Just this year has been hellish. First, the USPS put up with Donald Trump’s attacks over low package rates for clients (including his frequent target, Amazon) when it asked for a cut of the government stimulus package in April. He’s also gone on a bender over mail-in voting, and his campaign has sued local and state governments over their expansion of the practice.
Then, it suffered a drop in its most profitable services — first-class mail and marketing mail — an understandable change as a result of businesses scaling back operations following the pandemic’s economic side effects. The pandemic has also caused a nationwide Postal Service staffing shortage. And those issues have been exacerbated by changes implemented by the new Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, who was appointed in May by a Trump-stacked board of governors.
DeJoy has so far directed the agency to cut overtime, as well as other measures that local post offices adopt to adapt to staffing shortages. These various “cost-saving” cuts have led to a delay in mail delivery. DeJoy also recently shuffled around or fired 23 Postal Service executives. David Dayen, the executive editor of the American Prospect, told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, “It seems like there was sort of a randomness to the design of this, that would only make sense if you’re trying to delay and hinder the mail from being delivered.”
It’s worth considering who DeJoy is when we wonder why the governing board would appoint someone from outside the Postal Service as postmaster general for the first time in 20 years, and why that person would enact so many nonsensical policies related to mail delivery, just a few months ahead of a presidential election that will surely see a record spike in mail-in voting. From Vox:
Some have called DeJoy “a crony,” and many are scrutinizing his background and political ties. As a former logistics executive, DeJoy ran companies that counted the USPS as a client, and his family has invested $30.1 million to $75.3 million in USPS competitors or contractors, including UPS. DeJoy is also a celebrated Republican party fundraiser who contributed over $1.5 million to Trump’s campaigns in 2016 and 2020. His wife, Aldona Wos, served as ambassador to Estonia in the George W. Bush administration and has been nominated by President Trump to be the next ambassador to Canada.
His place at the Postal Service is alarming, at the very least, and his actions in the run-up to such an important election are terrifying.
Trump’s and DeJoy’s “concerns” about the service are supposedly related to the agency’s profitability, which has also been ravaged by an insane 2006 requirement that the agency pre-fund its pension plans. But the Postal Service is a service, rooted in principles of accessibility and reliability, that allows people everywhere, especially in those living in rural areas, to get their mail. As a result, the Postal Service is the “most-loved brand” in the nation.
All of these changes aren’t just going to drive business away at a time with the Postal Service needs it the most. They’re going to hurt people who can’t get their mail and packages without it. We’re talking medications, paychecks, and bills. Everyone gets mail, and it’s astonishing that DeJoy can be so shortsighted and not realize that Republicans will also be up in arms over not getting their medicinal treatments on time.
I write this as someone who loves using the Postal Service. I send my sibling care packages for their birthday every summer, and my friends postcards several times a year. I love buying new sheets of stamps when I pop in to send off another letter (though I begrudgingly recall the time I bought something like four sheets of American flag stamps in Los Angeles because I didn’t ask what else they had in stock). My most recent in-store purchase was two sheets of postcard stamps, which I probably should have started buying years ago, but have been too lazy to get outside of my regular stamp order.
I actually just ordered a shit ton of stuff over at the USPS store, partially because I wanted to get in on the “Big Titty Bugs Bunny” stamps, but then because I saw they sold puzzles, and ornaments, and shirts. The Postal Service is selling whole Halloween costumes for children and dogs — who knew its online store contained such magic?
I’m not someone whose life depends on the USPS to survive, but the pandemic has given me new understanding as to how I use the Post Office myself.
I think about this piece of mail that sticks out to me from my childhood. It was a card from my Great Aunt Ginny, my dad’s aunt. She had served in the military and became a high-ranking officer of some sort, the first woman to be in that position. Then she lived in Washington, D.C., and worked for the Postal Service at the Armed Forces Retirement Home, where she lived until her death.
I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the illustrator who designed these cards, but their brand was relatively popular back then, around the late ‘90s and early 2000s, and spanned the spectrum of home nicknacks. They were cartoons, but in this fancifully ornate style, branded with the illustrator’s initials (A.G.? A.J.?) in a square in black and white, with an equally ornate font. Aunt Ginny loved sending this card brand, and usually wrote something kind and generic inside, maybe just her name, but that year was different.
On the front of the card (from what I remember) there were two people, a girl and a woman, sitting down at a table over tea. The inscription was connected to the illustration, something like, “Wouldn’t you like to meet over a cup of tea?” And under that, Aunt Ginny wrote, “Wouldn’t that be nice, if we met?”
We had never met, at least not to my knowledge, and her sister, my grandmother, had died years before. I was surprised that she wanted to meet, but yes, I thought that would be nice, and I asked my mom if we could visit her. She died a few years after that, and looking back now I realize that might have just been something kind you write to kids when you don’t know what else to say. But I held on to that idea for some time, that we might meet. It was nice of her to write that, anyway, because it made me feel closer to her, even when I wasn’t.
I think about that card as I think about the pandemic, and how easy it is to connect over a video call and exchange so many random, unorganized ideas without saying anything at all, and the equal ease of sending an email but how impersonal it feels to be intimate and vulnerable with someone you’re close with over such a flat medium. Letter-writing has given me something different to look forward to. A space to be thoughtful with friends and direct my anger toward city and state leaders.
This is, of course, small potatoes when we’re thinking about the fatal implications that come with someone getting their medication late, or, heaven forbid, an election being stolen, because the Trump administration decided to destroy the mail service. This is a familiar but nonetheless painful reality of how the Trump administration continues to unprotect our country’s most vulnerable people. Under DeJoy’s leadership at the USPS, people may die.
Photo via Nicolas Raymond/Flickr