While Donald Trump is renowned for verbally abusing just about anyone and anything, the latest target of his ire might seem a bit mundane by comparison – the US Postal Service.
But the attacks on the president’s latest target could have far reaching consequences for the very democratic foundations of the United States.
At stake is far more than just a few late deliveries – it could throw the entire US presidential election into chaos.
So what’s going on?
As with so much these days, the situation has its roots in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The US presidential election is due to take place on November 3 but social distancing and fears of the virus spreading further if voters are made to attend polling stations mean states are looking at allowing people to cast their ballots in other ways.
The most obvious is mail-in ballots.
How does that work?
It’s pretty simple. Voters contact their local election authority either online or by mail and request an absentee ballot. They’re sent this in the post, they fill it in and they post it back.
That sounds easier than regular voting
It is, and that’s why some Republicans, including President Trump, are worried. They fear that an easier voting process will lead to a higher turnout.
Why is that a bad thing?
Only for Republicans. Generally, though obviously not exclusively, groups that find it harder to attend polling stations such as young people, low-income people, minorities, and those without access to transportation, also tend to vote Democrat.
So more people voting is likely to translate into more votes for Joe Biden.
What’s President Trump saying about it all?
Mostly stuff like this...
Trump appears to have two tactics. First is to suggest foreign countries will try and hijack his presidency – ironic considering he has consistently played down Russia’s documented interference in his 2016 election victory.
“It’s a way of trying to turn the foreign interference claims that have been made on their head,” said Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine told PA Media last month.
“Typically we’ve heard that the Russian government and others were working to help elect Trump, and here is Trump using fears of foreign interference as a way of bolstering his own side.
“This potentially lays the groundwork for him contesting election results.”
What’s the second tactic?
Attacking main-in ballots themselves.
For months Trump has tweeted about how the system will be used to rig the election despite there being no evidence that this will be the case.
There are multiple safeguards in place and mail-in voting has been used for decades without any problems – one in four voters cast ballots that way in 2016.
Is he still saying things like this?
Yes, and he’s even suggested delaying the election until after the pandemic.
But he can’t do this so appears to adapted his tactic slightly by targeting the US Postal Service.
How is he doing that?
As its name suggests, the US Postal Service (USPS) will be in charge of delivering postal votes in the election.
But the USPS has been struggling for a number of years and hasn’t turned a profit since 2006. This has only been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
On June 15 Trump appointed a new USPS postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, ostensibly to turn the fortunes of the ailing organisation around.
But, and this is a big but, DeJoy just so happens to a very rich Republican who has donated $1.2m to Trump’s campaign coffers and nearly $1.3m to the Republican Party since 2016.
Since taking on the role, DeJoy has instituted a brutal cost-cutting campaign at the USPS that has slowed mail delivery across the country.
If the postal system isn’t fully functional when the election rolls around then Trump will be able to claim the election result is flawed, and then who knows what will happen.
Is it deliberate?
No one in the White House or at the USPS says so, but plenty of Democrats are suggesting it could be.
Trump is trailing in the polls, and trailing by a lot. His presidency has been upended by the coronavirus crisis and last week the national death toll surpassed 170,000, the highest in the world.
Nancy Pelosi, the country’s top elected Democrat, said on Sunday she was calling the Democratic-controlled House back to Washington later this week to vote on legislation to protect the Postal Service from what she called Trump’s “campaign to sabotage the election by manipulating the Postal Service to disenfranchise voters”.
And several Democratic state attorneys general told Reuters they were in discussions about potential legal action to stop USPS changes that could affect the election outcome.
“It is outrageous that Donald Trump would attempt to undermine the US Postal Service for electoral gain,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy told Reuters in a telephone interview, adding that the Republican president’s actions raised constitutional, regulatory and procedural questions.
Congressional Democrats also called on DeJoy to testify at an August 24 hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the USPS’s board of governors should remove DeJoy if he “refuses to come before Congress”.
What does Taylor Swift think?
Glad you asked, because she’s actually been very vocal about it.