White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has brushed off complains the Trump campaign is violating the Hatch Act with brazen use of public treasures, like the White House and Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, to give a 2020 Republican National Convention boost to a beleaguered incumbent.
“Nobody outside the Beltway really cares,” said Meadows.
Meadows might be right, in that the country has witnessed three and a half years of brazen flouting of political norms, often in violation of the law.
As citizens, however, we need face facts: We are being used and the public’s houses, monuments and historic places are being exploited.
I care, thanks to a day back in the springtime of the George H.W. Bush administration. I took part in an interview with Barbara Bush, who referred to her family as the “latest tenants” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Mrs. Bush took us through rooms where history was made, occasionally taking a dig at Nancy and Maureen Reagan. We were given a quick look at the Rose Garden, as designed by Rachel “Bunny” Mellon and Jackie Kennedy.
The crabapple trees were in full bloom, and afforded shade on a warm day. The garden was ablaze with colors, which is the way John F. Kennedy had wanted it.
The trees are gone, removed as part of Melania Trump’s redo of the Rose Garden. The trees have been moved to an “offsite location” and will be replanted later.
The new Rose Garden was used Tuesday night when Melania Trump delivered a Republican National Convention speech there, before a carefully picked partisan audience that did not practice physical distancing.
The White House had already been utilized for two 2020 Republican National Convention events. Trump used the premises to pardon an Arizona bank robber who has become active in rehabilitation work. And the incumbent, whose policies have split apart families, swore in five new American citizens.
Consider the brazenness of this act. Thousands are waiting to be sworn in so they can vote in the November election. Trump has famously referred to African nations, El Salvador and Haiti as “[expletive] countries” and asked why the United States can’t welcome more immigrants from Norway.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with ambitions for 2024, interrupted an official trip to Israel to speak to the Convention from the roof of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Sure, the camera crews were on the Republican payroll.
But Pompeo was flown to Israel in a plane bearing “United States of America” insignia, and stayed at the King David at government expense.
Pompeo delivered a speech to the Republican National Convention despite a recent directive to employees of his own department: “Senate-confirmed political employees may not even attend a political convention.”
Meanwhile, Fort McHenry in Maryland, of Star Spangled Banner fame, has been closed to the public due to the pandemic.
Never mind the exclusion of ordinary people… Vice President Mike Pence delivered his acceptance speech on the premises tonight.
Think for a moment. The one hundred and four year-old National Park Service is the least political of agencies. Yet, the presence of Pence suggests that the NPS supports his renomination and the 2020 Republican ticket.
Trump has twice used Park Service grounds — the public’s parks — for political purposes: a Fourth of July interview with FNC at the Lincoln Memorial and his campaign-style speech at the Mount Rushmore National Monument.
Under the Hatch Act, and rules set down by the Special Counsel, park employees cannot engage in any “activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan political office.”
The forty-fifth president has made inquiries about getting his visage on Mount Rushmore. In the meantime, the National Park Service has gone without a Senate-confirmed director for the entirety of Trump’s presidency.
Trump has virtually wiped out the lines between governing and campaign. Other presidents observed informal rules. For instance, H.W. Bush banned campaign strategy sessions from the West Wing, insisting they be held at the residence.
In Trump’s case, he has held forth, using the Rose Garden for a fifty-four-minute July monlogue denouncing Joe Biden and the Democrats. He will deliver his acceptance speech on Thursday night at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Trump appears to see no distinction between the government and his person.
The Hatch Act can be ignored: It has no enforcement mechanism.
Nobody in high position has dared raise objection to use of the White House.
The rule in this administration: Do what the chief does.
And praise him at every turn.
Trump’s acceptance speech will be followed by one more appropriation of public property and an enduring national symbol: There will be a fireworks display over the Washington Monument, the tallest building in D.C.