“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” — Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel
President Donald Trump is not letting the coronavirus crisis go to waste. He is using the cover of the pandemic to punish the helpless, take revenge on his enemies, reward his supporters, eliminate checks on his authority and generally implement his monarchical view of presidential power. As he said last year in a creative bit of constitutional interpretation: “I have an Article 2, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.” Now he is actually doing whatever he wants with remarkably little pushback.
Trump has been agitating for the U.S. Postal Service to hike its rates for bulk shippers as part of his vendetta against Jeff Bezos, who is the founder and chief executive of Amazon and the owner of what Trump calls the “Amazon Washington Post.” Postmaster General Megan Brennan, a career letter carrier, had resisted Trump’s demands by presenting evidence that current shipping rates are fair and beneficial to the Postal Service. But Brennan announced her retirement last year, and her replacement is Louis DeJoy, a major Republican donor. The Democratic vice chairman of the board of governors has resigned in disgust, leaving Trump appointees entirely in control. That means the Postal Service is likely to accede to Trump’s attempts to coerce it into quadrupling rates for shippers in return for a $10 billion line of credit approved by Congress. This would be a major victory for Trump in his war against the free press — aka “the enemy of the people.”
Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is an advocate of using public dollars to help students attend private schools. Now, reports the New York Times, she is using part of the $30 billion bailout for educational institutions to expand private-school vouchers and fund colleges that are “private, religious or on the margins of higher education — regardless of need.”
Nativism has been the core of Trump’s support from the start: He launched his presidential run by accusing Mexican immigrants of being rapists, drug dealers and other criminals. Now, in the name of protecting America from the coronavirus, Trump has been able to achieve a xenophobe’s dream by shutting the borders almost entirely — even though there are far more cases in the United States than in Mexico or Canada. The Post reports “that since March 21 just two people seeking humanitarian protection at the southern border have been allowed to stay.” Trump has also slashed legal immigration. This was billed as a 60-day pause, but senior policy adviser Stephen Miller boasts that the restrictions will become permanent. As if that weren’t bad enough, the Trump administration is also refusing to provide stimulus payments to families where one spouse is not a U.S. citizen.
Trump has been agitated by the prosecution of his aides as part of a probe of their ties to Russia. “I hope you can let this go,” he told then-FBI Director James Comey in 2017 about fired national security adviser Michael Flynn. Now Attorney General William Barr — who plays a similar role as a fixer and cleanup man for Trump that Winston Wolfe (Harvey Keitel) played for the criminals in Pulp Fiction — has done just that by trying to dismiss the charge of lying to the FBI to which Flynn already pleaded guilty. Barr also recommended a reduced sentence for Roger Stone, another felonious Trump crony. Career prosecutors have resigned in protest, and nearly 2,000 Justice Department veterans have called for Barr’s resignation, but the general public has barely noticed. For Trump, talking about “Obamagate” — a nonexistent scandal — offers a welcome diversion from focusing on his scandalous failure to fight the coronavirus more effectively.
Trump has chafed at the oversight provided by inspectors general. So he has been firing them one by one in a slow-motion Friday night massacre. The latest victims of his purge: the State Department inspector general, who was said to be investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s use of a staffer for domestic chores and his decision to fast-track arms sales to Saudi Arabia without congressional approval; and the acting Transportation Department inspector general, who was part of a committee overseeing coronavirus stimulus spending. Another prominent victim was the intelligence community inspector general, who had the temerity to pass along to Congress a whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment.
Trump hates whistleblowers because they expose the many ways he abuses his authority. (“This whole Whistleblower racket needs to be looked at very closely, it is causing great injustice & harm,” he tweeted on Sunday night following a 60 Minutes interview with a Health and Human Services official.) Those transgressions have only grown in recent months. You might say there is an epidemic of corruption occurring while a deadly virus spreads across America. The only known cure is to vote Trump out of office.