Trump calls the U.S. Postal Service “a joke.” Washington and Jefferson would disagree.
Like with most things, this president has his history wrong. Since the founding of our country, the Postal Service has been as serious and as fundamental to our democracy as it gets. A recent New York Times article embraced by Joe Biden covers that beautifully. “The inscription over [the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum] asserts that a letter carrier is not only the ‘consoler of the lonely,’ but the ‘enlarger of the common life.'”
Last week Trump named Louis DeJoy, a major Republican Party donor with no experience in the agency, as his next postmaster general, replacing a lifelong postal employee. Trump also wants USPS to quadruple its prices. Partly, because he is on a personal vendetta against Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon, one of the Postal Service’s largest customers, and partly because Trump is cow-towing to Republican ideologues who wish to privatize most of the government. (Remember when George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security? It’s the same belief.)
Raising prices won’t hurt Amazon for long — it will just pass the costs along to its customers. But for Americans reliant on the Postal Service, this will come as a significant blow at a time when they are already reeling financially. The Postal Service was never supposed to be a moneymaking enterprise or a political football. The founders understood that the reliable delivery of information was basic to democracy. And, when the first prices were established, newspapers were given a deep discount to encourage the flow of information (they still have a low rate). Read more about the history of the post office as part of our nation’s history in this New York Times article.
Right now, the Postal Service is in financial trouble. Like many private business, the Service has been hit hard by the pandemic. It’s main revenue sources — first class and marketing mail – has fallen off due to the shuttering of businesses and the general economic downturn. Trump is fine with giving relief to private businesses (like his hotel chains and those owned by his donor-buddies) but he threatened to veto the first COVID-relief bill if it contained any money for the Postal Service.
Unlike many private businesses, the postal service is required to deliver to all US addresses, even low-margin, low-density rural neighborhoods. Rural America is so costly to service that McKinsey Consulting has said that even drone delivery might not offset the costs. And, no private business is currently equipped to service those rural areas. Meanwhile, over the last few decades, private delivery services have siphoned off deliveries to more profitable urban addresses. This is exactly the kind of situation where the federal government needs to subsidize service — just like rural electrification.
Whether Trump’s motivation is animosity toward Bezo’s, a desire to please his most conservative ideological supporters, or simply to create chaos by bankrupting the postal service just before an election that will rely on mail-in ballots — whatever is driving him to this, it’s wrong. Ironically, it may hurt some of his rural base voters the most but he’s probably confident he can pull the wool over their eyes again.
In sum, this vendetta against the Postal Service is just one more example of Trump’s unwillingness to take the responsibility of governing seriously