Who would have thought that Mr. McFeely could be the flashpoint of a fierce struggle for the preservation of democratic institutions in the U.S.?
Of course, Mr. McFeely, the lovable deliveryman and avatar for our nation’s postal carriers on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” worked for Speedy Delivery. Because of copyright laws, he couldn’t sport a United States Postal Service (USPS) logo.
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” states an unofficial USPS motto chiseled on New York City’s General Post Office Building. The impact of politicians is notably absent.
With the pandemic making life dangerous in long lines at polling places, the USPS has become the center of a partisan spat.
Our president and many of his supporters vote by mail but do not want hordes of citizens doing the same.
The Postal Service, far and away our most popular governmental agency, is neither a private business nor a government-owned corporation.
It is “independent” but not “private,” with immediate oversight in the hands of a board of governors that sets budgets and policies.
Operating off its own income as “an independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States,” it is now bowed under financial burdens.
Its business model took a financial hit with the advent of electronic communication mechanisms beginning in the ’90s, then another with the Great Recession of 2007-09, and yet again, with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bunker buster came in 2006 when Congress approved a bizarre piece of legislation, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which effectively required the USPS to prefund employees’ pension and health benefits decades into the future.
The weeds get tall when you attempt to sort out all the details, including convoluted accounting arguments.
Keep in mind that people in expensive suits have long wanted to privatize the post office, which is consistent with the dominant character of modern plantation capitalism: privileging private wealth over the constitutionally mandated “common welfare.”
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy – a major donor to Trump’s campaign, appointed in May, who owns tens of millions of stock in some of the USPS’ competitors – has already mandated the removal of 671 high-speed mail sorting machines from post offices, eliminating the ability to process 21.4 million items per hour.
Last week, USPS sent a letter “to 46 states and D.C. warning that it cannot guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the November election will arrive in time to be counted,” and DeJoy fired or reassigned two dozen top USPS officials, consolidating power in his office.
On Tuesday, DeJoy issued a public statement saying he will “pause” the cuts to the Postal Service until after the November election.
On top of all this, the Republican Party just announced it has budgeted $20 million to blanket the courts with lawsuits opposing absentee balloting.
I can’t imagine what Mr. McFeely would say about these developments. But I think it’s important to keep five things in mind.
- The USPS is one of our most democratic institutions.
The U.S. Constitution mandates its existence, and the U.S. Code stipulates that it “shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people.”
“The post office was the midwife of America’s democracy, and the first triumph of its federal state,” writes Eric Levitz.
- Alleged voter fraud is a fraud.
Documented cases, including absentee ballots, are infinitesimal in proportion to the number of votes cast.
The special commission Trump set up to investigate illegal voting after the 2016 election eventually disbanded after finding nothing to report.
- The Trump administration and the Republican Party are laying the groundwork to discredit the results of the upcoming election.
They are claiming, without offering evidence, that the upcoming election will be fraudulent. At a recent rally in Pennsylvania, Trump said that “The only way we can lose … is if cheating goes on.”
The Washington Post editorial board wrote that Trump “is currently engaged in a campaign to discredit the upcoming November election, based on the idea that mail-in voting, necessitated by public health amid the pandemic he has failed to tame, will create the ‘greatest rigged election in history,’ as he put it in a news conference Wednesday. This is deeply dishonest – and dangerous.”
- My commitment to democracy does not rest so much in political theory as in theological conviction.
I believe democracy is one of the ways we practice nonviolence. Our nation’s record over nearly two-and-a-half centuries of not having a coup d’état (whether to overthrow or to maintain power) is historically significant.
Not to say it can’t or won’t happen. Keep in mind what Trump has said, “When somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total. … I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about.”
- Voting is urgent, especially now.
But I also think many more strenuous and difficult things require marathon perseverance for citizens to do in pursuing the Beloved Community.
The electoral results that create our next team of governing officials lies at the far, final end of the pipeline of generous and just polity. If all you do is vote, then you rate a D- in civics.
Countless numbers of non-electoral organizations in your neighborhood, city, region, nation and via international connections offer a harness to pull for the e pluribus unum.
Finding one you can pursue with others is one way to engage in neighborliness, to pursue the demands of justice and the requisites of peace.
For such work, let this mind be among you, regarding hope as the evidence of things not seen (see Hebrews 11:1), as articulated by philosopher Richard Rorty:
“You have to describe [your] country in terms of what you passionately hope it will become, as well as in the terms of what you know it to be now. You have to be loyal to a dream country rather than to the one to which you wake up every morning. Unless such loyalty exists, the ideal has no chance of becoming actual.”
“If there’s anything you need,” sings Mr. McFeely, which reminds me of those more ancient lyrics, “Ask, and it shall be given” (Matthew 7:7).
Curator of prayerandpolitiks.org, an online journal at the intersection of spiritual formation and prophetic action. He was the founding co-pastor of Circle of Mercy Congregation in Asheville, North Carolina.