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The Hatch Act Is for Suckers

The president is going to give his RNC acceptance speech from the South Lawn of the White House. Because who's going to stop him?
August 7, 2020
The Hatch Act Is for Suckers
U.S. President Donald Trump finishes singing the national anthem with a U.S. Army chorus during a "Celebration of America" event on the south lawn of the White House June 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Trump said on national television that he’s considering breaking a federal law live on national television. In a phone interview with Fox & Friends on Wednesday morning, Trump confirmed a report by the Washington Post that Republicans were considering having the president give his acceptance speech for the Republican National Convention from the South Lawn of the White House.

The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activities while on duty or on government property. The president and vice president are exempt from the law, but their staff—who are federal employees—are not.

So, by accepting his party’s nomination for president on the White House lawn, Trump would have his aides break the law so that he could give a speech about his commitment to law and order.

Last year, an investigation by the U.S. special counsel found that Kellyanne Conway, in her role as counselor to the president, had violated the Hatch Act “repeatedly” and recommended that she be fired, just as any other federal employee would be.

Conway didn’t take it well. Here’s what she said:

Blah, blah, blah. If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work. Let me know when the jail sentence starts.

Law and order!

Conway knew she wasn’t going to jail, no matter what the blah law blah said. Enforcement of the Hatch Act on political appointees is the president’s prerogative, by custom. And this president does not enforce the law against people who are loyal to him.

In his acceptance speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention, Trump declared himself “the law and order candidate” and promised, if elected, “to enforce our laws.” “When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country,” he said.

It’s a little tricky to promise law and order while breaking both your promise and the law.

In addition to illegality, there’s also the problem of unintelligibility, both tactically and syntactically. What does Trump hope to accomplish with such a speech? He already speaks on White House grounds regularly—and poorly. On Tuesday, he pronounced Yosemite “Yo, Semite.” In addition to offending nature-lovers, Jewish people, and hip-hop fans, the president’s cacology undercut one of his campaign’s main talking points, which is that Joe Biden talks poorly while Trump has the best words, not all of which are real.

Yesterday, Trump called Thailand “Thighland.” He probably wants to go to Phuket.

In the unlikely event that Trump could give a coherent speech consisting of complete sentences, what could he say?

If he talks about enforcing the law while breaking the law, it would be obvious that Trump doesn’t want law and order, strictly speaking. What he wants is a Putin police state where his people are never prosecuted and everyone else is tear gassed.

If he talks about the pandemic or the economy, he has to acknowledge the mass death and mass unemployment, or deny them. Trump prefers denial. So far, he has been telling sick people they’re healthy and unemployed people that the economy is thriving. This tactic hasn’t improved their health, the economy, or Trump’s poll numbers.

A normal president would not give an acceptance speech at all. That would be the prudent thing to do, politically, ethically, and epidemiologically. But Trump suffers from narcissistic logorrhea, and so he must talk, regardless of what the law says. Trump talks not because he has anything to say but because he wants to be heard.

We should hear him out.

A convention speech on the White House lawn would cost American taxpayers money, sure, but it would also cost Trump votes.

The more people see Trump defiling the White House, the more evident it is to them that he doesn’t belong there.

Windsor Mann

Windsor Mann is a senior adviser to the Lincoln Project and the editor of The Quotable Hitchens: From Alcohol to Zionism.