It began as a joke, because that’s what many of us thought of his candidacy. Unconvinced that someone so deeply inexperienced and predatory could be taken seriously, too many of us spent the lead-up to the 2016 election making Donald Trump the butt of the joke. Once he was elected, the joking became a coping mechanism. Even those unsurprised by white supremacy who marched until our feet were sore—we, too, fake-laughed to keep from crying.
The White House occupant, of course, is easy to lampoon. That’s probably why plenty of people laughed when Trump first launched an attack on the United States Postal Service in June. (He hired Republican megadonor Louis DeJoy as postmaster general, who has no experience leading a government organization and cut back on the USPS’s much-needed resources.) We thought, He couldn’t possibly—and what an idiot for not knowing better!
It was just like when Trump tweeted that America should delay our general election on November 3. Twitter pundits and constitutional law professors alike were quick to remind him that this power was situated well outside of the executive branch. Only Congress can change a federal election date. Can he really be this dumb? Memes abounded. The jokes on Twitter practically wrote themselves.
And while folks were doubled over in laughter, Trump marched right into his office and, with the help of his friends, tore apart the USPS piece by piece. He requested an increase in the price of stamps. Postal workers got word that 671 mail sorting machines would be removed, including dozens from battleground states like Ohio and Michigan.
And when the USPS needed $25 billion to be prepared for a pandemic election, Mitch McConnell let the bill sit on his desk for three months while Trump spoke out against it with absolutely no shame. (Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the House back next week to vote on a measure that would block DeJoy from making operational changes—still, he told her just this week that he has no plans to reverse the operational changes he’s already made.)
There’s nothing funny about witnessing in real time the dismantling of an already fragile and incomplete democracy. So let me say it plainly: Donald Trump’s attacks on the US Postal Service and voting rights are a direct attack on us, our democracy, and our ideals. This is precisely what the seeds of fascism look like, and they grow while we laugh.
Many of us in the civil rights and Black organizing communities saw voter suppression coming a mile away. I’ll admit to a Trump joke (or 40) sandwiched between what I hope has been a consistent spotlighting of injustice through my platforms. Still, many experts, activists, and everyday people warned voters that another election would be compromised, as it had been in 2018. Despite the warnings, the jokes were louder than the pleas.
I don’t think this is because people don’t care. I think it’s because most people misunderstand voter suppression until it’s too late. We expect Southern GOPers burying gerrymandered district lines in boring legislation, not a postmaster general who has shares in Amazon. We’ve all heard stories about false mailers, intentionally closed polling sites, and broken voting machines. But we now have to be prepared to see white supremacists on-site to intimidate voters and know that the president of the United States can invalidate election results we don’t even have yet in 280 characters.
Even Hillary Clinton literally already told us four years ago: Our systems can be, will be, and have been easily manipulated against us.
If Trump can undermine American faith in election results, then he can invalidate the outcome of a race he is afraid to lose and play innocent when his zealous followers cry violent mutiny if he actually does. He can shift the window of what’s politically acceptable so a GOP that refuses to move the election looks reasonable—even though they refusal to pass the HEROES Act and fully fund the USPS.
He can also spin his stance on mail-in ballots so it always works in his favor. He hates mail-in voting—unless he’s the one sending in his vote to Florida. And of course, when he flip-flops or politically postures with reckless abandon, he’ll just be characterized as “Trump being Trump.” What a wild and crazy guy, amirite?
The fact that he’s manipulated his way into being portrayed as a bumbling fool instead of the parasitic threat to our fragile democracy is a masterfully dangerous sleight of hand. The greatest trick the devil ever played was to convince the world he didn’t exist. The greatest trick Trump ever played was to convince us he hasn’t done irreparable harm to our country. Ask the loved ones of the 170,000 dead, most of them preventable, if he can hurt us. He can. He has. He will.
But I deeply value joy as a tool of resistance. And you know what makes me joyful? Evicting the occupant of the White House with every resource at our disposal—because we don’t have to stand aside and let him steal this election. We don’t have to let him win—and we already have some of what we need to fight him off.
We can keep shouting about this so our votes can’t be stolen in the cover of night. We can show up for the American Postal Workers Union’s #SaveThePostOffice campaign, record videos, and make calls to aid them in their fight. We can follow the collective leadership of the civil rights and voting rights organizations like The Leadership Conference, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Black Voters Matter and take the actions they command. We can get together in community to collect and hand-deliver mail-in ballots from our friends and neighbors. We can donate to funds like We Got the Vote, paying fines and fees for formerly incarcerated Americans who deserve their rights restored. We can link up with places like the Poll Hero Project and volunteer as poll workers to help prevent the closure of polling places and the stoppage of early voting.
And we can vote. Historic turnout levels have the potential to overtake the suppression warfare being waged against us. So we make our plans early and often, and we make our loved ones do the same. We check our registration often to make sure we’re still on the rolls. We volunteer to text, canvass, register, and expand the franchise to everyone who lacks it. I promise you: There is far more joy in victory. That’s the kind I want.
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