Steve Hochstadt has been writing weekly op-eds since 2009. His collection, Freedom of the Press in Small-Town America: My Opinions, will be published this fall. He taught history at Bates College and Illinois College for 37 years.
Suddenly the Post Office makes news. Ordinarily it quietly keeps America humming, delivering nearly 500 million pieces of mail a day, in the densest parts of great cities and to the tiniest towns scattered across the country. I’m living in one of those tiny towns, Springbrook, Wisconsin, population about 75. The post arrives every day but Sunday: letters, newspapers, packages, postcards, and all the other kinds of mail that connect us across great distances. The mail deliverer is the most visible, but most ignored representative of the government in our daily lives.
I am happy to say that I worked for the US Postal Service for a college summer in 1967, delivering mail in my own small suburban town. I had a wonderful time, working at a leisurely pace, seeing neighbors I knew and got to know, enjoying the Long Island summer sun, and walking miles each day alone with my bag. I recognized that the pace required was too leisurely – even without the constant running characteristic of today’s UPS drivers, we could have covered a longer route.
The hullabaloo about the mail these days is not really about the Post Office, but about the integrity of our elections. The Post Office plays only a supporting role in a variety of Trump actions, but the place of the Post Office in Trump’s mind reveals the fundamental dishonesty of his entire presidency.
Trump’s effort, now through his newly appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, to disable the Post Office’s ability to handle mail-in balloting began immediately after his election. Trump always hated government agencies that interfered with his business tactics, but said little about the Post Office. Within 3 weeks of his election in November 2016, Trump claimed a bigger victory than he had actually achieved: “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Later that day, Siobhan Noble replied with a still relevant comment: “Calm down, Sir. Take a deep breath, get off twitter, and focus on real issues. America expects you to work not tweet.”
But Trump’s inability to calm down about an election loss had already been revealed when he tweeted after losing the Iowa caucuses to Ted Cruz in February 2016, “Ted Cruz didn't win Iowa, he stole it.” Trump then demanded a new election. The actual dishonesty by Cruz’s Iowa campaign is worth remembering, however, as evidence for the wider dishonesty of Republican election strategy.
According to reporting in the “Washington Post”, after November “Allies coddled Trump by telling him the reason he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016 was widespread mail-in balloting fraud.” Right after his inauguration, the intersection of his overpowering ego, his grasping at any story that proves he’s always a winner, and his willingness to misuse the presidency for his own personal ends, led him to announce a new government body, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, headed by the most vociferous critic of American elections and political hater of immigrants, Kris Kobach, in order to find those millions of fraudulent ballots. The Commission was created by an executive order on May 11, 2017.
Just after Trump announced he would create the Commission, Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, wrote an email intended for Jeff Sessions, then Attorney General, expressing alarm that the Commission might include “mainstream Republican officials and/or academics”, or worse, Democrats, or anyone other than the “real experts on the conservative side of this issue”. Spakovsky had made a career of claiming extensive voter fraud in American elections. The New Yorker called him the source of “the voter-fraud myth.” The sources he cited as evidence turned out to show no such thing. He was appointed to the Commission, which was nominally headed by Vice President Pence, but actually run by Kobach, and included an 8 to 5 Republican majority.
Kobach’s support for Trump’s birther fable about Obama and his also debunked tales about voter fraud in 2016 have been extensively documented, as well as the Commission’s efforts to obtain personal information about all American voters. Spakovsky’s worries about “mainstream Republican officials” were vindicated when one of the Commission members, Republican Secretary of State of Indiana, Connie Lawson, said that there had been no fraud in Indiana elections and she would not comply with the Commission’s request for personal data of voters. So much for Spakovsky’s and Trump’s “real experts on the conservative side”.
Kobach refused to share Commission documents with its Democratic members, and their lawsuit to get access was supported by a federal judge in December 2016. Trump then disbanded the Commission two weeks later. No electoral fraud was documented.
That attempt to rewrite election history with a rigged government commission failed. Trump returned to the Post Office in March 2018, when he asserted that Amazon was ripping off the Post Office by getting a “sweetheart deal” on rates delivering its packages. The real problem for Trump was not Post Office policy, but the truthful reporting by the Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon. Here the Post Office became collateral damage in Trump’s war on those media which keep revealing his lying and corruption.
DeJoy was appointed Postmaster General in June based on his million-dollar donations to Trump’s campaigns. His efforts to save money by reducing service came under immediate fire, and he promised to do nothing to impede the delivery of mail-in ballots when he testified before the House. Little notice has been given to the report by the Post Office Board of Governors, appointed by Trump, that the Post Office makes money on its contracts with Amazon and other companies.
In the aftermath of widespread backlash over Trump’s attempts through DeJoy to hobble the Post Office, he has returned this month to his attacks on Amazon as the cause of Post Office deficits. DeJoy has been careful not to say that Trump’s statements have no basis.
So Trump’s campaign strategy of saying in advance that the November election will be rigged by mail-in voting and then trying to rig the election by reducing the ability of the Post Office to deliver mail-in ballots fits squarely into the wider pattern of his corruption of the presidency. Attacks on the free press. Use of executive powers to benefit himself. Repeating false narratives forever, even when his own lackeys can’t find any evidence. Finding corrupt accomplices who will run his scams. Ignoring the real interests of most Americans. Destroying democracy if it gets in his way.
Nothing he does is free from the fundamental dishonesty which is now being paraded every night before the American public as the true face of the Republican Party.
August 25, 2020