Those psychic forces have been in play again as Trump and his GOP accomplices quietly but intently pursue policies that remove America’s common wealth from the public domain. A few of their robberies have briefly popped onto the media radar (e.g. Scott Pruitt’s bloody axing of the EPA). But the scope of their daily, furtive efforts to constrict, deconstruct, eliminate, or privatize all things public has gone largely unreported–and thus, widely unchallenged. It’s time to pay attention. In just a year and a half, Trump minions have already laid siege on such public assets as:They’ve slapped an across-the-board increase in entrance fees, and only a massive public outcry nixed their attempt to nearly triple entrance fees to our 17 most popular parks. At the same time, Trumpeteers have whacked National Park Service budgets–reducing hours, staff, amenities, and maintenance; and they’ve pushed opening these spaces to everything from fracking and uranium mining to luxury homes and private resorts.
The Trumpsters aim to sell our common national resources to corporate profiteers for their short-term gain. Trump’s interior secretary drastically shrank several national monuments (our historical, architectural, artistic, and archaeo- logical preserves) and rolled back fracking bans on federal and tribal lands. Trump’s Fish and Wildlife Service unilaterally opened the door for wide-spread biotech pesticide use and GMO crops on America’s federal wildlife refuges. Trump’s extravagant Christmas gift to Big Oil was a bill allowing drilling rigs and pipelines in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. His Happy New Year proposal would greenlight new offshore drilling in nearly all coastal waters (including the Eastern Seaboard, Gulf of Mexico, California, and the Arctic Ocean), endangering not only the environment, but also local fishing and tourism livelihoods.
And so-awful-much more Trump-the-candidate grandly promised a sorely needed trillion-dollar federal investment in our dilapidated public infrastructure, including transit systems. But–poof!–Trump-the-president called instead for privatizing America’s infrastructure and cutting funds for rail and bus systems. And even as need has grown, Trump budgets have slashed funds for maintenance and construction of public housing. Meanwhile, his incompetent housing secretary, Ben Carson, has proposed tripling rents paid by the lowest-income residents. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, set up to be a fierce watchdog policing the greed of Wall Street banksters and predatory lenders, was turned into an industry lapdog by Trump’s budget director, who defanged the bureau by cutting its funding and freezing its enforcement actions. In July, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin quietly did a huge favor for the Koch brothers and corporate front groups by allowed them to hide the names of the “dark money donors” who corrupt our elections by surreptitiously funneling fortunes into political campaigns. And so it goes, on and on every day, with Trumpsters purposefully removing public policies and structures that people want and use, while rewiring rule after rule to subjugate the public interest to the monetary interests of corporate exploiters, polluters, defrauders, and plutocrats.
Putting the Trump stamp on the public
D.T. (as aides refer to the occupant of the Oval Office) is really good at one special skill: branding. Over the years he has slapped his name on a ridiculous range of consumer merch: teddy bears, steaks, made-in-China ties, vodka, underwear, cologne (essence of Donald, pitched as a “masculine combination of rich vetiver, tonka bean, birchwood, and musk”), mattresses, and even a hocus-pocus urine test “to achieve optimal health.” Though his logo is no longer so hot –all but two of his 19 merchandizers have dropped his increasingly toxic brand–dozens of domestic and international towers, condos, palaces, and golf meccas proclaim his ostentatious wealth. Then, of course, there’s his very own post office.
His what? Yes, in 2016 he bought a 60-year lease from the General Services Administration for the iconic “Old Post Office Pavilion” in Washington, DC, which once housed our country’s Postal Service and other national agencies. Five blocks from the White House, the 263-room Trump International boasts gold-trimmed bathrooms and “carefully curated … ultra-luxurious” accommodations. During inauguration weekend, a night at the hotel’s 6,300 square foot, bi-level Trump Townhouse suite, formerly the postmaster generals’ office, would set you back $33,000 (twice the annual average income for America’s bottom half). Branding the once-public facility with the family name was “really important,” Ivanka declared at the launch of the re-do. “You can’t allow people to walk by thinking it’s a post office.”
Eeeew, heavens no. Daddy agrees–and he wants to extend his family’s keen sensibility to your local PO. It’s time, the Trumpsters say, to turn our historic public postal service over to the magic of the free market, the profit motive, and the efficiency of corporate management. You know, like what’s been done with the airlines and cable companies.
Thus, on April 12, Donald signed an order creating a federal task force to propose structural reforms in the US Postal Service. After only 10 weeks–shazam!–the task force (comprised entirely of top Trump officials) concluded: “Prepare [USPS] for future conversion from a Government agency into a privately held corporation.” Seriously? Even the president’s executive order setting up the task force conceded that our Postal Service “is regularly cited as the federal agency with the highest public approval rating.” At 88 percent, according to a February Pew Research poll, the Postal Service’s popularity dwarfs approval for Trump and the congress critters trying to kill it. The 640,000 postal workers and letter carriers merit such kudos because they literally deliver for us in every zip code. Working from 31,585 local POs, they trundle 150 billion pieces of mail a year, 4 million miles a day to 157 million addresses across the land, from inner-city neighborhoods to back roads–and deliver them within a few days. They carry their loads door to door, ride snowmobiles, fly bush planes, run mailboats, and even ride to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on mules to reach us. USPS does all of this without taking a dime in taxpayer funds, financing its operations entirely from its sales and services to customers.
This is an unmatched bargain, a civic treasure, a genuine public good that links all of America’s far-flung people and communities into one. And that’s why the right wing is dead set on offing it. For decades, extreme anti-government propagandists (from the John Birchers to the Koch brothers) have relentlessly pushed the narrative that government is inherently incompetent, wasteful, and “the problem”– a social evil to be hated and, piece-by-piece, eliminated. Indeed, they’ve specifically targeted the post office, mocking it as a bloated, antiquated, bankrupt bureaucracy made obsolete by email and such slick, highly advertised private outfits as FedEx and UPS.
The problem for these ideologues and corporate predators is that the USPS not only works, but it’s a tangible presence in people’s lives, so millions of folks see it working for them. To maintain the negative narrative about public entities, the corporatists are desperate to kill our public post offices.
Pulling a con on The People
Unable to find a flaw in the Postal Service, opponents manufactured a fake one. In 2006, Pres. George W. Bush, congressional Republican leaders, the powerful “privatizer lobby” (including FedEx, UPS, and Wall Street speculators, Koch-funded think tanks, and astroturf front groups) colluded with their congressional cronies to put a one-of-a-kind paper “debt” on USPS’s books. Congress enacted an “enhancement” provision requiring the USPS to pre-fund the health and pension benefits for all post office retirees 75 years in advance. Think about that. This arbitrary, unprecedented requirement to pay now for the retirement benefits of future employees (including those not even born) has piled a $6.9 billion a year false cost on the agency’s balance sheet.
By cooking the books with this false entry, the right wing has been able to wail that our post office is broke and bleeding money, threatening taxpayers with a massive bailout. As you’d expect, Fox News and the gaggle of alt-right media screechers keep hurling this falsehood far and wide. And this year, their most gullible fan has joined the fling-fest, bloviating in serial tweets about “our money-losing post office” and, in his executive order, rubber-stamping the chicken-little myth that “USPS is on an unsustainable financial path” and “must be restructured.”
Chances are that you, too, have been caught up in their lie, because supposedly responsible news sources (the Washington Post, AP, network TV, NPR, and others) have swallowed it whole and routinely regurgitated it. At the end of each fiscal year, when USPS is compelled by law to announce yet another multibillion-dollar “loss,” media report the dramatic number without explaining the bookkeeping shenanigans hidden in it.
This artificial 75-year pre-funding decree is a burden that no other private corporation or government agency is forced to carry. Take it away, and–voila!–the post office is a moneymaker. Since 2014, it has posted operating profits totaling $2.7 billion–a healthy average of $900 million a year. Even worse than the right’s bogus claims of USPS insolvency is the actual, exorbitant cost We the People would pay for the proposed privatization–which Trump’s task force shamelessly touted as a fantastic profiteering opportunity for a corporate cost-cutter:
A private postal operator that delivers mail fewer days per week and to more central locations (not door delivery) would operate at substantially lower costs [and could] adjust product pricing. Freeing USPS to more fully negotiate pay and benefits … and allowing it to follow private sector practices in compensation and labor relations could further reduce costs. … [and make it] more insulated from politics.
Let’s review what the task force is telling us:
- Instead of six-day delivery, you’d get your mail a few days a week, travel miles to collect it, and pay an ever-rising fee for the privilege.
- Delivery to “more central locations” also means abandoning the PO’s historic principle of universal service, substituting FedEx’s principle of “profitable service,” which excludes wide swaths of rural and inner-city America.
- The “ability to adjust product pricing” means the cost of stamps and other postal services would (like today’s prescription medicines) rise on corporate whim. Freeing a private operator to “more fully negotiate” employees’ pay, benefits, working conditions, and rights would mean a Walmart/McDonald’s race-to-the bottom standard, rather than a civil-service scale of solid, middle-class livelihoods.
- A corporate mail service “insulated” from politics means shutting out customers, workers, communities, and, well, you and me–The Public.
Nothing symbolizes our fight for the democratic ideal of the Common Good more than our public post office. This essential, egalitarian, nationwide service literally is us–the Postal Service was a unifying center of American life before the USA itself was formed, and it is the only agency enshrined in the US Constitution. More profoundly, its 31,585 branches–belonging to us, not a handful of rich corporate investors–tangibly link your mailbox and mine to all others. OUR postal service is daily proof that we really are “all in this together.”