By JOHN MICHAEL HEMMER
At the height of a public health and economic crisis, President Trump and his GOP allies are focused instead on an all-out assault on a critical public service: the popular, 245-year-old United States Postal Service. Slammed by the economic downturn, USPS recently warned that it will be forced out of business by the end of the summer. President Trump responded to that grim prediction by promising to veto any grants that would keep it afloat.
Losing USPS would be another embarrassing debacle for our nation, another assault on American democracy, and an expensive setback for individual Americans. We must rally to retain our national mail service.
Our Founding Fathers recognized that postal service is essential to link all Americans. The very first article of the United States Constitution authorizes the government “to establish Post Offices” for the common good. Foreign observers marveled at the remarkable institution that connects Americans across our vast nation, allowing them to share ideas, ship goods, conduct business, and reach otherwise isolated communities. But President Trump routinely ridicules the USPS, calling this essential public service a “joke.”
He attacks USPS because it delivers packages for Amazon, founded by The Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos; Trump routinely claims that USPS loses money on Amazon services. That isn’t the case and would be illegal. The 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act prohibits USPS from carrying packages without covering its costs, plus a contribution to overhead. Besides, Trump appointees hold majority voting power over USPS prices.
Trump would be foolish to cripple USPS in order to hurt Amazon. Killing USPS would give Amazon and Bezos one of the greatest gifts imaginable: a nationwide oligopoly, with UPS and FedEx, over all letter and package deliveries throughout the United States, freed from their low-price competitor, USPS. Forget the 55-cent stamp; the lowest UPS letter rate is over ten dollars. Especially during a pandemic, when all of us rely on the Postal Service more than usual, this would be a disaster.
Amazon is actively preparing for this outcome. It recently acquired dozens of big cargo jets and thousands of branded highway trailers. It operates hundreds of thousands of local delivery trucks. It is hiring like mad. If Trump and the GOP destroy the Postal Service, Jeff Bezos will laugh all the way to the bank, and Amazon will become even more powerful.
Ironically, members of Trump’s base would be hit hardest by the USPS shutdown. No one relies more heavily on USPS mail service than rural Americans. Every address in America is on the USPS grid, and the same stamp will get a letter to any of them, providing access to Social Security, Medicare and, now, unemployment benefits. The Trump Administration itself relied on USPS to deliver essential $1,200 stimulus checks and a letter signed by Trump to 40% of recipients.
Some Americans may lose mail service entirely if USPS folds. Amazon, UPS, and FedEx have no obligation to serve Izee, OR; Rock Cave, WV; Crumptonia, AL; or tens of thousands of other places off the main roads. If they serve such places, they would be free to charge a premium for the extra costs of getting there.
The deeper explanation for the President’s and the GOP’s attacks on USPS is hostility toward voting by mail. President Trump devotes Twitter storms to railing against vote-by-mail, making baseless claims of fraud that even Twitter felt compelled to correct. Trump and the GOP clearly understand that voting by mail enhances democracy and often increases turnout, contrary to their preference for voter suppression. How convenient, then, to derail the national mail service on the eve of a national election.
We need our USPS, for our economy, for our pocketbooks and for our democracy.
John Michael Hemmer is a retired lawyer and corporate executive residing in Washington, D.C. He is an active member of Patriotic Millionaires.