OPINION: USPS caught in crossfire between Bezos and Trump

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Earlier this month, Postmaster General Megan Brennan informed the House Oversight and Reform Committee that the U.S. Postal Service will run out of money before the end of this fiscal year. Without any aid from the federal government, roughly $75 billion, the USPS will be forced to freeze its operations sometime in the fall. However, President Trump and his conservative administration have demonstrated little to no interest in saving the Postal Service. This raises many questions regarding Trump’s strategy, as per usual.  In the states, the year 2020 includes both a census and an election, and either could be irreversibly changed without the presence of public postal service.

When asked about whether new funding would flow to the USPS, President Trump responded with effortless charm, “I’ll tell you who’s the demise of the Postal Service are[.] these internet companies that give their stuff to the Postal Service… They lose money every time they deliver a package for Amazon or these other internet companies, these other companies that deliver.” Trump has a longtime disdain for Amazon’s involvement in contracts with the USPS. While some argue that Amazon hurts USPS’ market, others say that corporations like Amazon are helping keep the USPS in business. The Washington Post reported on an anonymous White House aide who recently elucidated Trump’s stance towards a bailout for the USPS, “We told them very clearly that the president was not going to sign the [stimulus] bill if [money for the Postal Service] was in it… I don’t know if we used the V-bomb, but the president was not going to sign it, and we told them that.”

Where did Trump’s objection to the Postal Service originate? The Washington Post also reported on May 18, 2018, that President Trump made personal efforts to convince Megan Brennan to double the rates charged by the USPS in their contracts with Amazon. The nuances of Amazon’s contract with the Postal Service is unavailable to the public for discretionary purposes. Before that, on June 28, 2017, Trump tweeted, “The #AmazonWashingtonPost, sometimes referred to as the guardian of Amazon[,] not paying internet taxes (which they should) is FAKE NEWS!” Brennan resisted Trump’s notion to double rates and held off the presidential agenda meetings wherein the current predicament of the Postal Service was outlined and underscored. Even then, Trump’s constituency would rather see the USPS cannibalized by the private sector, despite the proven utility afforded to households.

The blood feud between Trump and Bezos appears to have begun with a tweet from Dec. 7, 2015, in which Jeff Bezos wrote, “Finally trashed by @realDonaldTrump. Will still reserve a seat for him on the Blue Origin Rocket. #sendDonaldtospace,” referencing his private space flight program. The remark was unlikely forgotten by Donald and his sensitive ego. In light of this, it becomes clear that Trump’s unwieldy attitude towards the USPS is seated in his vendetta against Bezos. Postmaster General Megan Brennan was unwilling to cooperate with the political impulses of President Trump. I conclude that Trump saw this as a perceived slight, and not as a reality of the regulatory processes involved in drafting contracts with the Postal Service. Who knew that a tyrant could occupy the highest public office in times of crisis?

Mark Dimondstein works as the president of the American Postal Workers Union, the APWU, a labor union founded in 1971, which currently represents over 200,000 of the 600,000+ postal workers in the United States. Dimondstein has been outspoken about coronavirus’ impact, “What’s happening is mail revenue is going to drop by about 50%… Without relief from Congress, the post office sometime between July or September … will run out of money.”This troubling news was already expected of the USPS around 2024, but the COVID-19 outbreak has accelerated the timeline drastically.

In a phone interview with Intelligencer, Dimondstein elaborated on why the USPS finds itself in dire straits. “First, the post office is a non-taxpayer-funded public institution, and they derive their revenue strictly from postage and postal services… There’s no other revenue coming from any other way”. As mail delivery services and stamps sales are shrinking in the wake of quarantine, it seems the only possible path forward involves a generous bailout.

These concerns are not unfounded, nor are they new. On Jan. 5, 2018, Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer penned an op-ed for The Hill, defending the current state of the USPS, “Some of our competitors in the package delivery space would dearly love for the Postal Service to aggressively raise our rates higher than the marketplace can bear — so they could either charge more themselves or siphon away postal customers…” he wrote, “The Postal Service is a self-funding public institution that generates its revenue from the sale of postal products and service, we compete for every customer across all of our product categories, and we exist for the benefit of American businesses and consumers.” The Postal Service is a vital government entity which, surprise-surprise, garners a 91% favorability rating among republicans and democrats alike (polling done by Pew Research Center in March of 2020). So, why is Trump reluctant to support a well-liked program that employs hundreds of thousands of Americans? The same “essential” American workers who are laboring tirelessly to upkeep the functionality of our economy? If Trump continues to undermine our public institutions, there is no guarantee that democracy will prevail in this country.