Cutting Back the U.S. Postal Service would Hurt the Lifeblood of DemocracyRoundup
tags: Postal Service, USPS, Rural America, public sector
Richard R. John, a professor history at Columbia University, is the author of Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse (Harvard University Press).
Joseph Turow is Robert Lewis Shayon professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. Turow is author or editor of 16 books, most recently, The Aisles Have Eyes: How Retailers Track Your Shopping, Strip Your Privacy, and Define Your Power (Yale, 2017).
Critics of President Trump’s repeated denunciation of the U.S. Postal Service — and his unwillingness to adequately fund it — fault him for trying to rig an election in which public confidence in mail-in voting may well determine the margin of victory and the public’s acceptance of the results. This is certainly true.
But something even more fundamental is at stake. By attacking one of the nation’s best-loved and most admired organizations, Trump is putting the circulatory system of the body politic in a potentially lethal chokehold that could threaten our future long after the election — no matter who wins.
Our nation’s Founders intended the post office to bind us together. The physician and philosopher Benjamin Rush put it best. The post office, Rush wrote in 1787, in defending the post office clause in the U.S. Constitution, was the “only means of conveying heat and light to every individual in the federal commonwealth.” The Post Office Department, as the organization was then called, has filled that role admirably for well over 200 years.
It was the post office that, beginning in 1792, circulated millions of newspapers filled with political information throughout the country at rates far lower than the cost of their delivery, helping a far-flung people stay in touch with the centers of power. It was the post office that for a short but critical interval in the 1830s emboldened antislavery groups to flood the slaveholding states with abolitionist literature. It was the post office that during the Civil War and every war since helped battle-weary soldiers reach out to their loved ones — and to vote.
The establishment of parcel post in 1913 furthered the mission of the post office to serve all Americans by permitting rural customers to receive merchandise from industrial cities that previously had been prohibitively expensive to ship. Three years earlier, the post office even began a successful decades-long experiment with postal banking for Americans who lacked access to credit, a project whose revival hold great promise today.
The Postal Service also fostered innovation. Mail contracting subsidies jump-started new modes of transportation — from the stagecoach lines in the early republic to the airlines in the 1920s. More recently, the Postal Service has been a leader in the rollout of optical scanning, facilitating the high-speed processing of millions of letters and packages, jump-starting a logistical revolution that has transformed business and industry.