John M. Crisp: Why I still love the post office
editor's pick
COMMENTARY

John M. Crisp: Why I still love the post office

  • 2
{{featured_button_text}}
John Crisp mug

John Crisp | Tribune News Service

Every few years I write a column about the United States Postal Service. In 2009 I just about wrote it off. That year the Postal Service faced a $7 billion revenue shortfall, and 700 post offices were slated for closure.

The problem wasn’t inefficiency or mismanagement. The previous year the post office had delivered 212 billion pieces of mail — 46% of the world total — with an on-time delivery rate between 94 and 97 percent.

Still, mail volume was dropping and the Postal Service appeared to be an inevitable victim of a cultural shift as profound and revolutionary as the one that occurred when the printing press was invented 500 years ago.

The typewritten or handwritten letter was already deeply obsolescent in 2009, and a huge proportion of correspondence — bills, bank statements, advertising — that would have reached us via our mailboxes had already migrated to the internet. The future seemed clear, and it was unlikely to include the U.S. Postal Service.

But I wrote another column in 2013 that was more optimistic about the future of the post office. Mail volume had dropped to 175 billion pieces per year, but efficiency was as high as ever.

And even though few people were writing traditional letters in 2013, Americans were still very, very fond of stuff, physical objects that can be held and handled.

Online shopping was burgeoning, and the stuff had to arrive at our homes by some method. Many Americans still valued the distinction between a virtual greeting card and a handwritten note and signature by a real person at the bottom of an old-fashioned Valentine’s Day card.

Maybe there was hope for the P.O., after all.

In 2013 I referenced an Esquire article entitled “Do We Really Want to Live Without the Post Office,” a detailed discussion of the problems and potential of the P.O. that is as relevant now as it was in 2013.

In the article — readily available online — writer Jesse Lichtenstein does the best job that I’ve seen of describing the basic dilemma of the Postal Service: Even though it does not receive taxpayer money, Congress has imposed a set of mandates, obligations and restrictions that virtually guarantee that it will operate at a deficit. While its critics demand that the Postal Service operate more like a business, it is legally obligated to perform services at rates that no business could manage.

But this is probably what I love most about the Postal Service: its capacity and obligation to provide every citizen with the means to connect with every other citizen who resides at any established address in the United States, from midtown Manhattan to the most remote valley in Montana.

And always at an affordable, egalitarian price. Everyone pays the same and gets the same excellent service.

Now we are in 2020, and President Donald Trump calls the post office a “joke,” largely because, he asserts, it delivers packages for Amazon at a loss. He declares that he will not help until it quadruples what it charges Amazon.

It’s worth noting that Trump can’t stand Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who owns the Washington Post. Further, it appears that Trump is simply wrong about this. Politifact called his statement about the unprofitability of delivering for Amazon “False,” and the Washington Post gave it four Pinocchios, which equals “whopper.”

Besides being wrong about his chief complaint about the post office, this is what Trump doesn’t get: From the beginning the Postal Service was meant to be a service, not a profit center. The Founders established a Postal Service before they established our republic, and for most of our history it has played an important, unsung role in uniting the nation.

Pandemic 2020 reminds us how much we depend on physical artifacts that arrive in our mailboxes from elsewhere.

It reminds us also of the importance of national unity. For 245 years, the Postal Service has served as our most deeply American institution, unifying and connecting us around the principle that everyone is equal.

We cannot allow the Postal Service to be neglected and destroyed by ignorance at a time when we really need it.

John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at jcrispcolumns@gmail.com.

1
0
0
0
0

Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

President Donald Trump has finally goaded Twitter into starting the fight that Trump has been itching to have. Unfortunately for the social media giant, it's a fight Twitter cannot win anymore - and one that Trump and his allies do not want to end. Over the course of his term, the president has flouted Twitter's terms of service countless times with impunity as he's used the platform to launch ...

As a child, I grew up in abject poverty with our family being evicted often. A number of times I found myself in a poor African American neighborhoods or public housing. During those times, I was often the only white child in my class. I can say in total honesty, I was never happier as a child than when I was in those neighborhoods, housing projects or those classrooms. Ever. During the rare ...

You have to hand it to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey: He may have been lured into an unwinnable election-year fight with President Donald Trump, but at least he's still throwing punches. Shortly before 1 a.m. EDT Friday, Trump verbally barreled into the hot flaming mess on the ground in Minneapolis, where protests over the death of George Floyd had turned violent. A bystander's video shows an ...

Will your neighborhood school open on schedule in the fall? The answer should vary by location, but some headline-grabbing declarations are prolonging the uncertainty for families and students. And uncertainty leads to fear - an infectious state of mind best treated with a dose of common sense. Special-interest groups encouraged educators to "scream bloody murder" if collective bargaining and ...

It has often occurred to me that the appropriate response to some of the ridiculous things President Donald Trump utters is: "He's an idiot." Don't get me wrong (as op-ed writers like to say). I'm not impugning Trump's IQ. By "idiot" I mean something a bit different: that Trump often doesn't know what he's talking about. (That doesn't exclude the possibility that some of his misrepresentations ...

In July 2001, a 28-year-old woman named Lori Klausutis fell and hit her head on a desk at work in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. She was found dead the next morning. The medical examiner concluded that there was no foul play, and it later turned out that Klausutis had an undiagnosed heart condition. There would be no reason today to publicly discuss this tragic accident, but for the fact that ...

Imagine if you killed somebody on your job, and all you got that day was fired. You go into work the next day, return the keycard you swipe every morning when you get on the elevator, pack the things from your desk, toss out whatever food you have in the pantry refrigerator and say goodbye to your co-workers before two security guards escort you out of the building. And, let's just say this ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News