If the USPS slows down, mail-in ballots won’t be the only collateral damage, says Philip Rubio.
On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump took to Fox Business Network to say the quiet part out loud: He is holding up funding of the U.S. Postal Service because “that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”
The idea that Trump might block emergency funding and hobble the U.S. Postal Service carried a special shock because of its impact on the election—but it’s only the latest shot that the venerable agency has taken from Trump during his presidency. Over the past two years, he has mocked the Postal Service as “a joke” and a “Delivery Boy” for Amazon. But lately there’s been real heat — blocking the USPS’s requests for billions in pandemic-related emergency funding, which has bipartisan support in the Senate, and installing as the new postmaster general a political loyalist who has reshuffled at least 23 senior postal officials over the last three months.
As a result, an agency as old as the U.S. government—which employs roughly 496,000 people, and which Americans count on for everything from utility bills to Amazon purchases—is suddenly, visibly struggling to do its job.
“Things are already going wrong,” says Philip F. Rubio, an expert on the U.S. Postal Service and professor of history at North Carolina A&T State University. There are “widespread mail slowdowns of all kinds of mail — first-class, marketing mail, parcels. Even the Veterans’ Administration has complained that veterans are not getting their medications on time.”
For the president to admit to deliberately trying to slow the mail process in order to curb mail-in voting is “stunning, because it is political sabotage,” says Rubio, himself a former letter carrier who spent two decades working for USPS. “He’s using his power of the veto [to hold up funding and] to interfere with the democratic process.”
There is, says Rubio, a real political risk in all of this for President Trump and the Republicans who support his USPS defunding. In 1970, after President Nixon’s tough-love treatment of postal workers led to a wildcat strike among letter carriers, public opinion quickly swayed in against the president.
All of this makes for a volatile election season: People stuck in their houses are increasingly reliant on the postal service to deliver purchases and medicine as they avoid in-person shopping, and increasingly aware of its problems. The president, meanwhile, appears to be betting that crippling the postal system will be more helpful to him on Election Day than it is politically harmful.
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