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Save the Post Office

If you wanted, I could print out this blog on paper, and—thanks to the magic of the United States Postal Service—mail it directly to you for a negligible fee. And if you so desired, I could do the same thing, but send it to you through FedEx, or even UPS instead. That’ll probably cost you a lot more, though.

For now, it’s a choice that’s still available to you, my hypothetical luddite-leaning reader. Soon, it might not be.

Fast, reliable, inexpensive mail has become an unlikely pillar during our pandemic isolation. It provides a tangible lifeline to the outside world we are no longer able to enjoy ourselves, and ensures that packages, medical prescriptions, bills, and paychecks arrive safely, on time, and with minimal expense. Which makes it all the more galling that the Trump administration has reportedly gone out of its way to force the USPS into potentially fatal financial ruin by the end of the summer by blocking efforts to fully fund the agency as part of the latest round of coronavirus relief bills.

The president has long had a bizarre gripe against the Post Office, claiming it helps his nemesis Jeff Bezos, thanks to Amazon’s reliance on the USPS for much of its package deliveries.

“They should raise, they have to raise the prices to these companies that walk in and drop thousands of packages on the floor of the Post Office and say, ‘Deliver it,’” the president whined last week. “They make money, but the Post Office gets killed. Okay? So they ought to do that, and we are looking into it, and we’ve been pushing them now for over a year.”

It’s an issue that’s been seemingly stuck in his craw for several years:

Several observers have posited that Trump’s decision to fuck with people’s mail is solely a reflection of his hatred for Jeff Bezos. Others have become proponents of the theory that his decision to kneecap the USPS is some 13th dimensional chess move to block efforts to expand voting by mail—a practice he’s publicly railed against but has never actually linked to the USPS as a whole. Frankly, both theories give Trump too much personal credit. I don’t think he cares enough about the issue to have any deep convictions beyond a vague appetite for pettiness.

The Republican Party as a whole, however, has long wanted to privatize mail delivery entirely. The White House’s failure to support the USPS—a decision most likely driven by the standard GOP demons who surround Trump—should be seen as a part of that longer mission.

There’s a fundamental difference between the USPS and its private competitors. The Postal Service is exactly that—a service rendered by the government to fill a crucial need (namely, getting certain types of things from point A to point B) much like fire departments or highway repair workers or any number of other municipal, state, and federal programs that exist simply because it’s what governments should do.

FedEx and UPS, meanwhile, are businesses for which delivering your shit is simply the way they make money for executives and shareholders. The fact that you, the customer, are getting something out of the deal—usually at a higher cost than the USPS—is just a nice bit of synchronicity.

Conservatives who want to privatize the post office often argue that the agency operates like a failed business, constantly losing money while its private competitors nip at its heels. But that argument is based on the false belief that the government is the same as a corporation, and its programs needs to be profitable in order to be considered a success (an argument you almost never hear from the right when it comes to the military). It also overlooks the fact that Republicans have deliberately tried to crush the Post Office for decades by burdening it with unique financial obligations that would sink any private sector business.

Governments are businesses the same way pandas are bears: they’re not. Profitability isn’t the goal, service is. And so long as the USPS provides its crucial service, it stands as a perfect example of why governments exist in the first place. So go help keep the Post Office going. Buy some stamps. Send your grandma a postcard. I’m sure she’d love to hear from you.