As one of our most august Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin would tell Donald Trump to go fly a kite. And hope for a major electrical storm. Then Ben would advise Trump to keep his mitts off our post office.
By all accounts, Franklin was a smart and charming fellow, the kind of 18th century raconteur with whom you’d like to sit around a tavern fire and quaff a hot buttered rum. But he knew a conniving narcissist when he saw one, writing, “He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.”
Among Franklin’s many accomplishments—civic leader, sage, wit, inventor—he was a shrewd and successful businessman. So much so that Franklin semi-retired as a wealthy man at the age of 42, and spent his remaining four plus decades reading, writing, and experimenting. One of the best of those experiments—besides bifocals and his eponymous stove—was his role in the creation of the United States as a representative republic.
In 1775, the Second Continental Congress appointed him the first postmaster general of what would become the US Postal Service. He came by the job honestly—almost forty years before the Revolution, the British crown had appointed him postmaster of Philadelphia, and in 1753 he was named joint postmaster general for the American colonies, a job he held until his revolutionary fervor got him fired.
But while he held the position, Franklin completely revamped the mail system, improving postal roads, post offices and accounting systems, establishing proper rates and slashing the length of delivery. In 1760, the British Crown Post in America turned a profit for the first time ever.
Fast forward 260 years and our current postmaster general, the recently appointed Louis DeJoy. Like Ben Franklin, DeJoy is a successful businessman who claims that his recent efforts to streamline and cut costs at the US Postal Service also are just a way to make it more efficient and profitable. But that’s where the comparisons end.
We know what’s really going on here. All evidence points to DeJoy—a major Trump donor and GOP fundraiser—acting as a tool at the bidding of Donald J. Trump in a massive nationwide effort to help the president cheat: preventing people from easily and safely voting by mail during the pandemic, throwing our presidential election into complete chaos. All because Trump realizes that in an honest tally, there’s an excellent chance he’s going to lose.
Plus, as we all realize by now, given the choice between the straight and narrow high road and the lies and manipulation of the low, his personal history demonstrates that he’ll always go for the latter, no matter what.
Louis DeJoy is performing this gross chicanery on his master’s behalf through a number of different methods, some of which might at cursory glance seem to be a legitimate attempt to cut costs but which given the times and circumstances just don’t hold water. In part because of the pandemic but not only (more than 60 postal employees have died and thousands have undergone quarantine), delivery delays of several days are widespread. Overtime has been eliminated—mail carriers are being told not to spend extra hours delivering excess mail but to leave it to the next day or beyond; letters and packages are piling up.
Hiring has been frozen (just when more bodies are needed), early retirements encouraged and DeJoy has perpetrated a major shakeup of top personnel, firing some, reassigning others and by all accounts working to throw over the system and erase the institutional memory of the USPS—the only government agency specifically mandated by our Constitution. It is, according to Virginia Democratic Congressman Gerald E. Connolly, chair of the House subcommittee in charge of postal oversight, “a deliberate sabotage.”
Potentially as bad or worse than all of the above came word that the USPS was in the process of removing, disassembling and in some cases destroying high volume sorting machines—671 of them to be scrapped this year, ten percent of the total—as well as removing actual mailboxes themselves. Yes, those old, familiar blue deposit containers were being unbolted from the sidewalk and loaded onto trucks, with reports coming from Portland and Eugene, Oregon, Manhattan, several towns in Montana, Wisconsin and elsewhere. Coincidentally, Democratic Party strongholds seemed a particular target. And swing states.
After complaints by all three members of the Montana congressional delegation, led by Senator Jon Tester, on late Friday, the post office announced it was suspending its nationwide mailbox heist until after the election. And on Sunday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows announced the USPS would leave alone until after November 3 the remaining sorting machines. They handle tens of thousands of pieces of mail each day and save postal workers more time they can use to physically deliver letters, birthday cards, bills, checks, prescriptions (many to veterans and older citizens), magazines, circulars, packages—and ballots.
On Friday, The Washington Post reported that the postal service had sent letters to 46 states and the District of Columbia that “sketch a grim possibility for the tens of millions of Americans eligible for a mail-in ballot this fall: Even if people follow all of their state’s election rules, the pace of Postal Service delivery may disqualify their votes…
“Some states anticipate 10 times the normal volume of election mail. Six states and D.C. received warnings that ballots could be delayed for a narrow set of voters. But the Postal Service gave 40 others — including the key battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida—more-serious warnings that their long-standing deadlines for requesting, returning or counting ballots were ‘incongruous; with mail service and that voters who send ballots in close to those deadlines may become disenfranchised.”
We’ve already seen frightening delays in the delivery of votes-by-mail throughout the primary season. Postmaster General DeJoy has denied that his new rules are meant to interfere with voting by mail and counters with arguments that the moves were made for practical budgetary reasons—the post office is, after all, in deep debt. In fact, some of these changes were in motion before DeJoy officially was in office. But then Donald Trump came right out and said it out loud—he was deliberately choking the postal service to death, denying the $25 billions of emergency funding requested by Democrats in the latest pandemic relief bill negotiations—all to quash voting by mail.
“If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” he told Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. They just can’t have it.” Later that Thursday, he backpedaled, sort of, saying he wouldn’t veto a relief bill if it had postal and election protection money: “[T]he money they need for the mail-in ballots would be taken care [of]. If we agree to it. That doesn’t mean we’re going to agree to it.” (On Saturday, Trump described the Post Office as “a catastrophe” and blamed the lack of emergency funding on the Democrats. Of course he did.)
But as Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said in a statement, “The postal service lies at the heart of our democracy and is critical to the success of an unprecedented vote-by-mail system that is needed for a fair and effective 2020 election season. The postal service helps ensure that our nation’s most vulnerable communities are receiving medications and resources during the pandemic. It is also critical to the efforts to achieve a full and accurate 2020 Census.”
Especially in Trump World, of course, it always comes down not only to cheating but to money—what’s in it for him and his buddies. Since 2016, Louis DeJoy has given more than $2.5 million to the GOP. This year he gave more than $360,000 to a pro-Trump Super PAC, served as finance chair for the 2020 Republican National Convention AND gave $$122,500 to the Republican National Committee legal fund that’s bankrolling lawsuits around the country aimed at suppressing the vote—that includes fighting against mail-in ballots.
The Washington Post found that DeJoy and his wife, Aldona Wos, who’s up to be our next ambassador to Canada, have holdings that include “between $30.1 million and $75.3 million in assets in USPS competitors or contractors, according to a financial disclosure Wos filed with the Office of Government Ethics when she was nominated. Postal Service mail processing contractor XPO Logistics—which acquired DeJoy’s company New Breed Logistics in 2014—represents the vast majority of those holdings. Their combined stake in competitors UPS and trucking company J.B. Hunt is roughly $265,000.”
And CNN adds that on the same day that the USPS ethics office allowed DeJoy to hang onto his $30 million stake in XPO—“likely creating a major conflict of interest”—he “divested large amounts of Amazon shares [but] purchased stock options giving him the right to buy new shares of Amazon at a price much lower than their current market price…
“This could lead to a separate conflict, given President Donald Trump’s disdain for Amazon, and his reported effort in 2018 to pressure DeJoy’s predecessor to raise prices on Amazon and other firms, while complaining about its founder Jeff Bezos,” owner of The Washington Post, a paper, ahem, highly critical of Trump.
But wait, there’s more. David Sirota and Matthew Cunningham Cook write that former Republican National Committee chairman Mike Duncan, now the chair of USPS’ six-man board of governors—which rubberstamped DeJoy’s appointment—is also “current chairman of the Senate Leadership Fund—a $100 million Senate-focused Republican super PAC whose 2020 electoral goals could hinge on vote-by-mail systems during the coronavirus pandemic.”
Duncan also was president and CEO of the global-warming-is-a-hoax American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (now known as America’s Power) and has “myriad links to companies with a direct interest in the postal service policy he oversees.”
The tangled webs they weave. There is further history here that long predates Trump’s obsession with suppressing voting by mail and the virtually non-existent fraud he insists will take place if it’s allowed. Conservative Republicans have been trying to shut down the postal service, privatize it and eliminate universal service for decades now and have used all manner of fiscal skullduggery to make it happen, including legislation passed in 2006 during the George W. Bush administration that saddles the USPS with prefunding retiree health benefits 75 years out, something forced on no other government agency.
As per Fortune magazine, “The burden accounted for an estimated 80% to 90% of the agency’s losses before the pandemic.” Currently, the USPS is slated to run out of money between March and October of next year and that would suit many conservatives just fine.
More than two years ago the Trump White House’s Office of Management and Budget released a report claiming privatization “would have a substantially lower cost structure, be able to adapt to changing customer needs and make business decisions free from political interference, and have access to private capital markets to fund operational improvements without burdening taxpayers.”
You can trace a lot of this back to none other than libertarian industrialist, ideologue and billionaire Charles Koch. In a recent, deftly written and thorough investigative study for the policy group In the Public Interest, Lisa Graves of True North Research writes that for almost five decades, Koch, chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, has used his “connections, influence, and ideological push to weaken and ultimately privatize one of America’s most essential public services—and, along with it, the jobs of hundreds of thousands of public servants. “
Graves points to the popularity of the USPS, its rich diversity and record of public service. It is, she notes, the second largest civilian employer in the US, with nearly 500,000 workers. These are good ‘middle class ‘ jobs with good benefits—especially compared to the biggest civilian employer, Walmart, which is subsidized to the tune of more than $6 billion a year in public assistance…
The jobs provide economic stability for hundreds of thousands of Americans of all backgrounds, including nearly 100,000 military veterans. They, their families, and the entire American community depend on the public services they provide, come rain or come shine and despite the ubiquity of email.
To Koch and his right-wing buddies, “even though the Postal Service is vital to more than 300 million of his fellow Americans, helping the agency survive with $25 billion in aid should not be allowed. But tax cuts to benefit himself and his billionaire friends—which cost America more than $2.3 trillion—was a top priority for his political machine.”
Dear Ben Franklin is shaking his head in astonishment and dismay. He was a successful businessman, yes, but there’s a fundamental difference between Franklin and Louis DeJoy and Franklin and Donald Trump. He had nothing against making money, but first and foremost Franklin was a patriot who reportedly wished the motto of the fledgling United States to be, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”
DeJoy and Trump actively seek to destroy the democratic system Franklin fought so hard to build. Remember that he knew better than anyone the importance of a public postal service in disseminating the information and services essential to keeping liberty alive and not turning the United States into a banana republic ruled by a foil hat dictator.
As the rest of the free world watches us, appalled, election boards across the country are scrambling to adjust rules to adapt to the postal crisis. There are calls for congressional investigations and legislation (the House will come back into session this week), state attorneys general are considering legal action, the postal service’s inspector general Tammy Whitcomb is beginning a probe, and most important there is vast public pressure for Trump and DeJoy to back off, especially as a mighty 91% of Americans love the post office and favor major financial aid to save it as part of the next stimulus package. In fact, I’ve never seen my Twitter feed so consumed by a single subject.
As writer and analyst Robert Reich says, this is no longer about Republicans vs. Democrats. It’s about fascism vs. democracy. Time to stamp it out with our voices and our votes.
(Note: On Tuesday morning, after it had been announced that DeJoy would testify before the Senate homeland security committee on Friday and the House oversight committee on Monday, the postmaster general issued a statement that when it came to his earlier directives, “To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded.”) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described DeJoy’s directive as “a necessary but insufficient first step.”