Column: Trump is so dumb trying to sabotage USPS, Democrats. He’s hurting his own voters
One of the most nonsensical things about President Trump’s blatant attempt to sabotage the U.S. Postal Service in hopes of getting reelected is that, if he’s successful, the people most harmed will be his own voters.
And there are millions of them.
Every day, postal workers deliver letters and packages — including medication and benefit checks — to some of the most rural stretches of land in this country. They make some 45 million stops along 78,500 routes, many of which hug remote farms and ranches, such as those that dot Modoc and Alpine counties, where “Make America Great Again” flags fly high.
These are places where people could easily go weeks without a real-life connection to the outside world if not for their postal carrier stopping by every day. Places where Amazon doesn’t deliver, nor FedEx or UPS. Where there isn’t even reliable internet service.
As former President Obama tweeted on Friday: “Everyone depends on the USPS. Seniors for their Social Security, veterans for their prescriptions, small businesses trying to keep their doors open. They can’t be collateral damage for an administration more concerned with suppressing the vote than suppressing a virus.”
And yet Trump, in an unscrupulous and shortsighted attempt to limit Americans’ ability to vote by mail, is continuing to refuse additional funding for USPS.
On Thursday, he said he would block both the $25 billion in emergency funding sought by Democrats as part of a broader relief package and an additional $3.5 billion for states to prepare for the Nov. 3 election. The funds would go toward hiring staff and processing ballots with all the precautions needed for safely tallying votes during a pandemic.
Everyone depends on the USPS. Seniors for their Social Security, veterans for their prescriptions, small businesses trying to keep their doors open. They can't be collateral damage for an administration more concerned with suppressing the vote than suppressing a virus.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 14, 2020
“They need that money in order to make the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” he told Fox Business Network. “If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. They just can’t have it.”
A few hours later, Trump backtracked a bit, saying that he wouldn’t veto a relief package that includes funding for the postal service, but Democrats would need to agree to a deal. “If we agree to it,” he told reporters. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to agree to it.”
A few hours after that, negotiations over that deal officially stalled, with lawmakers leaving Washington for summer break.
Trump’s theory is that he is more likely to beat the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, if voters have to go to the polls in person. He also keeps insisting that mail-in voting is “fraudulent,” despite evidence to the contrary and his own decision to vote by mail in Florida.
Trump says he won’t approve emergency funding for Postal Service, raising the chances of political chaos in November when mail-in ballots flood in.
It’s the kind of thing that infuriates Tammi Headrick, president of California chapter of the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Assn. When we spoke Thursday, she had just returned from her grueling regular route of four and a half hours in the hills around Escondido. Her mail truck has no air conditioning, and since it was 97 degrees outside, she figures it was about 107 degrees in the driver’s seat squashed among all of the letters and packages.
“For him to stand there and say that we can’t be trusted, he is insulting every postal employee in this country,” Headrick said of Trump. “I was delivering things today from his campaign. But I can be trusted with that, right? Yeah.”
This is only the latest round of shenanigans since Louis DeJoy, a Republican mega-donor who owns stock in Amazon and UPS, became postmaster general in May. The changes he has made since then, from cutting overtime to removing mail processing equipment, are at the root of many of the delivery delays that we’ve have endured even in Los Angeles.
The USPS has already warned officials in 46 states, including California, that it can’t guarantee all ballots cast by mail will arrive in time to be counted for the November election, the Washington Post reported on Friday.
If Trump, presumably with DeJoy’s support, gets his way now and additional funding for the USPS is denied or delayed, the ramifications will be enormous — not just for our democracy in the short term, but for people’s lives in the long term.
“In these urban areas, for most of the folks, it’s not going to be a big deal to make the trek to the post office to pick up whatever they were waiting on,” Headrick said. “But when you get out into our farm communities, it can be near impossible for them.”
It can take an hour or more to get to a grocery store or to a Target to get, say, toilet paper — something many people told me during a trip to the high desert city of Alturas, in Modoc County, in July. Supply chains are delicate things in rural communities, which are often poor.
“California has some areas like up by Crescent City and stuff like that, that there’s nothing even close to them,” she said. “There are still many places that even Amazon with their long-reaching fingers don’t go. They hand it off to us because it wouldn’t be profitable for them to drive 40 miles for one address.”
As of April, the postal service was projecting a $13-billion revenue loss tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and an additional $54 billion in losses over the next decade. It also has retirement benefits to fund. But for all the talk over the years of privatizing the USPS, there’s a reason why it continues to exist. It provides a service that, while surely never will turn a buck, is very much needed by the public. That’s the role of government.
The U.S. Postal Service has faced many challenges since its inception. Coronavirus puts new stress on the institution, currently in Trump’s crosshairs.
If rural letter carriers are laid off en masse, something that Headrick worries about, she predicts that many of the people along her route and elsewhere in California will be caught completely off-guard. Most aren’t paying attention to the news, she said. They’re worried about planting their crops or what’s going on with the head of cattle.
“They don’t have the time available to just drop what they’re doing and run to the post office to pick up whatever,” she told me. “If they had that, they would have probably just went into the store and bought it.”
In California alone, there are about 3,000 routes covered by rural carriers, including ones that are surprisingly suburban, such as the city of Murrieta near Temecula, presumably full of the “housewives” Trump needs as voters.
That the president is willing to throw his own base of voters under the bus — the people whom he has at least given lip service to protecting in the past — says a lot about how desperate he is. Trump, ever selfish, is more than willing to turn the postal service into a pawn and subject rural Americans to a fate that will last a lot longer than the November election.
No wonder he is lagging in the polls even in states that he won handily in 2016. Making it difficult to vote by mail won’t change that.
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