Short Take: The Magical Mailbox

It’s nothing new. We saw it when Trump denounced illegal aliens, and the Resistance discovered immigration. When they were reminded that this wasn’t a new thing, that President Obama was pretty big on deporting what were then known as illegal immigrants and none of them knew, no less gave a damn, the excuses gushed like blood from an artery. But that didn’t change the fact that this terrible thing had been happening all along and they never cared before.

The outrage of the moment is the United States Postal Service. I use it. I appreciate it. I remember when we got two deliveries a day, when stamps were cheap and when a first class letter was sent one day and arrived the next.

But over the course of the past decade, the USPS has suffered as people stopped writing letters, paying bills by snail mail, and suffered competition. Postal boxes were disappearing, Costs were being cut. Services increasingly sucked and the cost of a stamp (that’s a little square thing that goes on the corner of an envelope) skyrocketed.

And yet, the post office is suddenly on everybody’s mind now that Trump is destroying the postal service to prevent mail-in voting because he’s going to lose if more people vote. Is that a serious threat?

President Trump has threatened to withhold funds from the United States Postal Service. The new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, has embarked on cost-cutting measures to eliminate overtime and remove sorting machines. These actions have created worries that Americans, reluctant to walk into voting booths because of Covid-19, will be unable to vote by mail this year.

I served as a regulator of the Postal Service for nearly 18 years under three presidents and I urge everyone to be calm. Don’t fall prey to the alarmists on both sides of this debate. The Postal Service is not incapacitated. It is still fully capable of delivering the mail. The focus of our collective concerns should be on how the Postal Service can improve the speed of delivery for election mail.

Old guys like me love the mail. Not because it’s used to deliver “vital medication,” or relied upon by eBay sellers and online businesses. Sure, as a lawyer, I serve papers that way, but if the postal service disappeared, service would happen some other way, just as packages would be delivered by one of its competitors. I love the mail because it’s really quite magical. It’s amazing that merely by putting a stamp on an envelope, it finds its way to Harry Jones in Bumfuck, Nowhere. The number of things, the infrastructure, the hands, fingers and lives that touch that letter between here and there are amazing. And, except when my letter (or package) disappears and nobody can tell me why, it’s a wonderful thing.

But the woke kids losing their heads over Trump’s destruction of the postal service? Spare me. They didn’t care about it, use it or even know where to buy a stamp before this became more proof that Trump is as bad as he’s always been. And the day after the election, they will never care about whether there’s a mailbox on the corner again.

The replies are adorable, even if they mostly failed to grasp the point of the twit because outraged partisans aren’t usually careful readers. I care about the post office, though I’m not unaware of the fact that it’s an expensive and complex operation that hasn’t worked well for decades and will continue to struggle to be self-sustaining in light of competition, expenses and the fact that few young people actually use it.

When is the last time you sent anyone a handwritten letter? Thank you note?

I still write letters. I send handwritten thank you notes on heavy cardstock (I have both personal and business card stock, as appropriate), I keep a roll of stamps in my desk to put on the envelopes, which I then put in my mailbox, raise the red flag, and the mailman takes it away to do his voodoo. But the disingenuousness of this sudden passion for the postal service, no matter what the expense or how long the USPS has been trying to stay alive, doesn’t mask the fact that few* of the overnight mail experts cared a whit before or will ever touch a mailbox again when this is over.

And when was the last time you saw anyone lose their head over undocumented immigrants? Funny how so few of the unduly passionate care about them anymore, and it’s back to just those of us who cared before and will still care when the next president takes office.

*Yes, of course some of you will reply, “but that’s how I get my meds, “I sent a thank you note last week.” or “my business relies on the postal service.” This isn’t about you, or about my hating the postal service.

20 thoughts on “Short Take: The Magical Mailbox

  1. Sandia

    My biggest pet peeve with this conversation is the seriousness of it. The letters mailed various state election officials beginning in May of this year notifying them that some of their ballot request deadlines are unrealistic have barely been covered by this hysteria.

    Also what boggles my mind as someone who’s life is data and data integrity, the assumption that the voter rolls are accurate and no invalid address are on the files. I’ve seen no in depth analysis over this in any of the coverage. All I see is hyperventilating about Trumps tweets and the fact that the Postmaster General is appointed by him, so obviously bad intentions abound. This is bonkers. This resistance who wants to rip everything down to threads has no clue how the building blocks of an advanced society works.

    1. SHG Post author

      If states want to have a smooth, honest mail-in election, they need to put in some thought and effort to make it happen instead of screaming about how their beloved postal service has been destroyed overnight to thwart the vote.

      1. Bryan Burroughs

        To be fair, Cheeto did openly say that he was trying to prevent mail-in voting. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I can’t fathom how removing mail sorting machines is supposed to help the post office be more efficient. From a business standpoint alone, it makes no sense.

        Is it not possible that people don’t generally give two craps about the post office AND Trump is actively undermining it to prevent mail-in voting?

        1. SHG Post author

          He did say it. And I’m no mail-sorting machine expert either. And they were being removed long before Trump’s latest confession. And the USPS was deep in the hole before he was in office, not that anyone cared.

          I would be more worried about Trump’s efforts if he hadn’t already proven himself incompetent at everything he does. But if so, then the better reaction would be to find a way to make it work so that every eligible voter who wants to can exercise the franchise.

    2. Ben Robinson

      Who’s making the “assumption that the voter rolls are accurate and no invalid address are on the files”? Are you aware of specific election authorities that are that naïve, or is it more a failure of commentators and opinion writers to publicize the other precautions that are already built into the system?

  2. Jeff Gamso

    I wonder about raising the red flag thing. We don’t leave mail for the carrier in our box – we either go to the post office itself or stop by a mailbox in the evening when we walk the dog, so we never raise the flag. But the other day our postal carrier raised our red flag when she was putting our mail in the box. Nobody else on the block who had a box with a flag (lots of people around here don’t) had one raised. Just us.

    Is there a secret message I was missing? Another old guy who uses the mail wants to know.

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s her secret way of telling you how much she appreciates your patronage. Or your way of telling her you have outgoing mail.

  3. Dan J

    As an ebay seller-on-the-side, i have had 1 problem with a late delivery out of my last 300 shipments. And that is only going back 3 months. I have had 0 issues the previous year.

    I certainly don’t want the Post Office to go away, but I also don’t see how they can sustain losing billions a year, beg for billions in aid, and claim to not be taxpayer funded. Raise the prices. I will absorb a small percentage and pass along the rest to my customer. That is how this works (or should work).

    1. SHG Post author

      Your experience with USPS is fascinating to all other postal service customers, whose own experiences pale in comparison.

      1. Dan J

        Quite true. My experience is more of a rebuttal to the assertions of universal, or even just widespread, postal failure.

  4. Rxc

    Well down here in Florida, we get multiple ballots that we can either mail in or drop into the box at the county Board of Elections my wife and I changed our registration from R to D in the spring so that we could get a chance to vote for a presidential candidate. We did not get around to changing it back to R before they sent out the ballots for the August local primary, so we got D ballots, which we did not want because our county is solid R. So we changed the registration back to R and received 2 more R ballots, which we marked and deposited in the ballot box. I do wonder whether we could have had both ballots counted if we had tried to vote them… Some candidates were on both ballots…

  5. Richard Parker

    It’s magical how these passion plays spring up overnight to dominate public discussion only to blow away with the next wind. Here in Lotus Land, the D.M.V. rolls are known to be a shambles. The post office regularly delivers mail to me for long dead previous tenants. I have no faith that either the D.M.V. or the Post Office has any idea who is living or dead.

    I expect to receive 2 to 4 ballots. Maybe more.

  6. rxc

    One last thought.

    I think that this controversy is just laying the groundwork for a bailout of the pension programs in Illinois, CA, and other states run by democrats which are in trouble. If the Congress can bail out the postal services, it should be able to bailout all those teachers and firefighters and police who are taking in multi-six figure pensions, which would be forbidden to any Federal employee.

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