The post office is the one federal government department we all have contact with on an almost daily basis. Many of us still thrill to checking the mail. There is no commercial establishment as ubiquitous as the post office, with more than 30,000 physical locations. In a fractious nation riven by racial and economic inequality, the mail is delivered to us regardless of our race, religion, sexual orientation or bank account. It’s always there for us. It delivers the mail to the destitute and to multibillionaires; people who live in big cities and those in tiny towns, those places where the post office doubles as the neighborhood water cooler. You know why dogs bark at the postal worker? Because she arrives, the dog barks, and she leaves. It happens every day but Sunday, like clockwork. The dog thinks it works!
But it’s more than that. The post office is — or perhaps I should say was — also, even now, a lifeline for millions. There are elderly Americans, a quarter of whom still don’t use the Internet and likely pay their bills not with the click of a mouse, but with a check and a stamp. The same is true for rural Americans, many of whom lack access to adequate broadband, a scandal in and of itself.
Veterans Affairs uses the post office to ship the majority of prescriptions. So do pharmacy benefit managers. “The U.S. Postal Service is vital to delivering needed medications to America’s patients,” a spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association told me. It’s vital to small businesses, too, which love that the USPS charges lower rates than its private-sector competitors. For businesses that employ fewer than 10 people — 75 percent of all private-sector employers — the Postal Service is the delivery service they use the most often.
It takes a cartoon-level villain to go after the institution responsible for all this. But that’s Trump and his Republican enablers. The latter, in fact, have been trying to dismantle the post office for years by loading it with financial burdens, then pronouncing it a failed institution that needs to be replaced by the private shipping and delivery business. (Given the Trump administration’s rampant corruption, it’s no surprise that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and his wife have multimillion-dollar investments in post office competitors.)
“The history of its post office is nothing less than the story of America,” historian Winifred Gallagher wrote in her 2016 book, “How the Post Office Created America.” From the earliest days of the American republic, she writes, the post office has represented our best selves. At one time, the high cost of mailing private letters subsidized newspaper delivery, because the Founding Fathers believed an informed populace was a good thing. During the Progressive Era, the Postal Service came to symbolize the importance of public services, not private enterprise, to making our country a more fair and equitable place.
But now our empty mailboxes tell the story of the decline of both our civic and our economic life. The post office is part of the basic contract between Americans and their government. When we retrieve our mail from our mailbox, we are not just receiving needed packages and letters. We are getting a demonstration of the power of government to act for the good of the people, no matter their financial or life circumstances. But now, thanks to Trump, we are receiving the opposite. No wonder so many are enraged.