Donald Trump is once again attacking the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).
During a recent press briefing, Trump claimed that the agency loses money every time it delivers a package for Amazon and that if it just raised its prices, USPS would be more profitable.
However, the postal service is not meant to be a profitable enterprise. It is a government service meant to unite our country by allowing the delivery of goods and information. Like many other services provided by the government, such as schools, a national postal service is not a business and should not be run as such. It is an integral agency that benefits our society and our nation would not be able to function without it. It’s actually so important that it’s protected in Article I of the Constitution.
Trump’s insistence on a national postal service motivated by profit reveals the conservative mentality at its core. In this ideological framework, everything must operate at a profit or it’s a useless enterprise. However, it’s still worth asking ourselves: Why are Republicans attacking the post office at this specific time?
There has always been an obsession by conservative elements in this country to infringe on our right to an inexpensive, public postal system. Certainly, that is part of the recent attacks being mounted by Trump and his acolytes, but there is something more opportunistic at play.
It is not a coincidence that this is all happening at the same time a highly politicized census count is underway and the coronavirus is reigniting a national conversation on the merits of voting by mail. The census happens every 10 years and is used to allocate vital resources to communities and to determine congressional representation. Republicans have been trying through various means to undermine the count, whether through lack of funding or by inserting a citizenship question that will create fear in immigrant communities and prevent them from participating. If Republicans are successful, the end result will be more power for them through less congressional districts that are more heavily gerrymandered in their favor.
The GOP has also been waging an all-out assault against mail-in ballots, in an effort to improve their chances in the November election through blatant voter suppression. Trump has been leading the attacks, saying at a press conference that “mail ballots, they cheat, people cheat. Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they are cheaters.” When a reporter pointed out that he voted absentee in the Florida primary last month, Trump’s hypocrisy was on full display:
TRUMP: Well sure, I could vote by mail for the…
REPORTER: But how do you reconcile that?
TRUMP: Because I’m allowed to. Well that’s called out of state — you know why I voted? Because I happened to be in the White House and I won’t be able to go to Florida and vote.
In keeping with this pattern of hypocrisy, the Republican National Committee (RNC) has been sending mail-in ballot applications to voters in various counties in Pennsylvania, urging them to fill them out and return to their county elections office.
The GOP seems to be conveniently opposed to voting by mail in instances where it could hurt their electoral chances, citing reports of voter fraud linked to mail-in ballots but the RNC’s applications sent by Pennsylvania voters actually lack common instructions usually included in Pennsylvania printouts of mail-in ballots. There is also no evidence supporting widespread fraud from vote by mail practice, and five states conduct their elections almost entirely by mail without reports of fraud.
While these partisan battles are being fought in D.C., the USPS is suffering from a sharp decline in demand as social distancing measures have largely shut down the U.S. economy. The situation is so dire that lawmakers were told that the agency could suffer a $13 billion revenue loss this year and could “run out of cash” by the end of September if Congress does not step in with financial assistance.
Congressional Democrats added funding for the postal service to their list of priorities for a fourth coronavirus relief bill, but were rebuffed by their Republican counterparts who want to keep relief bills narrowly focused. As mentioned earlier, the GOP has plenty of political motivations to not include any assistance to the USPS, not only to hinder efforts to expand vote by mail, but also as part of a long-term plan to privatize the agency. Attacks from Trump relating to how much the post office charges Amazon date back to early 2017, and in 2018, the White House was floating plans to privatize the agency. Following backlash to the idea, the Treasury Department released a proposal for an overhaul which stopped short of full privatization.
Congressional Democrats need to fight harder to protect our postal service. It consistently rates as the most popular government agency and it employs a lot of unionized workers. Moreover, Black workers, who have suffered from poverty and lack of opportunity due to systemic racism and obstacles in the private sector, have traditionally found well-paid and stable employment through the post office. The median income of Black men employed in the public sector was found to be 15 percent higher than those who worked in the private sector. The average salary of a postal office employee is $55,000 and 21 percent of the USPS’s employees are Black. Attacks on this institution are an attack on one of the most reliable public sector employers in the United States.
Innovative solutions exist to improve the situation for the postal service. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has repeatedly raised the idea about turning post offices into banks, saying, “If you are a low-income person, it is, depending upon where you live, very difficult to find normal banking … I think that the postal service, in fact, can play an important role in providing modest types of banking service to folks who need it.” Sanders has recently defended the agency against attacks from the GOP, tweeting from his Senate account, “We cannot allow Donald Trump to use this horrific pandemic as an opportunity to bankrupt and privatize the Postal Service. Now, more than ever, we need a strong and vibrant postal system to deliver mail 6-days a week. Congress must act now to save it.”
Globally, only 7 percent of the world’s postal systems do not offer some sort of banking service. Banking services within the USPS would help us fight back against predatory practices like payday lenders who charge exorbitant interest rates to trap people into debt.
In the meantime, Congress should absolutely act quickly to provide assistance to the USPS. We are in the midst of a deadly global pandemic that has caused a collapse of our national economy, the census, and need to rapidly shift our fall general election to vote by mail to protect the public health. Protecting the post office seems more important than ever.