Destroying the Postal Service: Is that Trump's best shot at stealing the election?

Undermining mail delivery won't be Trump's only tactic. But it might be his clearest path to shifting the outcome

Published August 4, 2020 8:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump | USPS (Getty Images/Salon)
Donald Trump | USPS (Getty Images/Salon)

In a time of instability and uncertainty, there's one thing we can count on: Donald Trump will do everything he possibly can to retain power through the forthcoming election and beyond. His motives are well-known: If he loses the election, he'll not only go down in history as a one-term loser, which is anathema to his ridiculously hyperbolic puffery, but it's likely he'll face indictment on myriad criminal charges, while fighting off an avalanche of lawsuits aimed at his criminal negligence.

How do we know he's capable of anything? For starters, he already tried to cheat in this election. He was impeached and put on trial in the Senate for doing it. Before that, he tried to cheat in the 2016 election, too, with the help of Russia and his then-lawyer Michael Cohen, who funneled campaign cash to buy the silence of women Trump awkwardly screwed while married. If he's willing to risk impeachment and other ramifications in order to suppress the vote, there's definitely no off-position on his self-destruction switch. 

And self-destruction might be the upshot of his latest plot. We'll get to that part in a second.

Trump and his postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, are busily dismantling the U.S. Postal Service at a time when more Americans rely upon the USPS for deliveries of supplies while isolating in place: everything from prescription drugs to household necessities to paychecks to absentee ballots. 

It's the absentee ballots in particular that are motivating Trump and DeJoy to do what they're doing, and — as a bonus — they might finally get to privatize the USPS in the process.

By way of background, the Postal Service is faced with unfunded healthcare and pension liabilities for former postal workers due to the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, passed by the lame-duck Republican Congress of 2006, which caused a $120 billion cash crunch. Meanwhile, however, second-quarter 2020 revenues for the USPS grew by more than $300 million from the second quarter of the previous year, totaling $17.8 billion. Likewise, 2019 revenues for the entire year were up more than $500 million over 2018. It turns out that e-commerce from corporations like Amazon (and Walmart and Target and so on) has significantly helped the USPS, with operating revenues growing every year since 2012. That's not to downplay the pension deficit, merely to say that mail delivery has been robust.

So why did DeJoy decide to eliminate overtime for USPS workers last month?

As you might have noticed, the lack of overtime has slowed mail delivery to a virtual crawl, which has the deliberate effect of consumer confidence in the USPS, convincing Americans that the postal mail is shoddy and unreliable at a time when Trump desperately wants people to stop using it — and to stop using it for one specific purpose: voting.

The head of the American Postal Workers Union, Mark Dimondstein, recently observed: "These changes are happening because there's a White House agenda to privatize and sell off the public Postal Service."

To achieve full privatization and vote suppression, USPS management under Trump is rigging the game by holding back deliveries and deliberately pissing people off. People who are angry at the Postal Service are less likely to use it, opting for FedEx, UPS or another competitor, which will affect USPS revenue while disincentivizing absentee voting by convincing people their ballots are likely to arrive late, or not at all. 

Dismantling the USPS is part of a larger effort to rig the vote using the courts. Trump tweeted on Monday: "In an illegal late night coup, Nevada's clubhouse Governor made it impossible for Republicans to win the state. Post Office could never handle the Traffic of Mail-In Votes without preparation. Using Covid to steal the state. See you in Court!"

While we're here, what happened in Nevada — a vote by the state legislature to send mail-in ballots to all voters, not an edict by the governor — was neither illegal nor a coup. Trump lies and exaggerates everything. Duh. Furthermore, in 2018, the Postal Service deployed a system known as Service Type Identifiers (STIDs) — a barcode tracking system for absentee ballots that allows for point-to-point monitoring of each and every ballot sent through the mail.

Regarding the threat about "court" in Trump's tweet, the president's re-election campaign has already spent more than $20 million on lawsuits against absentee balloting. (All "mail-in" ballots are actually absentee ballots, but Trump doesn't want you to know that.) According to Rolling Stone's Andy Kroll, the Trumps have filed lawsuits in "more than a dozen states, including the battlegrounds of Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida." Nevada's in there too, of course. The legal fund itself is being supplied by the usual array of pro-Trump Batman villains: Coal tycoon Bob Murray, Charles Schwab, Woody Johnson (of Johnson & Johnson), Marvel Entertainment chair Ike Perlmutter and so on. 

The high-priced mission is as old as Madison Avenue marketing: manufacture a problem, then prescribe a solution. The nonexistent problem is "voter fraud," and the solution is to exploit the legal system to block absentee ballots and other services like ballot drop-boxes. 

Naturally, the war against absentee voting joins other pointless yet suppressive solutions like Voter ID laws, voter purges and other suppression tactics, predominantly aimed at traditionally Democratic voters, especially people of color. Contrary to what the world's most notorious liar repeats on endless loop, statistically, there's virtually no such thing as voter fraud — not with absentee ballots, not with in-person voting, not at all. It doesn't exist, other than as rare, anecdotal episodes amounting to a tiny handful of the hundreds of millions of ballots cast in recent years. And in those anecdotal cases, the perpetrators are almost always nabbed and prosecuted.

Speaking of money, we only need to see that DeJoy, the recently-appointed postmaster general, gave Trump $1.2 million in campaign donations to understand where his loyalties are. By the way, prior to running the USPS, DeJoy was tasked with raising money for the ill-fated Republican National Convention this month (the one that was first in Charlotte and then moved to Jacksonville and now is happening nowhere in particular). He has also donated millions to the broader GOP.

In other words, DeJoy has invested a mountain of cash in Trump's re-election and he's not about to let something like efficient mail delivery stand in his way. If they can privatize the entire shmear along the way, well, that's a cherry on top. 

Vaporizing the USPS and selling the parts for scrap, while suppressing absentee ballots, is only the beginning. As we discussed several weeks ago, it's inevitable that Trump will try to exploit the courts to block the count of absentee ballots after Election Day, targeting "too close to call" precincts that could shift the electoral votes for an entire state. The result could either be another Bush v. Gore-style Supreme Court decision or a lengthy delay in reporting the results, during which time Trump could try to declare victory, hurling the entire process into a cauldron of chaos. The current slate of lawsuits is just the beginning. The true mayhem has yet to begin.

Now for the self-destructive aspect of Trump's absentee gambit.

When you consider that 33 states, plus the District of Columbia, already offer absentee voting without an excuse, Trump is shotgun-blasting the service in a way that could also inadvertently thwart his own fanboys from casting ballots as well. The Washington Post reported this week:

[S]tate and local Republicans across the country fear they are falling dramatically behind in a practice that is expected to be key to voter turnout this year. Through mailers and Facebook ads, they are racing to promote absentee balloting among their own.

Womp womp. 

By the way, one of the Republican campaigns that appears to be defying Trump's war on absentee ballots is — yes! — Trump's own campaign. In fact, his operation sent out at least one email to Pennsylvania supporters urging them to get their evil absentee ballots in time for the primary election. The email even promoted a Trump-branded web page meant to assist voters with the process. No wonder the Red Hats are going indiscriminately bonkers these days, given the whiplash-inducing mixed messages. Nevertheless, it might be too late for Republican voters, at least the ones who believe every word belched by their mendacious clown dictator.

As for the rest of us, the only way to overcome DeJoy and Trump's malfeasance is to get your absentee ballots and mail them right away as soon as early voting begins, state by state. The sooner ballots are in the hands of your county board of elections, the more likely they'll be counted before Donald Trump's lawyers step in. We're not powerless here. Trump can't stop you from voting unless you wait until the last minute. Don't. The mail may be crippled by Trump's cheating and conniving, but we don't have to be caught in his trap. Not this time.

By Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.


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Commentary Donald Trump Editor's Picks Elections Louis Dejoy Mail-in Voting U.s. Postal Service Usps