From Protecting Voting Rights to Honoring Veterans, The Post Office Is An Essential Service

The capacity of the United States Postal Service (USPS) to provide mail services that generations of Americans have relied on has been severely weakened by the Trump administration. The assault on the Postal Service has only grown stronger and more brazen in recent weeks. We know by Trump’s own admission that his targeting of the agency is by design and is intended to interfere with the federal election that is less than three months away. Due to the ongoing health risks associated with COVID-19, a record number of Americans are expected to vote absentee this November rather than in-person. Knowing this, Trump has weaponized the pandemic to obstruct mail services and suppress the people’s vote, particularly in battleground states. By making it more difficult for Americans to exercise their right to vote, he is disenfranchising tens of millions of voters. The other part of Trump’s calculation is that by stripping the Post Office of much-needed resources to receive and process absentee ballots, he can exploit any hint of trouble with vote tallying this November to try and cast doubt on, and perhaps even dismiss, the election results should he lose. It has all the makings of an authoritarian power grab.

The scheme to gut and cripple the USPS became more focused and intense following Trump’s appointment of right-wing conservative and longtime Republican megadonor Louis DeJoy to the position of Postmaster General last May. Not long after DeJoy assumed the role, he began engaging in a systematic undermining of the USPS through various so-called “cost-cutting” measures. These measures included the reassignment or firing of Postal Service executives; the elimination of hundreds of blue mail drop boxes; the removal and actual physical disassembly of high-speed mail sorting machines; and, the slashing of overtime hours for postal workers. If these devastating cuts were not enough, Trump has been blocking vital funding in a proposed coronavirus stimulus bill which would have provided an additional $25 billion in support to the Postal Service to enhance its capabilities to process mail-in ballots.

The sabotaging of the USPS is nothing new, however. The Postal Service has been a target of slash-and-burn policies of the Republican Party for years. The GOP has waged a war against the institution, with the end goal being privatization. The continued and relentless weakening of the Post Office has been a boon for private, for-profit competitors, with whom many political leaders have close financial ties. The revenue and profits these corporations generate for their executives and shareholders would almost certainly rise even further should the USPS be absorbed into the private sector. Destroying the Postal Service as we know it is yet another attempt by the greedy plutocrats and oligarchs of this country to tear down our public pillars of democracy and hand over control of essential services to the private sector.

There is a constitutional issue here as well that cannot be ignored or discounted. Attempts to degrade and privatize the USPS could very well be a violation of the Postal Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 7) – which gives Congress the power and responsibility: “To establish Post Offices and post Roads.” Congress has a constitutional duty to preserve and sustain the USPS. Our congressional representatives, therefore, have a responsibility under their oath to the Constitution to safeguard the Postal Service. And we as the people they serve have a civic duty to actively demand and ensure that they do.

The purging of resources fundamental to the Post Office’s ability to function effectively has resulted in backlogged and slowed mail delivery, impacting Americans in all parts of the country who rely on the USPS for vital services. Life-protecting medications, social security checks, food delivery for seniors and the disabled, and bill payments have all been delayed, putting people in jeopardy of real financial and health problems. Vulnerable populations have been harmed the most, including Native American communities and people living in rural areas who may have very limited access to markets. It is not hyperbole, then, to argue that Trump and DeJoy have put American lives at risk with their orchestrated attack on the Postal Service.

Americans who care about voting rights and democracy should be outraged by the Trump administration’s deliberate assault on the USPS. It is personal to me for other reasons as well. One of my uncles made a career out of the Post Office, serving as a mail carrier for over four decades. As a military veteran from a family of veterans, the fact that the agency has a long history of providing stable career opportunities to military members and veterans is something I value greatly. The USPS employs nearly 100 thousand veterans, or about 15 percent of its entire workforce, making it one of the largest employers of veterans in the country. Approximately 60 percent of these veterans have a service-connected disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Owing to the collective bargaining agreements won by seven strong unions representing nearly 500 thousand Postal employees, tens of thousands of veterans have enjoyed job security and a range of other benefits, such as medical leave, which have helped keep them and their families safe, healthy and financially secure. Few public or private companies can match that level of care and commitment toward veterans.

The undermining of the Postal Service hurts our soldiers and veterans and their families in more ways than employment. Over 300 thousand veterans get their VA prescription medications delivered by the Postal Service. It is a lifeline in that regard. The military community receives deeply discounted shipping rates and cost-free packaging supplies for care packages sent to servicemembers overseas. Deployed military members count on the USPS for this special and trusted mail service. Any soldier or veteran who has served in a combat zone can tell you how important it is to feel connected to their loved ones back home. Care packages have the power to bring a sense of normalcy and solace to them, even for just a moment.

Republican legislators pay a lot of lip service to honoring our troops and veterans. It is the height of hypocrisy, then, to undercut a public entity which provides them resources they need, value and deserve. Perhaps if Trump would not have taken five Vietnam-era draft deferments, which economic privilege and alleged bone spurs made possible, he would care more about an institution that the military community and their families and so many other Americans rely so heavily on for their livelihoods and wellbeing.

With mounting political and legal pressure facing Trump and DeJoy for their antidemocratic and unpatriotic actions against the USPS and voters, and only days before the Postmaster General was scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill, DeJoy’s office released a statement on August 18 announcing that, “To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded.” Nevertheless, the damage has already been done. Suspending does not mean reversing or restoring services, nor does it mean that we should trust them to stop dismantling the Post Office. We absolutely should not. Trump and DeJoy must be held accountable for the grievous harm they have inflicted on a critical part of this nation’s infrastructure. We must remain vigilant and make certain that their assault on the USPS has ended, both now and after the November election. The USPS, which many thousands of military members and veterans and millions in the general public depend on every day, must be respected and treated as the essential service it is.

Join postal workers on August 25 for a #SaveThePostOffice Day of Action, where postal employees and allies will gather at local post offices in cities and towns across America to demand that the USPS be adequately protected and resourced.

Brian J. Trautman is an instructor of peace studies at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, MA, a peace activist with Berkshire Citizens for Peace and Justice, and an Army veteran. He is also a member of Veterans for Peace. On Twitter @BriTraut.