Trump’s Attack on the Postal Service Is a Threat to Democracy—and to Rural AmericaBreaking News
tags: Postal Service, USPS, privatization, Rural America, public sector
You’d think that the Republican Party, which depends on the undue weight given to rural voters for its continued political life, would be particularly solicitous of the post office. But, at the higher reaches, its ideological preoccupations are stronger: the post office is a government service, and therefore bad; it should be run instead by people who can make money from it. The postal service, though, is the most popular government agency in the country, with a ninety-one-per-cent favorability rating, and it’s equally popular among Democrats and Republicans. So, the Party has generally had to proceed by stealth. Most notably, in 2006, President George W. Bush signed a law that makes the U.S.P.S. fund the health-care benefits of its retirees seventy-five years into the future. No one else does that; it’s why, even though the postal service ekes out an operating profit most years, it is saddled with a huge deficit.
But Donald Trump specializes in saying the quiet part out loud. In April, he told reporters that the post office was “a joke” and that he’d oppose any bailout unless it quadrupled the rate for mailing packages. (Along with the postal service’s role in our democracy, the President seems upset about its contracts with Amazon, because it is owned by the same man who owns the Washington Post, which Trump thinks is mean to him, which is just daily life in a tinpot wannabe-dictatorship.) “Trump and the Republican Party use rural communities and give speeches about how connected they are to our rural way of life in order to get elected, and then turn around and abandon everything we care about, from our schools, to the post office, to our family farmers, and to our rural hospitals,” Kleeb told me.
The situation has grown so alarming that even some Republican legislators are objecting: last week, Representative Greg Gianforte and Senator Steve Daines, both of Montana, each sent letters to DeJoy, asking him to get the postal service back to work. “Do not continue down this road,” Gianforte wrote. But, for the most part, it’s the usual partisan battle. Last week, eighty-four members of the House signed a letter demanding that the postal service do its job; eighty of them were Democrats. “All of the bills Democrats are writing, and the policy papers Joe Biden has focussed on rural communities, are strong,” Kleeb said. But “now we need to see them in our towns. … Showing up is critical to us in order to know you see our faces and you understand the struggles we are facing.” In fact, a visit—even a virtual one—might inspire politicians to see how much could easily be done. Senator Bernie Sanders—the rare progressive who represents a mostly rural constituency—has long advocated offering banking services at post offices, something that’s routine in most of the world, and which would put a crimp in the payday-lending operations that ring the small towns of this country. (Senator Elizabeth Warren supports the idea, too.) It wouldn’t even be without precedent here: in 1910, President William H. Taft inaugurated a postal savings system for immigrants and poor Americans that lasted until 1967. Today, though, the banking lobby firmly opposes the measure.
As the economic damage of the pandemic wears on, city dwellers are coming to terms with loss: favorite restaurants or stores are closing. People in rural America know how this feels—they lived through decade after decade of school consolidation, of dioceses deciding that they can’t support a church in town anymore. The post office was among the first public buildings in most American communities, and now it’s often among the last. A decade ago, the postal service tried to close our local branch office. That would have forced everyone to make a twelve-mile round trip to a town at the bottom of the mountain to pick up the mail, so together we fought the service, and it finally relented. Robert Frost once lived in our town, and he maintained that good fences made good neighbors. But he was wrong: it’s the post office that does the trick.