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News / Opinion / Columns

Jayne: GOP feels need to break things

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published: March 16, 2024, 6:02am

If you break it, the old saying goes, you own it.

But what about when people allegedly acting on our behalf break something that we already own? What about when the threat is coming from inside our own house?

Such is the case with the U.S. Postal Service. Such is the case with a quasi-governmental agency that has more than 600,000 employees and is codified in the U.S. Constitution. As Article I, Section 8 reads: “The Congress shall have Power … To establish Post Offices and post Roads.”

For nearly 250 years, that has worked pretty well. The U.S. Postal Service ensures that people from Vancouver to Miami can reliably exchange correspondence or widgets. They can exchange other goods, as well. Like baseball cards.

I buy and sell baseball cards online. (Yes, I am old; yes, I am a nerd.) This commerce has provided keen awareness of growing problems within the U.S. Postal Service.

On Thursday, I received a message from a buyer that a package had just arrived. That was March 14; it was sent Jan. 6, a small white envelope with 60-some cents of postage. In another recent case, an item was sent through the USPS on Feb. 4; tracking indicated it was “delivered” Feb. 14; it showed up on Feb. 29. There have been other issues, as well.

To be sure, the fate of a few pieces of cardboard is not of great national importance. But the guess is that millions of other Americans have recognized a downturn in a service that remains essential to our economics and communication; you can’t ship items through email.

A quick internet search reveals recent headlines such as: “Postal Service promises repairs after Vail’s former mayor says, ‘Our post office is a mess.’” And “The Postal Service in Richmond is broken.” And “Berkeley community hasn’t gotten mail delivered in more than 150 days.”

This is problematic. Because in addition to its other roles, the Postal Service is essential to our democracy — and that is where the notion of breaking something to prove it doesn’t work comes in.

Eight states, including Washington, conduct elections entirely by mail. Some 15 others allow exclusively vote-by-mail for certain elections. And every state provides for “no excuses” absentee voting, allowing residents to vote by mail.

Conservatives have decided that this is a problem, insisting that vote-by-mail is rife with fraud. It is a specious argument, because polling places are much more open to chicanery, but it ties in with long-standing efforts to undermine the U.S. Postal Service.

That includes a 2006 law requiring the USPS to fund retiree health care benefits 75 years in advance. It also includes Donald Trump’s 2020 appointment of Louis DeJoy as postmaster general. DeJoy, a major Trump donor, also has investments in United Parcel Service, a Postal Service competitor. The conflict of interest is obvious; the fact he is still in power is perplexing.

Asked about the Postal Service, Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey — the top local elections official — told me, “For the most part, they do a really, really good job for us, but it’s not perfect. The 100 percent sure way to get your ballot to us is to use a secure ballot drop box.”

Kimsey also touched on the crux of the matter: Some people want to run the USPS like a profit-driven company; others think it should be a government agency focused on service. While the fallacy that the private sector is inherently efficient is part of conservative dogma, we offer a warning to the people of, say, Amboy: Good luck finding a private company that thinks it is profitable to provide service in rural areas.

All of this highlights Republicans’ penchant for breaking things. A desire to undermine the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress itself are litmus tests for the current party. Because if you break it, you can claim that government doesn’t work.

And this brings us back to your mail. Because DeJoy last year trumpeted a grand plan to “modernize” the Postal Service. But according to anecdotal evidence from my mailbox, it isn’t working.