Sabotaging the mail harms democracy and rural life

PHOTO: Catherine, Flickr CC-BY
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

When you grow up in the country you form a special relationship with the mail. Back at our family’s junkyard in Zim my sisters and I would fight over who got to run up the driveway to get the mail each day. One time I almost got hit by a truck because I lurched for the mailbox after getting off the bus. I leapt like a whitetail deer into the early spring ditch, safe but very cold and wet.

Usually the mail contained bills for mom and dad. Sometimes there were catalogues, which were exciting. But every once in a while I got something thrilling, perhaps a letter from a friend or a container of ants for my ant farm (which should never be ordered in January).

I voted by mail for my first election after I left for college. My degree came in the mail after I got my first job, where one of my jobs was to open the newsroom mail. My wife always, always says “I wonder what’s in the mail” when we approach our mailbox on our long drive home. Even in 2020.

Things have changed for the United States Postal Service since I was a kid. There is much less mail because of the efficiency of using the internet for certain transactions. Private sector rivals like UPS, FedEx and DHL have become more vocal about keeping the USPS from competing with them. It’s expensive to run a service that lets you send a printed message anywhere in the country for 50 cents.

Nevertheless, mail delivery is still one of the few reliable parts of living in a rural area. Mail carriers are a vital part of our community no less than police officers, teachers and miners.

The mail is also one of the only ways of communicating with each other thoroughly protected by federal law. It’s a crime to steal mail, to read other people’s mail, to interfere with the mail. All because of a legal understanding about privacy in matters both personal and commercial.

This isn’t true of e-mail, social media messaging, or even texting. We use third-party services for all of these. In this we have little true assurance about the transmission and archive of our communications. All laws that attempt to address this are toothless and inadequate.

Importantly, the U.S. Mail is still the only way that Americans can vote without going to a dedicated polling place. As I wrote a few months ago, voting by mail is a safe, secure and widely adopted method of voting around the world and across our country. Several local precincts vote exclusively by mail and have for years. The same is true for entire states, from “blue” Oregon to “red” Utah.

That’s why it matters that the U.S. Postal Service is being gutted right in front of us. Two weeks ago the political appointee that runs the USPS slashed the upper management of the organization with no plans to replace the experienced leadership. Across the country mail delivery has slowed to a trickle, with some places not receiving any mail for days. This affected voting in last Tuesday’s primary here in Minnesota and in elections across the U.S.

Some say this is because of government inefficiency. But that’s not the real story. The postal service is being sabotaged to deter people from voting by mail. We know this because of public statements of the chief executive and the actions of his administration.

All Americans, of either party or none at all, should plan to vote this year. Voting by mail is a safe, legal option that is made particularly easy to do in our state of Minnesota.

But only if the mail works.

We can’t ignore the reality here. President Trump has told his supporters not to use mail balloting while his opponent Joe Biden has encouraged his supporters to do so. That means that we know the in-person votes will likely favor the president while mail-in votes will lean toward Biden. If the mail is slowed or if mail ballots are seized or blocked it would have a decisive effect on the outcome.

The USPS might need reform, but what’s happening here is not reform. Real reform might include a new funding formula or an imaginative reorganization. No, this is deliberate sabotage, timed to swing an election. Were the partisan roles reversed it would be just as wrong and just as short-sighted.

Sometimes conspiracies happen right in front of us, bald-faced and seen by everyone. When that occurs we can’t be shocked or subdued into silence. I don’t often write about national politics in this column. But what’s happening is affecting us right here in northern Minnesota to people who live along the back roads of Itasca and St. Louis counties.

To sabotage the U.S. Postal Service for no reason is wrong. To do so during an election year, with obvious intent to disrupt mail voting during a global pandemic? That degrades American democracy. No short term election outcome justifies the long term effects of such an action.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.




  1. Right on, and oh so true

  2. This is brilliant, like brilliance in layers, brilliant. I usually try to wait until articles are posted a while before saying anything. However, due to the nature of this post, I need to talk.

    What is similar about Mike Kryzyzewski, Coach Bellichick, and Nick Saban? Which world leader shares their qualities? Some people have filtered Sun Tzu down to a way of life. Putin is a Judo Master. He built an apparatus that only deflects. Deflects, deflects, deflects, until the necessary momentum exposes vulnerability. That’s when and where he strikes. Trump is playing checkers. Putin plays chess. Trump is General Custer up against a society that Counts Coup for recreation.

    I am not saying ethnic differences lead to differences in leadership. I am saying there are other ways to view strategy and tactics that guys like Trump will never understand. Maybe some people are simply more prone to comprehending the art here?

    Do you think Bellichick ever looks at game films to determine how his opponent’s react in specific circumstances? Or, does he go through the Offensive Coordinator’s entire life history of making decisions all the way back to coaching some eighth graders somewhere? Tendencies. Flexibility. Lose today to win tomorrow.

    Putin is miles inside Trump’s head. God help us all . . .

  3. Damn right. Someone respectable had to say it, and I am glad you did.

  4. Joe musich says

    As I sit here reading the orange loser is in Mankato. My formal to hang on the wall Masters Degree was mailed for there. What he is blatantly doing is breaking the law. He said it.
    Take him off in cuffs now fir interfering with the mail.

  5. It’s been taking a week to get a letter across Hibbing for over 10 years. This ship sailed long before Trump.

    • Elanne Palcich says

      Check a variety of news outlets to find out what the Postmaster General (Louis DeJoy) is doing to dismantle our postal services prior to the election.
      No matter what political party you support, this is a dis-service to our entire democracy.

  6. Do not care if I am screaming into the void.

    West 7th Neighborhood during the riots: Boogaloo Bois, Police, and BLM converged near each other. What happens then? Contemplate that. Really, reflect on that.

    This is exactly how the US Intelligence Services ousted leaders in foreign countries for the entirety of the Cold War.

    You are riding your bike. You get a certain feeling moments before impact with car. That is the moment we are in right now. We are in that moment right before the truck hits us.

  7. The US Mail service pre-dates our country, created the year before the Declaration of Independence was signed. It is enshrined in the Constitution.

    Trump is accelerating the destruction of the Post Office, but as “B” noted, that actually began back in the Bush II administration — although even before that it was being pecked to death by Republicans starting with Reagan’s administration. In addition to the immediate issue of the 2020 election, Republicans see this as an opportunity to allow private companies to profit from what has been a public service, never mind that the users will pay an order of magnitude more and that service to many areas will be delayed if it even exists.

    A sensible solution presents itself: follow the advice of the Constitution and the precedent of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac during the Bush recession and re-federalize the Post Office. This is obviously an emergency, with a service vital to our democracy, to rural people, to inner city people, to seniors, to people who are ill or who have handicaps, and to many small businesses running in the red and at risk for destruction.

    A Federalized Post Office run by a newly appointed “receiver”with authority over the proven incompetent current board and Postmaster could start the Post Office on its way to the service it can and should be. To those who argue that the Post Office loses money, I would point out that it is typical for public services to lose money. The police, the fire department, the military, the roads, and the schools all lose money, and no one is advocating their privatization — yet. (Well, it is true that pyramid scheme billionaire Betsy DeVos is working hard to privatize the schools, so maybe the others aren’t far behind. Perhaps we will see a day when conservative citizens can place an order on Amazon for drones to bomb Ottawa, Paris, and Berlin, paid for by money raised by sponsoring a gun show.)

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