Donald Trump published an unexpected tweet midday Friday, in which the president declared, "I will never let our Post Office fail." He added, "It has been mismanaged for years, especially since the advent of the internet and modern-day technology. The people that work there are great, and we're going to keep them happy, healthy, and well!"
The tweet became necessary because about three hours earlier, Trump launched a broadside against the U.S. Postal Service, which included a rather impertinent threat.
"The Postal Service is a joke because they're handing out packages for Amazon and other Internet companies. And every time they bring a package, they lose money on it. So Amazon and other Internet companies and delivery companies are dropping all of their -- not all of them, but a big portion of packages, and whatever else they're doing, into a post office. And the post office is supposed to deliver the packages, and they lose a lot of money."
The president went on to call for the Postal Service to quadruple its prices -- a step Trump believes USPS has been reluctant to take "because they don't want to insult Amazon and they don't want to insult other companies, perhaps, that they like."
What sometimes happens during Trump diatribes is that he gets worked up and starts feeling the need to add to his earlier comments, escalating the drama. Friday afternoon, alas, was no exception: the president added, "If they don't raise the price, I'm not signing anything. So they'll raise the price so that they become maybe even profitable, but so they lose much less money. Okay? And if they don't do it, I'm not signing anything and I'm not authorizing [Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin] to do anything."
To the extent that reality still has any meaning, Trump's claims about USPS losing money on every package delivery appears to be baseless. Glenn Kessler explained this morning, "[I]t appears to be an analysis derived from his gut -- or his animus toward Amazon -- than any sophisticated analysis of the numbers."
Regardless, the challenges facing the Postal Service are hard to overstate -- and they have little to do with shipping costs from online retailers. As the New York Times recently reported, USPS leaders believe the service, "ravaged by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic," may run out of cash by the end of September without congressional intervention.
The article added that mail volume in the U.S. is "down by nearly a third compared with the same time last year and dropping quickly, as businesses drastically cut back on solicitations, advertisements and all kinds of letters that make up the bulk of the mail service's bottom line."
As we've discussed, Democrats tried to add USPS aid to the $2.2 trillion CARES Act last month, but the president made it clear that he was prepared to reject the entire package if it included money to bolster the Postal Service. Asked about his apparent hostility toward the independent public agency during a recent White House press briefing, the Republican offered a long, meandering, hard-to-follow diatribe, which ultimately focused on his contempt for Amazon.com (a company Trump appears to hate because its owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns the Washington Post, which Trump also hates).
The fact that the president went on to reference Amazon five times on Friday during his unscripted USPS tirade effectively gave away the game.
The trouble is, I'm not altogether sure how this gets resolved. On the one hand, Trump has committed to not letting the Postal Service fail. On the other, he's given USPS a directive -- quadruple the cost of sending a package -- that the agency cannot possibly implement.
Time is of the essence.
Postscript: Just to briefly highlight a tweet that made the rounds yesterday, now seems like an excellent time for policymakers to look at USPS as necessary public infrastructure, not a profit-making enterprise.