“This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down … d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”
Thomas More, “Man for All Seasons”
• • •
Sometimes I ponder the unthinkable. The possibility that Donald J. Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing.
After two years of ignoring, bending and breaking laws, our esteemed president may live to regret his latest trespass: failing to fire adviser/propagandist Kellyanne Conway.
The Office of Special Counsel, a federal ethics watchdog, urged that Conway be canned for numerous violations of the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that bars most federal and some state employees from electioneering on the job.
The idea of the act is simple. Government employees are paid to work for all of us, not individual candidates or political parties. Until this year, a nonpartisan government workforce was an article of faith.
But Trump is breaking that faith. He refuses to dismiss Conway. To give her the boot for breaking the law, he said, would violate her freedom of speech. Let’s face it, Trump is nothing if not a First Amendment champion.
There’s one obvious response to Trump’s stand: “Let the 2020 election be a sterling monument to unrestricted speech.” Especially, for newly liberated federal workers.
Cut down the law and watch the winds howl. I suspect Trump would feel a stiff headwind coming from a partisan federal workforce.
Federal workers have so many reasons to repay Trump for his first two years in office: a 35-day government shutdown, pay freezes, countless shows of disrespect for the mission of government.
The 35,000 employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, awake!
If we’re going to overlook the Hatch Act, the time has come for FBI agents to wear Democratic Party lapel pins. Investigators could end visits to citizens by saying, “Let’s get Trump out of office next November. You’ll be glad you did.”
Would anyone be intimidated by FBI agents getting payback for Trump’s many slights of their agency? Of course not. Who doesn’t love freedom of speech?
The Central Intelligence Agency employs tens of thousands (the exact number is classified). Trump has opened the door to letting each and every one to be an agent of change for the White House.
Maybe most would prefer a president who heeds CIA warnings and doesn’t take the word of Vladimir Putin over the advice of his own intelligence agencies.
“Spooks haunt Trump!” Now there would be a welcome 2020 headline.
Let’s hear from employees of the Internal Revenue Service. They number about 77,000 — down 15% from 2012, thanks to persistent budget cuts.
Republicans may be pleased by how they’ve reduced the odds of the rich — their “base” — being audited. But how will they feel if IRS agents fight back in the next election?
IRS agents handing out Democratic bumper stickers while making field visits? Let freedom ring!
The American Postal Workers Union, unite! Let’s have 200,000 postal workers stuff Democratic campaign literature in millions of mailboxes. They distribute mail for pay. Let them deliver a political message out of passion.
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” With the election ahead, that credo never sounded better.
Imagine. A federal workforce of 2 million — many of them represented by unions — flexing their newfound political liberties. Their mission: Dump Trump.
The states with the most federal workers include Virginia, Maryland and Texas. Trump and his congressional minions need to keep those states Republican in 2020.
Let’s see what an army of federal workers — freed from the constraints of longstanding law — can do to ensure that doesn’t happen.
I see a shining city on a hill.
In that glowing vision, more than 300,000 Veterans Affairs workers talk up Democratic candidates to the sick and wounded in VA hospitals.
The American Federation of Government Employees represents some 700,000 workers in more than 900 local units across the country.
Want to increase the bargaining power of federal workers? Trump may have provided the path.
Let them organize Democratic potluck dinners, parades, town halls and door-knocking campaigns. Spending time at work, on the taxpayers’ dime, in pursuit of their political goals.
Trump and Kellyanne have shown the way. Down with the Hatch Act. Up with the People.
Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 12 million.
Federal workers soon may represent a louder voice for that majority. Is it too soon to call Trump the “Great Emancipator”?
Mike Meyers, a former Star Tribune business reporter, is a writer in Minneapolis.