Across much of the country, the United States Postal Service is grinding to a halt. In cities like Baltimore, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Philadelphia, residents report that they have not gotten mail for weeks. People are not getting checks, bills, medicines, or other vital necessities, and it only seems to be getting worse.
Now, with record numbers of Americans set to vote by mail this November, the Post Office is falling apart because Donald Trump thinks he can steal the election by breaking it. There is no other reason.
To be sure, the USPS has had its struggles for some time. As I’ve noted before, in 2006 Congress clapped the agency with an absurd requirement that it had to pre-fund its retiree health benefits 75 years out — meaning it had to set health care money aside for future employees who weren’t even born yet. This drove it immediately into deficit, where it has largely remained for the past 14 years. Second, the coronavirus pandemic also hit traditional mail delivery volume hard. Junk mail advertising — one of the Post Office’s key revenue sources — always falls in a recession, and with people largely staying home, there was even less call for it.
Nevertheless, neither of these things are enough to cause the problems we are seeing across the country. The decline in junk mail was partly offset by a steep rise in package shipping. More importantly, Trump also prevented the Post Office from getting $75 billion from Congress as part of the CARES Act by threatening a veto. With that help — a tiny fraction of what big corporations got — the USPS for sure could have managed through the rest of the year. Instead, it got only a $10 billion loan, with stiff conditions.
What’s more, Louis DeJoy, the Trump lickspittle and longtime Republican donor (with a massive financial conflict of interest) now serving as postmaster general, has royally messed up mail service. He implemented a bunch of management changes weeks ago, including orders to restrict overtime, slow down delivery routes, and leave mail behind at distribution centers. Now he has made further sweeping changes that have sidelined longtime USPS staff and centralized power around himself, and instructed states that they will have to pay extra to prioritize their election mail. According to memos obtained by The Associated Press, even greater reductions and the complete closure of some offices could be on the way.
The rationalization for all these changes, according to the management consultant Newspeak, is that it’s simply what must be done to cut costs and streamline the agency for modern times. It’s classic “government should be run like a business” rhetoric. But it stands to reason that when someone says they are trying to improve the efficiency of a service, and the efficiency of that service immediately collapses so badly as to virtually cease to exist in big chunks of the country — particularly big cities, which is where the Post Office makes most of its revenue — that was not what they were really trying to do.
So let’s turn back to the president. Trump has been telling hysterical lies about mail-in voting for months, falsely portraying it as riddled with fraud, and repeatedly suggesting that the November election tally will not be legitimate as a result. As anyone who thinks about it for five seconds could confirm, simply voting through the mail is no more vulnerable to fraud than doing it in person, because any single person would be a fool to commit a felony for a single vote. In terms of fraud potential, mail-in voting is not meaningfully different from the absentee voting that Trump favors — most of the time, it actually happens through the mail.
Real vote fraud happens when political parties control the count. Indeed, the biggest recent example of actual tinpot dictatorship-style election rigging was committed by a North Carolina Republican operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, on behalf of Mark Harris, GOP candidate for the state’s 9th District in 2018. The local GOP and Harris’s campaign knew about credible allegations of absentee ballot tampering but sued to have Harris installed in office anyway based on the crooked vote.
So here we have a postal service that has been hamstrung at every turn by the president, whose crony running the agency has turned it into a shambles, and which will almost certainly struggle to get ballots delivered in a timely fashion. We also have a president who is notorious for lying, cheating, and stealing; who is far behind in the polls; who may well face prosecution after leaving office on account of the crimes he has confessed to doing; and whose campaign has sued Nevada over switching to universal vote-by-mail, as well as Pennsylvania to stop the state from setting up vote drop boxes. It doesn’t take a master detective to put the pieces together on this one. (I am currently making plans to drop my ballot off in person, and I suggest you do the same.)
The true talents of Donald Trump can be counted on the fingers of one hand, but one of his most well-developed skills is breaking things and turning the resulting disaster to his own advantage. If he succeeds in wrecking the Post Office, enough Democrats may be unable to vote that he will be able to steal the election. Or if it takes weeks or months for Joe Biden to be declared the winner, Trump will very likely lie about all of Biden’s votes being fake, and claim victory for himself. Who is president next year may depend on which side the military takes.