The Republican National Committee’s Convention was thoroughly saturated with violations of The Hatch Act, including, most symbolically, the use of our White House as a mere stage for Trump’s nomination.
The Hatch Act, in part, restricts political campaign activities by federal employees, and the use of public facilities and funds for electoral purposes. By having federal employees and Senate-confirmed appointees appear and speak at his convention, using federally-owned locations such as Fort McHenry and the White House, where federal employees would necessarily be used to staff these events, President Trump and his staff treated the Hatch Act as a dead letter law.
Essentially, the President ignored the law because he knew that it COULD NOT be enforced. Because it is the President who is supposed to enforce it. So much for “faithful execution”. Trump has, in effect, declared the Constitution only requires of him “conditional execution” of the laws. That condition being if he’s the one violating, or ordering the violation of the law, or whether there is political advantage in doing so.
The President is charged in our Constitution by Article II, Section 3 to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” even if he disagrees with them, or doesn’t want to. President Trump seeks to elide that duty and instead only enforce the laws that he chooses not to violate personally, or finds politically inconvenient. In essence, in this preliminary, seemingly trivial way, the President has placed himself above the law and abandoned his Constitutional duty to faithfully enforce all our laws. Political considerations and the President’s will, not the Constitution and our laws, now rule in America.
Violations of the Hatch Act were so pervasive in the RNC Convention that one might conclude that the entire Convention was, in part, a demonstration to the country – and especially to those career public servants in the so-called “deep state” who might seek to actually try to enforce the law from within the federal bureaucracy – of the President’s ability and intent to violate our laws with impunity.
So what? As Trump’s Cheif of Staff Mark Meadows opined, “No one outside the beltway really cares.” That’s certainly what they hope. Because if given another term the Trump Administration WILL continue to violate the Hatch Act, and not in such largely ceremonial and public way, but in the deeply corrupt, secretive, and profitable ways that the Hatch Act also forbids.
You see, the Hatch Act doesn’t JUST forbid making a public spectacle for political purposes using government property or personnel, it forbids officials paid with federal funds from using promises of jobs, promotion, financial assistance, contracts, or any other benefit to coerce campaign contributions or political support. The Hatch Act is at the heart of an anti-corruption legal regime.
By denigrating the Hatch Act and publicly violating it so blatantly, the Trump Administration is laying the foundation to ignore it in the much more substantive – and lucrative – ways that keep our government from becoming a cesspool of self-dealing and corrupt practices.
There are billions that can be made from government corruption if the Hatch Act and similar anti-corruption laws become dead letters. If the Administration can simply choose to NOT “faithfully execute” this federal law, what is to stop them from choosing to not enforce other federal laws that keep our government from becoming the private piggy bank and pork-barrel for those who control the Administration? What power is to prevent them from using the trillions in federal resources to keep themselves in power perpetually and enrich themselves from the public fisc? The frightening answer is only we voters. And only once every four years. If we get that chance ever again.
This Convention was a proof of concept that this Administration can pick and choose which laws to “faithfully execute” and totally get away with it. And in so doing, lay the groundwork for a kleptocratic regime modeled on that of Trump’s hero and role-model, Vladamir Putin and his gang of corrupt oligarchic thugs whom Putin controls and creates via access to state corruption opportunities.
We’ve already seen Trump experiment with government procurement and loans to create vast and undeserved wealth for his followers in the corrupt Kodak deal that netted hundreds of millions in stock windfalls for his cronies. Make no mistake: Trump is a criminal schemer at heart. His whole life demonstrated that fact. He intends to innovate and institutionalize corrupt practices in our government by undermining, denigrating, and refusing to enforce the laws that prevent us from descending into a kleptocracy.
This is why Trump’s open, flagrant, defiant, and proud violation of the Hatch Act, which he is charged by our Constitution to “faithfully execute,” is such a big deal, especially at this moment when we have the choice to accede to his plan to enrich and entrench himself, or reject it. My concern is not because his Administration’s present and past public violations of the Hatch Act are so damaging in themselves, it is because of the precedent and pattern that ignoring an inconvenient law lays down for how he intends to govern going forward: with blatant and unaccountable corruption.