The Trump Administration continues to threaten United States Postal Service’s fragile finances by denying the constitutionally enshrined agency a $10 billion loan it desperately needs to continue its operations. The reasons for the precarious financial situation of the USPS are well documented elsewhere in this blog – but, suffice to say that the Congress asks the USPS to pay pensions up front and oh, by the way, there’s an economic crisis.
I, personally, love the idea of the postal service. Not perhaps in the same way that Samantha Bee loves the USPS: “The Postal Service is hot as hell. The workers wear knee shorts, they give it to us in the rain, sleet or snow, and they’re the only federal agency built entirely on the principle of licking stuff.” But I love the idea that someone comes to my door and hand delivers my letters to people across the world. During the pandemic, I realize that my children have simply stopped writing; we developed a plan to support the Postal Service by encouraging them to find actual pen pals. It’s working, one stamp at a time.
The Postal Service is one of the few agencies that has had a non-acting, but real, head for the entirety of the Trump administration. Incredibly, Postmaster General Megan Brennan previously worked for the Obama administration. So, unlike much of the rest of the federal bureaucracy that has been hollowed out, the Postmaster General is still in command. Probably because Trump doesn’t understand the difference between the generals.
The attack on USPS has been framed in the media as a proxy war on Amazon (Bezos has more billions than Trump!) and direct challenge to democracy (Democrats apparently love to vote by mail – however, this didn’t seem to matter in Wisconsin). The war on Bezos is pretty blatant – Trump is quoted as saying that he thinks USPS can solve the problem simply by raising Amazon’s rates by a slight 400%. The other obvious frame is, in the time of COVID, the president wants to shut down the Postal Service to prevent voting and alter the census.
The first claim has merit insofar as Trump is a spoiled, petulant, jealous man-child who can’t stand the presence of other slightly richer man-children like him. Further, $10 billion just happens to be the value of the JEDI cloud computing defense contract that the Trump administration yanked from Amazon at the last minute and gave to Microsoft. Amazon is challenging this maneuver in court and will likely win back the $10 billion.
The second claim, though, deserves some further thought. Only a few states vote exclusively by mail and it took them years to build up the infrastructure and the habit to do so. Starting a vote by mail system in six months during a presidential election during a pandemic is probably not a good idea. No excuse absentee ballots, however, do make a lot of sense as they still allow for in-person voting but also create a kind of electoral system resilience should a pandemic make in-person voting challenging. Such a transition is still not particularly easy and would depend in some part on the Postal Service to deliver mail (there are other means by which absentee ballots might be filed, e.g. early in-person voting or individuals who collect ballots to deliver to polling places).
So, it isn’t necessarily that Trump intends to kill the Postal Service to stop absentee ballots, but, that he intends to introduce the specter of incompetence (“you guys can’t pay your bills”) and partisanship (“only Democrats vote by mail”) in a close election that might be swung by late-breaking ballots sent through the mail. The irony, of course, is that a key vote-by-mail constituency are members of the military who Trump claims to love. Guffaw.
There’s another motivation here, though and it is – unsurprisingly – related to things that trump is really bad at: negotiating and China. In September, the United States threatened to pull out of the United Nations Universal Postal Union (UPU). Peter Navarro – economist and scientist, apparently – claimed that the universal system of fees charged to developing countries should not apply to China. And, Dr. Navarro had a point – Chinese firms could send small packages to Missouri for cheaper than firms actually based in Missouri. Of course there are other countries involved in the UPU negotiation; but Trump only has eyes for China and viewed this as another front in his trade war. The US avoided a ‘Postal Brexit’ (which, if you’ve played any of the “Postal” video game franchise conjures a very different kind of image than a series of failing votes over the Irish Backstop) by agreeing to remain in the UPU if it could renegotiate the shipping rates in the coming year. While it is quite likely that these minor postal rates won’t register in the overall trade war, it does give the Trump Administration a chance to stick it to China.
Which brings me back to the $10 billion loan that the Trump administration refuses to give without receiving something in return – a common theme in the Administration ruled by the Hutts. Trump can try to squeeze some money out of Bezos for political gain, but, can also use this as an opportunity to take a harder position in negotiating UPU rates for China – rates that are to be set in June and take effect July 1. As President, Trump always plays with money that isn’t his. So, if the Postal Service and its hundreds of thousands of union employees get stiffed – who cares?
Much of this is moot unless the states actually decide to act on no excuse absentee voting. Certainly there are cost barriers that Congress could fix. In addition, different groups have filed suit to force the federal government to require that states offer no excuse voting.
In the meantime, though, write a letter. Better yet, send back every business reply mail envelope. Preferably heavy. Stickers help.