I’ve always taken it for granted though I’ve cursed the long lines that result from staff shortages. Other than have a tooth pulled, I’d do anything to avoid the Post Office. I buy my stamps from the grocery store and mail my packages at a stationery shop around the corner from my apartment. Despite my neglect, I’m confident my mail will arrive at my doorstep 6 days a week, and that if I’m expecting a check, it will reach me safely. Like my Oxford English Dictionary, which lays half-open in a corner of my living room, I know the United States Postal Service (USPS) can be relied upon.
When systems work, it’s easy to forget how much we depend upon them. Turn a key in a lock and we expect the door to open. The same can’t be said for my computer. If I step away from the screen for a coffee break, I’m likely to return to find it’s gone black. Self-preservation focuses us on our anxieties, and so we ignore the steadfast in favor of the temperamental.
Certainly, USPS has suffered from neglect. Underfunded for years, we expect it to “make do,” even though competition from sleeker, private enterprises, like FedEx and UPS, cream off urban business while avoiding rural areas, which are more costly to serve. In that case, USPS steps in, ensuring that besides the mail, medical prescriptions and food gets delivered.
At the moment, President Donald Trump is withholding money from the postal service, insisting that it should raise fees. Critics attack his motives. They say he wants to quash the growing demand to vote by mail, afraid a large turnout will drive him out of office. He’d prefer to expose poll workers and the public to Covid-19, imagining the pandemic and the inconvenience of precinct voting will suppress participation. Not all Republicans agree with this strategy but many do.
Democrats, on the other hand, embrace vote by mail, believing it will give them an advantage in the upcoming election. (“Going Postal, by Ari Berman, Mother Jones, July-August, 202 pg. 50.) The tug-of-war probably won’t be decided before November as Trump has appointed a new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy. Dejoy was recently in charge of fundraising for the upcoming Republican convention so his loyalty to Trump is not in question.
If we do get around to rethinking USPs, I hope Congress will consider legislation supported by three U. S. Senators: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Christine Gellibrand. They propose that we restore banking services to the agency. During the Great Depression, vast numbers of unemployed and homeless depended upon it as a place to cash checks, pay bills, and obtain small loans. (“Going Postal, by Jason Linkins, July-August, The New Republic, pg. 9)
Most Americana like their postal service, about 91% in one opinion poll. Given its popularity, tying the fate of the agency to political outcomes isn’t a good idea. Those who do will probably see a public reaction akin to poking a stick at a hornet’s nest.