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NEW YORKER columnist: Trump’s attack on U.S. Postal Service a threat to rural America

Friday, August 14, 2020

Columnist, a longtime rural resident, writes that Trump’s attack on the U.S. Postal Service is a threat to rural America

President Trump’s efforts to dismantle and privatize the U.S. Postal Service are a threat to rural America, longtime rural resident Bill McKibben writes for The New Yorker.

“In 2012, when the Postal Service planned on closing 3,830 branches, an analysis by Reuters showed that eighty percent of those branches were in rural areas where the poverty rate topped the national average,” McKibben writes. “You know who delivers the Amazon package the final mile to rural Americans? The USPS. You know how people get medicine, when the pharmacy is an hour’s drive away? In their mailbox. You know why many people can’t pay their bills electronically? Because too much of rural America has impossibly slow internet, or none at all.”


Trump’s Attack on the Postal Service Is a Threat to Democracy—and to Rural America

Three mailboxes on a post in an empty landscape
If Republicans succeed in their long-sought goal of privatizing the postal service, they will suck what life remains from many of the communities they theoretically represent.Photograph by Peter Marlow / Magnum

I’ve lived most of my life in small towns in pretty remote rural areas. Some were in red regions, some were purplish-blue—but every last one of them centered on the local post office. I remember years of picking up the mail from a little window in the postmaster’s living room. (If you called her the postmistress, she would tartly reply, “Uncle Sam can’t afford mistresses.”) Eventually, she needed her parlor back, to have room to work on her genealogy projects, so the community built a small freestanding building. Where I live now, the local post office takes up a third of the space in the only business in our town, a country store complete with potbellied stove and rocking chairs. It’s probably why we still have a store: if you’re there to pick up mail, you might as well get some eggs, too.

All of which is to say that I really hate what the Republicans are trying to do to the post office. It’s by now pretty obvious that the Trump Administration is attempting to sabotage mail delivery in order to cast some kind of shadow over the November election. Donald Trump’s newly installed Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, who earned the position with more than two million dollars in donations to the Trump campaign and other Republican causes since 2016, has eliminated all overtime; a memo to employees declares that, as a result, “if we cannot deliver all the mail due to call offs or shortage of people and you have no other help, the mail will not go out.” Last week, as the Washington Post reports, in what’s being called the Friday Night Massacre, DeJoy obliterated decades of institutional knowledge, by reassigning or displacing twenty-three highly ranked officials in the Postal Service. Not only that but the Postal Service almost tripled the postage for mailing ballots to voters.

Behind that assault on a right guaranteed in our democracy, however, lurks something less immediate but almost as ugly: the long-standing G.O.P. effort to gut the Postal Service and replace it with a privatized entity—an effort that, if it succeeds, will suck out what life remains from too many of the rural communities that many of those Republicans theoretically represent. It’s hard to imagine New York City without a post office; it would be devastating to lose the postal workers and an utter shame to no longer wait in line in the Art Deco gem at 90 Church Street, among other historic buildings. But, at least in the wealthy parts of the city, some mix of the Internet and bike messengers and double-parked courier-service trucks could probably get the job done. For Americans who live in sparsely populated and poorer areas far from big cities, though, postal workers perform an irreplaceable role.

“Post offices are the center of any rural town, and it connects us to friends and family as well as markets for small businesses,” Jane Kleeb, who lives in Hastings, Nebraska, told me. I got to know her because she was, and is, a remarkable leader in the fight against the Keystone XL oil pipeline. She’s also the chair of Nebraska’s Democratic Party, and—with her recent book “Harvest the Vote”—an outspoken advocate for getting progressives to take rural America seriously. So she understands about the mail. “When we go into the post office in our small town, we know the staff behind the counter, and we catch up on each other’s lives,” she said. “I can’t tell you the number of times also in our post office here in Hastings where a new immigrant is making our town their home, and they go into the post office for help on cashier checks for rent, or questions on the census, or how to get the utilities turned on. The staff always help, even if that is not part of their ‘job,’ because they also know post offices are seen as a hub for our government.”


In 2012, when the Postal Service planned on closing 3,830 branches, an analysis by Reuters showed that eighty per cent of those branches were in rural areas where the poverty rate topped the national average. You know who delivers the Amazon package the final mile to rural Americans? The U.S.P.S. You know how people get medicine, when the pharmacy is an hour’s drive away? In their mailbox. You know why many people can’t pay their bills electronically? Because too much of rural America has impossibly slow Internet, or none at all. These are the places where, during the pandemic, teachers and students all sit in cars in the school parking lot to Zoom with one another, because that’s the only spot with high-speed Wi-Fi. You want the ultimate example? Visit one of the sprawling Native American lands in the West and you’ll see how, as a member of the Mandan-Hidatsa tribe in North Dakota told Vox, the Postal Service helps keep those communities “connected to the world.” Should the government destroy the service, she said, “It would just be kind of a continuation of these structures in the U.S. that already dispossessed people of color, black and indigenous people of color, and people below the poverty line.” The mail, Kleeb said, “is a universal service that literally levels the playing field for all Americans. It is how we order goods, send gifts to our family, and keep small businesses alive. In the era of the coronavirus, mail is now our lifeline to have our voices heard for our ballots in the election. In fact, in eleven counties in our state, they have only mail-in ballots, because of how massive the county is land-wise.”

You’d think that the Republican Party, which depends on the undue weight given to rural voters for its continued political life, would be particularly solicitous of the post office. But, at the higher reaches, its ideological preoccupations are stronger: the post office is a government service, and therefore bad; it should be run instead by people who can make money from it. The Postal Service, though, is the most popular government agency in the country, with a ninety-one-per-cent favorability rating, and it’s equally popular among Democrats and Republicans. So, the Party has generally had to proceed by stealth. Most notably, in 2006, President George W. Bush signed a law that makes the U.S.P.S. fund the health-care benefits of its retirees seventy-five years into the future. No one else does that; it’s why, even though the Postal Service ekes out an operating profit most years, it is saddled with a huge deficit.

But Donald Trump specializes in saying the quiet part out loud. In April, he told reporters that the post office was “a joke” and that he’d oppose any bailout unless it quadrupled the rate for mailing packages. (Along with the Postal Service’s role in our democracy, the President seems upset about its contracts with Amazon, because it is owned by the same man who owns the Washington Post, which Trump thinks is mean to him, which is just daily life in a tinpot wannabe-dictatorship.) “Trump and the Republican Party use rural communities and give speeches about how connected they are to our rural way of life in order to get elected, and then turn around and abandon everything we care about, from our schools, to the post office, to our family farmers, and to our rural hospitals,” Kleeb told me.

The situation has grown so alarming that even some Republican legislators are objecting: last week, Representative Greg Gianforte and Senator Steve Daines, both of Montana, each sent letters to DeJoy, asking him to get the Postal Service back to work. “Do not continue down this road,” Gianforte wrote. But, for the most part, it’s the usual partisan battle. Last week, eighty-four members of the House signed a letter demanding that the Postal Service do its job; eighty of them were Democrats. “All of the bills Democrats are writing, and the policy papers Joe Biden has focussed on rural communities, are strong,” Kleeb said. But “now we need to see them in our towns. … Showing up is critical to us in order to know you see our faces and you understand the struggles we are facing.” In fact, a visit—even a virtual one—might inspire politicians to see how much could easily be done. Senator Bernie Sanders—the rare progressive who represents a mostly rural constituency—has long advocated offering banking services at post offices, something that’s routine in most of the world, and which would put a crimp in the payday-lending operations that ring the small towns of this country. (Senator Elizabeth Warren supports the idea, too.) It wouldn’t even be without precedent here: in 1910, President William H. Taft inaugurated a postal savings system for immigrants and poor Americans that lasted until 1967. Today, though, the banking lobby firmly opposes the measure.

As the economic damage of the pandemic wears on, city dwellers are coming to terms with loss: favorite restaurants or stores are closing. People in rural America know how this feels—they lived through decade after decade of school consolidation, of dioceses deciding that they can’t support a church in town anymore. The post office was among the first public buildings in most American communities, and now it’s often among the last. A decade ago, the Postal Service tried to close our local branch office. That would have forced everyone to make a twelve-mile round trip to a town at the bottom of the mountain to pick up the mail, so together we fought the service, and it finally relented. Robert Frost once lived in our town, and he maintained that good fences made good neighbors. But he was wrong: it’s the post office that does the trick.

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Comments 20

  1. Charles says:

    Bill McKibben , is so worried about Trump. If any attack was ever done to the USPS it was under Obama. The Post Master General IS NOT appointed by any U.S. President. Mr. McKibben implies it, but never directly says they are. This is a typical liberal view, full of half truths and out and out lies. Mr. McKibben needs to stick too his made up climate crisis and leave this too qualified people.

    The postmaster general is now appointed by nine “governors”, appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. The governors, along with the postmaster general and the deputy postmaster general, constitute the full Postal Service Board of Governors. > who > officers

    “In 2012, when the Postal Service planned on closing 3,830 branches”,

    an analysis by Reuters, From this article (2020).

    Who was President in 2012?

    • KAG says:

      Charley what you are saying is Trump has nothing to do with who is over the USPS even though he appoints the members that oversee the USPS just look at the board members and who they appointed former chairman over the RNC the guy who is running the USPS one of Trump’s biggest donor first time ever a guy who has no experience with the USPS
      just keep drinking your kool aid

      DUMP TRUMP 2020

      • Charles says:

        You are bone stupid KAG! The current PMG, started in June 2020, until then it was one of the three that were in place when Obama was President, and NO the President DOES NOT as an act of his own, appoint the PMG! How did you get so damn stupid?

        TRUMP 2020.

        • KAG says:

          Trump appoints the people who appoints the PMG was you born stupid or just grew in to it?
          the PMG is a BIG Trump donor FACT
          first time they have gave the PMG job to someone without any experience with the mail system FACT
          now look at the board of governors who gave the job to a Trump donor in FACT the chairman was once over the RNC FACT
          can’t fix stupid

          DUMP TRUMP 2020

          • Charles says:

            With the advice and consent of the Senate. So Obama appointed 72 Governors KAG; and also closed 3,830 post offices. Trump hasn’t closed any. The Chairman is the PMG, and appointed by the board of Governors who are appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate. So no Trump does not. You are
            not only STUPID, you’re a LIAR.

            I’m done with you now KAG.

      • Charles says:

        Education for KAG.

        “Appointments are made when vacancies occur or for the remainder of unexpired terms. Each governor’s term expires on December 8 of a given year. Governors may continue to serve following expiration of their term or until a successor is appointed but not for more than one year. No person may serve more than two terms as a governor.
        The Board directs the exercise of the powers of the Postal Service, directs and controls its expenditures, reviews its practices, conducts long-range planning, approves officer compensation and sets policies on all postal matters. The Board takes up matters such as service standards and capital investments”.

        Copyright© 2020 United States Postal Service.

  2. Charles says:

    And as an afterthought, why in the hell do all liberals think America is a democracy?

  3. Jimmy says:

    Keep the workers and can the management. Mail carriers do a great job but others not. Why can’t they operate on a budget?

    • Snowflake says:

      They do run on a budget, but you people are too dumb to realize. Republicans changed how USPS funds their pension. Their pension is fully funded 75 years ahead, there is a pension fully paid for future workers that aren’t even born yet. I’m tired of all the uneducated people living here. The people that support trump are the people that he hates the most. He doesn’t like poor ugly people, only the rich and pretty people.

      • Charles says:

        So too the weak liberal mind a fully funded pension system is a bad thing? Postal workers can’t draw SS, so where is the problem? As for education…I would wager mine far exceeds yours! If that’s you’re picture, you are not much to look at yourself.

        • KAG says:

          Need to ask for a refund for your so called education
          oh i forgot it’s from Trump University they don’t give refunds to suckers

          DUMP TRUMP 2020

      • Charles says:

        Also ‘Snowflake’ the USPS pension was funded 75 years ahead 20 years ago. That would make it 55 years today, (those funny plus and minus things). It will cover the pension of a 30 year old today…I wonder about a 20 year old? BTW is snowflake what your boyfriend Leroy calls you?

  4. Just saying says:

    Who has time to keep up with these comments… Geeez!

  5. Charles says:

    Good God Lazer you let KAG post all the time? And thank you for posting my foolishness.

    • KAG says:

      you still need to try to get your refund on you education even it was from Trump University

      DUMP TRUMP 2020

  6. Weezie says:

    On a side note….even the China virus can’t keep a Trump economy done long….

    Trump 2020 for sure!