The post office has been, since before the founding of the United States, an essential service. So essential that when it came time to write a Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 gave Congress the power and the responsibility to “establish Post Offices and post Roads.” Yet, at precisely the moment when the country has begun to recognize the vital role of essential workers, postal workers have been under attack and the United States Postal Service has been undermined at every turn. The coronavirus pandemic should have been the moment when the Postal Service was finally accorded the respect and support it deserves. Instead, it is threatened by a White House wrecking crew that has coalesced, for reasons of short-term political strategy and long-term financial interest, to exploit a crisis.
This is Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine with a brazen twist: Donald Trump is fessing up even as he commits the crime.
Desperate to secure a second term, the president now openly admits that he is messing with the Postal Service because mail handlers and letter carriers make it possible to hold elections that rely on absentee ballots and universal mail-in voting. Voting by mail produces high-turnout elections in normal circumstances, and it provides a vital assurance for democracy in extraordinary circumstances—such as a pandemic moment when voters are encouraged to shelter in place rather than stand in long lines to cast ballots in crowded polling places. Trump, an unpopular president even before he mangled the response to Covid-19, recognizes the threat high turnout poses to his reelection bid.
On Thursday, he removed all doubt about his determination to undermine voting rights when he blurted out in an interview that one of the reasons he is stalling coronavirus relief negotiations is because Democrats are trying to save the Postal Service. “They want 25 billion dollars—billion—for the Post Office,” the president announced on the Fox Business Network. “Now they need that money in order to have the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots.”
The USPS actually needs $75 billion to address current challenges posed by the pandemic and longer-term challenges created by a congressional mandate that the Postal Service fund pension costs decades into the future. But Trump is blocking even a down payment on that funding because, as he says, without those funds “that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.”
Even by Trump standards, that’s an astounding admission of why he’s so determined to deny the Postal Service a lifeline. “Trump’s brazen abuse of the post office to try and win an election is a shameful misuse of presidential power,” said Campaign Legal Center President Trevor Potter, a Republican and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. He continued:
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Defunding the Postal Service and slowing its ability to deliver mail ballots to Americans will hurt Democratic and Republican voters alike. Congress needs to stand up to President Trump’s attempt to make it harder for Americans to vote, and take action now to ensure that the Postal Service can perform at an optimal level, especially during the pandemic when vote-by-mail and absentee voting requests are at an all-time high. Lawmakers must work urgently to come to an agreement that will provide adequate funding for the Postal Service so that we have a successful election in November. Our democracy depends on it.
Congress had better act fast. The system is crumbling, not only because of pandemic pressures but mainly because the man Trump just put in charge of the largest postal system in the world is an extremely motivated dismantler. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee who took charge in June, has imposed service cuts, personnel changes, an overtime ban, a hiring freeze, schedule shifts, and routing changes that American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein says have already slowed down and “degraded” mail delivery.
“Obviously if the postal management is putting in policies to slow down the mail, then that has an impact on everything, including ballots,” explains Dimondstein. “The states run elections, not the Postal Service. But the Postal Service is here to move those ballots. And when mail gets slowed down, it becomes a concern everywhere.”
Congressional Progressive Caucus cochair Mark Pocan says, “Undermining the USPS is voter suppression—and it’s intentional.” Former FBI agent Asha Rangappa is even blunter. The president, she tells us, is “sabotaging an election in broad daylight (and admitting it on camera).”
But Trump has an accomplice.
DeJoy assumed the postmaster general position as a man with no background of work within the Postal Service. Where he does have a background is as a major donor to the president’s campaign—$1.2 million since 2016. In April 2017, he was named as a deputy finance chair for the Republican National Committee—serving with now-jailed Trump attorney Michael Cohen and venture capitalist Elliott Broidy. In May of last year, DeJoy took over as local finance chair for the 2020 Republican National Convention, which was then scheduled for Charlotte, N.C.
That’s part of the motivation. The other part appears to extend from the new postmaster general’s entanglement with Postal Service contractors and competitors. “Postmaster General Louis DeJoy continues to hold a multimillion-dollar stake in his former company XPO Logistics, a United States Postal Service contractor, likely creating a major conflict of interest, according to newly obtained financial disclosures and ethics experts,” CNN reported on August 12. “Outside experts who spoke to CNN were shocked that ethics officials at the Postal Service approved this arrangement, which allows DeJoy to keep at least $30 million in XPO holdings.… Raising further alarms, on the same day in June that DeJoy divested large amounts of Amazon shares, he purchased stock options giving him the right to buy new shares of Amazon at a price much lower than their current market price, according to the disclosures.”
Concerns about DeJoy’s alleged conflicts of interest, and about the influence on Trump and DeJoy of advocates for privatization of the USPS, should be enough to inspire a sense of urgency about the need to protect a vital service for Americans. As Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and a group of her colleagues warned in an August 7 letter calling for an inquiry by the inspector general of the USPS, DeJoy’s slowdown “threatens the well-being of millions of Americans that rely on the Postal Service for delivery of Social Security checks, prescriptions, and everyday mail of all kinds.”
The urgency only increases because, as Trump has now made clear, he is prepared to ruin the Postal Service in order to thwart democracy. The pattern is clear. The threat is real.
“First he wanted to delay the election—but even after push back from fellow Republicans Trump is again attempting a coup on our elections by making it even more difficult to vote by mail,” observes Susan Harley of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division. “Trump and his election saboteur aide Louis DeJoy must stop their demolition of the Postal Service. Mail-in voting is an absolute necessity to ensure Americans can exercise their right to vote amid the worst pandemic in a century—which Trump has also made dramatically worse—just like everything else he touches.”