now, with the most consequential election ever looming, the nation is gripped by the agony of Covid-19, more than 5 million infected, more than 160,000 dead. Quite naturally, WE THE PEOPLE are eager to exercise our right to vote, but we are equally eager to stay healthy and alive. So, it’s not surprising that millions of voters will prefer to vote by mail this year rather than taking the risk of going to a polling place.
In the midst of this maelstrom, the current president has denounced voting-by-mail repeatedly, and has appointed a Postmaster General whose recent actions (e.g., removing street mailboxes, now stopped, and eliminating automatic mail sorting machines in some post offices) seem calculated to debilitate the timely delivery of mail-in ballots. The president’s public rhetoric and private machinations to impede mail-in voting is nothing short of voter suppression. Most recently, he has publicly stated that he will block emergency funding for the U.S. Postal Service because he does not want to fund mail-in voting. Yes, he said that very publicly. This is the quote carried in the August 12, 2020 Washington Post story:
“They don’t have the money to do the universal mail-in voting. So therefore, they can’t do it, I guess,” Trump said. “Are they going to do it even if they don’t have the money?”
He repeated those assertions in an interview Thursday morning with Maria Bartiromo on the Fox Business Network, saying that without a “Phase IV” coronavirus relief spending bill, the Postal Service would be without the funding necessary to process the ballots.
“Now, they need that money in order to make the Post Office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said. He added: “Now, 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 says Postal Service needs money for mail-in voting, but he’ll keep blocking funding
231 years ago, the Founders of this nation argued passionately about the differences among forms of government, whether a true Democracy or a Republic was suitable (they chose a Republic, which allows the people to choose representatives for a legislature, as opposed to a true Democracy in which every decision is up for a vote of all the people), and whether a strong central executive (the president) was necessary for the government to function well or a dangerous pathway to restoring a monarchy.
The Founders created a compromise in the form of a presidency that was supposed to be tempered by the rational behavior of the occupant — they chose George Washington to be the first president to create the role model, the elegant patrician eschewing real power, the distant leader who was happiest tending his estate.
Most of our first president’s modern successors, however, have been more like King George than President George Washington, and the power of the presidency has grown substantially with each modern occupant since at least Teddy Roosevelt. But almost always, until the current regime, we could count on the balance of powers — the Congress, the Supreme Court — to temper the shameless aggrandizement of the president. In the last four years, however we have witnessed the profound damage that occurs when the U.S. Senate refuses to do its job to be a check on the president, especially when the Senate allows the president to stack the courts in a way that furthers his own interests and makes it more likely that the constitutional checks and balances on the president’s power will fail.
Voter suppression has occurred consistently across two centuries of the American experiment, particularly shamefully against Black and Brown citizens who, to this very day, face major obstacles to voting in precincts where local political bosses impose various rules to discourage voting. But never before has a United States president engaged in such a nakedly open campaign to suppress voting for all citizens as the current president is doing with his attacks on the U.S. Postal Service and mail-in voting.
Freedom is a fragile right quite easily squeezed to death by authoritarian rulers who never wipe it out all at once, but rather, who find infinitely creative ways to restrict, constrain and eliminate the ability of citizens to express themselves publicly, to advocate for policies they desire, to make their choices at the ballot box for who will represent them. If WE THE PEOPLE want our choice at the ballot box to count this year, we need to be sure that the current president does not destroy the mailbox. By exercising our right to vote, by having every single vote counted freely and fairly, we will mount the most important defense we can against the current siege of democracy. VOTE!