Undermining democracy to win elections and protect investors and property interests in the United States is well documented and has been a consistent part of our history. However, Donald Trump’s attacks on our democracy, including his effort to privatize and disparage the public Post Office are unprecedented, and unpopular with most voters. Article 1 of the Constitution requires Congress to establish the post office, and the enabling legislation dates back to 1792.
Donald Trump is constantly expanding his party’s decades-long reliance on holding down turnout to win, as white supremacist Democrats once did for nearly 100 years, beginning after the Civil War with poll taxes, literacy tests, and other restrictions on voting rights. Currently, Republicans are counting on the pandemic to shrink turnout, while Democrats are using vote by mail to expand turnout. Democrats should view the public post office as an ongoing tool to expand voting rights, following the lead of five states where vote by mail is the norm.
Trump’s attacks on USPS began soon after his election, with claims that the post office had become Amazon’s “delivery boy.” He demanded further privatization of postal services, which had already sadly been occurring for decades, regardless of which White House appointed the Postal Board of Governors. Trump views privatization of public services as profitable opportunities for his cronies, and on that basis supported donor Louis DeJoy for Postmaster General. DeJoy immediately began to dismantle postal services and infrastructure, but was stopped by a popular outcry and a bipartisan congressional effort when his cutbacks were linked to limiting vote-by-mail capability. His prior practice of reimbursing his management employees with bonus payments to cover their Republican political contributions was then exposed, further damaging his authority.
Expansion of vote by mail is terrifying to many Republicans, particularly Trump, since it results in higher turnout. The pandemic has boosted popular demand for vote by mail, and its proven record of success in five Western states, including Republican Utah, provide a tough reality for Trump to overcome. In addition to higher turnout, there is also paper backup with vote by mail, practically eliminating any possibility for voter fraud or interference. In fact, in Oregon, after 19 years of vote by mail, 100 million votes have been cast with a total of 15 cases of fraud. As Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, recently told the House Committee on Homeland Security, “Claims that vote-by-mail is rife with fraud are not only simply false, they’re also an offense to the postal workers who take our oath of office and our commitment to preserve the sanctity of the mail seriously.”
Expanding vote by mail is limited this year due to a combination of state efforts that will range from mailing a postage-paid ballot to all registered voters to mailing an application for a mail ballot, which must first be returned before a mail ballot is sent. These examples are critical, particularly in cities like Philadelphia where there are focused organizing efforts to reach voters and encourage them to return the mail ballot application. With Trump attempting to create Election Day havoc, the mail ballot paper record will be critical to getting accurate results. The effort to move to mail ballot in every state cannot stop with the end of the pandemic. Going forward, we need to consider vote by mail as much more democratic and as the best way to improve voter participation.
Our overall goals should include bringing the United States up to the standards of a twenty-first century democracy with automatic voter registration, vote-by-mail, eliminating big money’s domination in elections, eliminating the Senate filibuster, establishing the national popular vote for President, and more. This democracy movement will only grow as younger voters realize that the path to change in every dimension is blocked by the control of the rich and powerful. But the public post office can play a vital role in this process.
Currently there is a popular uprising to “Save the public post office.” This summer there have been demonstrations at hundreds of post offices around our nation, urban, suburban, and rural. The “Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Post Office” not only includes the four postal unions representing over 400,000 union members, but a wide range of public service groups from every field. Recent polls have shown that 91 percent of the public supports the USPS and it ranks at the top of federal agencies in popularity.
Trump’s attacks have not only strengthened campaigns in the states for vote by mail, and in Congress for emergency funding assistance for USPS during the pandemic, but also for ongoing support for the public post office. The Grand Alliance is demanding Congress eliminate the requirement that USPS prefund retiree health-care obligations for future, current, and retired workers. No private corporation or other public entity has such a requirement, and that liability alone prevents USPS from attaining financial stability based on current postage rates.
The alliance is also supporting check cashing and other simple banking services that could be easily provided in existing post offices to assist the millions of Americans who have no banking access or pay obscene fees for these services. The Post Office could easily partner with a banking institution, install ATMs with low fees, and offer debit cards to the unbanked. Postal money orders are already available, and small loans could be made available at market rates. Imagine a low-wage worker who needs $500 to fix their car to go to work. Currently that loan might be repaid at annualized rates of 200 percent or more. Market rates to repay the loan would make a huge difference.
Offense or positive action should always be combined with defense in resistance movements. Practicing resistance to Trump’s attacks on our rights and democracy is almost a daily practice for many of us. Whether we are immigrants or Black, women or LGBTQ, union members or essential workers, we all are coming to the realization that a popular movement for change that we all build together is the best resistance, and also the best hope for our future. In early 2017, few of us believed that attacks on the public Post Office would be central in building that resistance and the movement for change. But now those attacks are building our broader movement. So shout your solidarity when you see a postal worker and let them know that we are all in this together!