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Michael Meeropol: Trump's Plan To Sabotage The Election By Starving The Postal Service

Who said this?

"They want three and a half billion dollars for something that'll turn out to be fraudulent, that's election money basically. They want three and a half billion dollars for the mail-in votes. Universal mail-in ballots. They want $25 billion, billion, [sic!] for the Post Office. Now they need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,   But if they don't get those two items that means you can't have universal mail-in voting because you they're [sic!] not equipped to have it," [grammatical errors included verbatim.]

I would assume most people reading this quote have heard these words on some media outlet or other.   For those who haven’t, this was Donald J. Trump, admitting what I accused him of two weeks ago, ----  that he, together with his sycophant Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, are starving the United States Postal Service of money and sabotaging efforts to vote by mail.  He is doing this because he thinks that will win him the election.  In fact, he actually has been quoted as saying if there is universal mail-in voting, no Republican will ever win --- an exaggeration for sure as Utah has universal mail-in voting and Republicans win there all the time![See Reid Epstein and Stephanie Saul, “Trump says mail voting means Republicans would lose every election. Is that true? No.” The New York Times April 10, 2020 available at https://www.chicagotribune.com/nation-world/ct-nw-nyt-mail-voting-ballots-20200410-qfnxhakicve3ndpxz64lcsqzr4-story.html] [There have been efforts to suggest that Trump is being quoted out of context about the connection between Post Office money and the election, but what I wrote above is a direct quote.   Trump stated it when being interviewed by FOX NEWS and these are the verbatim words from CNN.com (See Ellie Kaufman, Marshall Cohen, Jason Hoffman, “Trump says he opposes funding USPS because of mail-in voting” CNN, August 13, 2020, available at https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/13/politics/trump-usps-funding-comments-2020-election/index.html)  Even before he figured out he could interfere with mail-in voting by refusing to give the Postal Service more money, he had signaled that he would “never” sign any COVID-19 relief bill that included money for the Postal Service.  That is why the Democrats compromised on the first two relief bills and did not include Postal Service money --- a mistake as I argued in a former commentary.  His long run reason for wanting to starve the Postal Service of revenue is because he supports the goal of privatization.   Another possible defense of Trump is to argue that he is not allowing money to help the Postal Service conduct large scale vote-by-mail because of the high incidence of fraud that would be possible.  This is a total lie but of course there are plenty to true believers who accept every lie that comes out of his mouth.  I find this very sad.  As a lifelong educator, I sometimes despair at the willingness of people to ignore what is plainly in front of their faces.  I wonder if these folks believe Trump when he says that absentee voting is fine but mail-in voting is not --- total nonsense because large scale mail-in voting IS absentee voting --- there is no difference except for the name.]

To help Trump sabotage the Postal Service, the first step was to place a crony as Postmaster General – which he got when DeJoy was appointed.   Just as Trump succeeded in finally getting a Roy Cohn wannabe into the Justice Department in the person of William Barr, DeJoy was ready to collaborate.

Let’s remember DeJoy’s policies --- cutting back on overtime, letting the mail pile up rather than delivering it all on the day it arrives at a local distribution center or local post office; removing mail sorting machines, just when the volume of mail will be ramping up as we get closer to the election.   DeJoy also began removing local postal drop boxes from the streets of many cities, allegedly because they have so-called low density.  This of course, ignored the fact that as the election approaches, these curbside drop boxes will become high density as they fill with mailings in support of candidates, applications for absentee (mail-in) ballots, the ballots themselves being sent to voters and the voters returning them.

The day my last commentary was broadcast, DeJoy perpetrated a Friday Night Massacre of postal officials --- ousting top executives from key posts and reshuffling more than two dozen other officials and operational managers.

[For details, see Jon Queally,‘Friday Night Massacre’ at US Postal Service: Postmaster General boots top brass ahead of election,” Salon August 8, 2020 available at https://www.salon.com/2020/08/08/friday-night-massacre-at-us-postal-service-postmaster-general-boots-top-brass-ahead-of-election_partner/.]

The timing is of course suspect because any reorganization involves difficult periods of adjustment.   The ensuing chaos in the Postal Service as the institution “adjusts” to these changes would then become evidence of inefficiency in that organization, providing support for the long term goal of privatization while at the same time compounding the difficulties the Postal Service would have in delivering the mail.

Meanwhile, their short term goals were made apparent when it was reported a week later (August 15) that the Postal Service had sent letters warning 46 of the 50 states that it might not be able to deliver mail ballots on time.  [See Ellie Kaufman, “Postal service warns nearly every state it may not be able to deliver ballots in time based on current election rules,” CNN.com, August 15 2020, available at https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/14/politics/usps-warn-states-mail-in-ballot-delivery/index.html] Since I made my previous broadcast, the Postal Service stories have been all over the news --- and people have responded.  There were spontaneous demonstrations at DuJoy’s home and many Republican members of Congress began to wonder if their constituents might not be getting angry as well.   This is what I recommended two weeks ago --- we, the people, have to start yelling and screaming.

And DuJoy at least appeared to be somewhat chastised by the public outrage.  Caught removing the drop boxes he decided to hold off taking any more until after the election.   (Of course he did not agree to return the boxes already removed.)  On Tuesday, August 18, he announced he was suspending some of his other changes.  This proved to be an almost transparent lie since postal sorting machines had been permanently removed (some had been junked) and he made clear he was not going to re-install them.   Even the promise to permit overtime was hedged.

[For a story with a misleading headline, see Emily Cochrane, Hailey Fuchs, Kenneth Vogel, “Postal Service Suspends Changes After Outcry Over Delivery Slowdown” The New York Times  (Aug. 18, 2020) available at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/18/us/politics/postal-service-suspends-changes.html.  The headline is misleading because almost all the changes had already occurred and the approval of future overtime was only promised on an “as needed” basis.]

Meanwhile, the Democrats in Congress are being moved to action --- in large part because people all over the country demanded they not wait till September.   Speaker Pelosi called the House back into special session to hold a hearing and vote on a bill which would reverse all of DuJoy’s changes and funnel $21 billion to the Postal Service.  (The $25 billion Trump complained about in the above quote.)  When the commentary attached to this essay is broadcast, the House will be back in session.  Will Republicans keep up with their abject surrender to Trumpism or will they recognize that it’s also THEIR voters who are heavily impacted by the sabotage of the Postal Service by Trump and DeJoy?

The Postal Service has a 91% approval rating.   In this era of pandemic it has become even more important.   With senior citizens (like myself at age 77) at elevated risk from the Coronavirus, many depend even more than before on the Postal Service.  They get their social security checks, their medications, food deliveries, etc. by mail.   In rural areas the importance of the Postal Service is particularly acute.  Farmers rely on it for deliveries of seeds, fertilizer, parts for equipment, etc.   Some commentators were wondering (perhaps tongue in cheek) if Trump thinks all the Postal Service does is deliver mail-in ballots. 

Many of the rural people who rely on the Postal Service are Republicans in battleground states like North Carolina, Florida and Arizona.  Many Republicans in Congress --- especially Senators in tough re-election fights --- might be having doubts about continuing to drink Trump’s Kool-Aid.

As I said on August 7, when Trump and his minions attempt to just bull through with a disgusting policy and there seems to be nothing that can be done in Congress to stop them, it is up to us to yell and scream as much as possible.  At least the Democrats are listening.  If we are loud enough and persistent enough, maybe some Republicans will be forced to listen also.

Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author with Howard and Paul Sherman of the recently published second edition of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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