Stop calling Trump a populist. … When you describe Trump using that word, you are in effect complicit in his lie. … He’s scamming his supporters; you don’t have to help him do it. — NY Times columnist PAUL KRUGMAN admonishing his media colleagues, August 2018
Donald Trump hates you. But don’t take it personally, he hates me, too–and all of us who constitute The Public. The billionaire’s antipathy is not directed at us hoi polloi as individuals, but as users (he means abusers) of publicly provided services such as schools, parks, health care, buses, libraries, and environmental protections. From his privileged perspective, all of that is welfare–nothing but an expensive waste that puts burdensome taxes and annoying regulatory constraints on the entrepreneurial creative class (i.e., him and his cronies). Moreover, it galls him that the American people own and use such a wealth of shared assets, benefits, and programs–and want more of them. But being The Donald has always meant not caring (or even noticing) what common folks want or need. Again and again, his presidential policies (incarcerating terrified refugee toddlers, pushing a trillion-dollar tax giveaway for the superrich, etc.) reject the public interest and the people’s will. Instead they’re based on his biases, insecurities, narcissistic desires, and the assorted right-wing furies screeching in his head.
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:
Our national parks and historic sites
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.
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Consumer, labor, and other public protections
Trump gremlins in every agency are working full time to “free” corporations from rules governing how they treat the public. Education secretary Betsy DeVos, for example, has been a total toady to the corrupt for-profit college industry. She has greased the skids for scam schools to cheat and rob students by, for example, cancelling the “gainful employment rule,” which required these government-financed, profiteering degree mills to provide graduates enough education to qualify for decent-paying jobs. Or consider the topsy-turvy rule change by Trump’s Labor Department last December: It decreed that restaurants themselves were the “owners” of all tips, and therefore could pocket the money customers left specifically for the establishment’s poorly paid workers. Trump’s sanctioning of this crude corporate theft was so gross that it even gagged Congress, which later revised the law.
America’s social safety net
While Team Trump has been tirelessly saving corporations from the “burden” of treating people with a modicum of fairness, it imposed truly onerous burdens on people needing the most basic public help–including food, unemployment income, and health care. In April, this president (who for years grabbed untold millions in public subsidies for his luxury resorts, casinos, condos, and hotels) signed an executive order to “improve self-sufficiency” by pushing applicants for even basic allotments, such as $134 a month in food stamps, to first take a job–even a sub-poverty-pay, dead-end, dangerous job. By humiliating and stigmatizing the poor, such policies intend to kill support for even a bare-bones level of humane assistance.
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.
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.”
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Contrary to what you might think from the noise from the nutty fringe, Westerners overwhelmingly oppose the sell-off of public lands to private interests, but the threat is real. The Center for Western Priorities, a non-partisan conservation organization based in Denver, says, “Get the facts.” americanpubliclands.com
When government employees find themselves stuck between trying to please politically driven bosses and their obligation to enforce environmental law, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) offers them free legal consultation. PEER provides help with whistle-blower laws, document requests, and legal options for scientists and other specialists who might be facing obstruction or attack. peer.org
Steve Hutkins has no affiliation with the US Postal Service. He doesn’t work for it, nor does anyone in his family – he’s a professor at New York University. But he likes his local post office, and he doesn’t like seeing post offices being closed. Steve created savethepostoffice.com, providing information about closings and consolidations, historic buildings that are being sold off, and the things citizens can do to save their post offices.
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.”
Wanted: Postal innovation
TRUMP’S POSTAL PRIVATIZATION TASK FORCE twisted irony into absurdity by declaring that a privately run, for-profit USPS would be more enterprising than the current, government-run public entity. Rather than just selling postal items, they asserted, “the private operation would be incentivized to innovate” with new services. How ironic, since for years the privatizer lobby has blocked the USPS from doing exactly that. In particular, it has prevented the PO from offering “postal banking” to the 88 million lower-income Americans who are essentially unbanked and have to rely on rip-off check-cashing outfits and predatory lenders.
The Postal Service, with branches in nearly every zip code and a trusted relationship with local residents, already has the infra-structure, service experience, and customer credibility to provide affordable, basic banking services, from low-cost check cashing and small-dollar loans to savings accounts and money transfers. It’s a ready market, a public service, and a commonsense multi-billion-dollar revenue stream for USPS–a win-win, right? Wrong, according to the corporatizers who have stopped every effort in Congress to allow this innovation for the public good.
This July, a far-right North Carolina congress critter named Patrick McHenry tried to ram a bill into law that would’ve preemptively banned future USPS innovations in its products and services. Backed by the giant banks and the Koch network of corporate supremacists, McHenry specifically tried to legislate against any advances in postal banking–an absurd attempt to make an idea illegal.
Fortunately, not every GOP lawmaker is that goofy. With postal unions leading the counteroffensive, McHenry’s bill died on a bi-partisan vote, 212 to 201. But be vigilant–the privatizers are few, but they’re rich, unprincipled, and determined.
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.”