Opinion - Politics

Op-Ed: Taking Trump's word on the US Postal Service is key to saving it

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Key Points
  • The U.S. Postal Service provides a vital lifeline for many across America, particularly for rural communities.
  • The Republican Party's inability to understand this vital lifeline does not bode well for our country.
  • In a freewheeling bill signing ceremony, President Donald Trump said, "The Postal Service is a joke because they're handing out packages for Amazon and other Internet companies."
  • Three hours later, perhaps at the urging of his aides, Trump tweeted: "I will never let our Post Office fail."

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Paul Ratje | AFP | Getty Images

I have given up trying to decipher whether the words coming out of the president's mouth have any semblance of truth – or even resemble his actual position on an issue. Four years into Donald Trump's presidency, we must resign ourselves to the fact that what he says one minute can change – or be denied entirely – the next. After all, this is a man who said doctors could look into injecting people with disinfectants to treat coronavirus only to turn around and say he was being "sarcastic."

Confusion about injecting toxins aside, his recent outburst against the U.S. Postal Service, combined with his party's refusal to provide USPS much-needed funds in recent COVID-19 relief legislation, is a true disaster. The U.S. Postal Service provides a vital lifeline for many across America, particularly for rural communities. The Republican Party's inability to understand this vital lifeline does not bode well for our country.

Much like the president's relationship with the truth, his relationship with the United States Postal Service is complicated. In a freewheeling bill signing ceremony, he said, "The Postal Service is a joke because they're handing out packages for Amazon and other Internet companies." Three hours later, perhaps at the urging of his aides, Trump tweeted: "I will never let our Post Office fail."

The backpedaling might have something to do with the fact that the USPS has been rated America's favorite federal agency every year Gallup has included it in its survey of voter sentiment on federal institutions. Or perhaps, not being one for figures, there was someone who explained how important a role USPS plays in rural towns across the country – many of which Trump carried in 2016 and will need to win again in November.

Being in the midst of a pandemic, as we are, and with an election looming, reliable mail service will enable Americans across the country to remain safe at home while still participating in democracy come November.

The president has acknowledged, as recently as April 5, that rural America has an internet accessibility problem. This likely contributes to the fact that 18 percent of Americans pay their bills by mail – a not insignificant portion of the population, and a larger group than those who pay bills via online banking.

There are reasons beyond convenience to support a well-funded and competently managed national postal service – reliable mail service quite literally saves lives. With fewer and fewer health care facilities in rural communities, 20 percent of Americans rely on the mail system to receive prescription medications. In 2019 alone, the USPS delivered 1.2 billion prescriptions, including nearly 100 percent of the prescriptions ordered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

There are other health benefits to having access to the USPS. Being in the midst of a pandemic, as we are, and with an election looming, reliable mail service will enable Americans across the country to remain safe at home while still participating in democracy come November. USPS has a longstanding policy of delivering ballots even without correct postage – neither snow nor rain keeps our nation's hardworking postal workers from ensuring the voices of the public are heard.

But this can only continue to happen if Trump and congressional Republicans allow it to happen, which is why it is so concerning that the integrity of the USPS seems wholly reliant on the president's ever-changing mood.

If President Trump is concerned with public health, why not empower people to stay home? Encouraging vote-by-mail and shoring up the USPS so it can fulfill their critical role during a presidential election would go a long way in achieving this end. (We saw a preview of in-person voting during a pandemic with the Wisconsin primary.) And if he is concerned with voter fraud (which there is scant evidence to justify), he might consider asking his party to pass the not one, not two, but three election security bills they rejected last year.

Of course, we could take Trump at his word: he's scared increased vote-by-mail means he will lose. And he's willing to trade the wellness of those who rely on the mail for prescription medicine, families and small businesses that use the mail to pay bills, and the public health of an entire country to stop that from happening. Normally, I would be disinclined to take anything he says at face value, but the president is nothing if not self-serving – so this time, I'll make an exception.

Heidi Heitkamp served as the first female senator elected from North Dakota from 2013-2019 and is co-founder of the One Country Project.

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