"The post office is a wonderful establishment! ... If one thinks of all that it has to do, and all that it does so well, it is really astonishing!" — Jane Austen, "Emma."
Author Jane Austen loved the post office. So did Benjamin Franklin, the Philadelphia postmaster later appointed our first postmaster general by the Continental Congress. They knew the value of a letter is much more than the cost of a stamp.
But President Donald Trump hates the post office. "The Post Office is a joke," he told reporters. Now he has a way to get rid of it.
Note, readers, it's spelled out in the Constitution. The self-respecting young nation would have a post office, establish an army, courts, coins, commerce — and promote the progress of science.
It hurts to laugh.
The United States Postal Service is under silent siege, just as the American people are, in the coronavirus crisis. Trump views the pandemic as an opportunity to choke the post office, to strangle a precious part of democracy.
The "joke" remark concealed a cold-blooded manner of death. Trump stood squarely in the way of post office relief in every trillion-dollar rescue package Congress passed for the drowning American economy.
I asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., about the post office's fragile status at a news conference.
"They tell me it came right from the president: no money for the post office," the Speaker said.
She added wryly, "Instead, inject Lysol into your lungs."
The gallows humor in the silent Capitol, the empty shell of democracy, felt about right. The House is gone, the Senate deserted, leaving nobody watching Trump.
"The post office has an approval rate of over 90%," Pelosi declared. "It is a necessary connection for the American people. ... The only way to stop it is if the American people understand what a loss it is for them."
You'd think no president in his right mind would abolish the post office, which has bipartisan support. But Trump is so mad and volatile these days that he makes no secret of his vendettas.
Clearly, the president could then cripple voting by mail in the November election. The land may still be under the shadow of COVID-19. Weak and frail people can't stand in line at a social distance to vote in chill air, as hardy Wisconsinites did this month.
We the people — also in the Constitution — may have to save the post office from the maw of the beast.
Has Trump read the Constitution's Article 1? Or Austen? Did he ever have a stamp collection, like Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Does he understand mail carriers are like lifeblood, connecting one American to another?
Like much and many capsized by the coronavirus, the post office is suffering hard times and depressed revenue. There's talk that it needs emergency help by June or it may go under.
Privatization, anyone? Not a chance. The post office is a service, not a business.
The post office provides circulation, literally, for the body politic. It's an equalizer, delivering a piece of mail across Manhattan for the same cost as a cross-country rural route.
Some post offices are true civic architecture, like the grand one in New York, emblazoned with the motto: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
Neighborhood post offices are common ground, where we're all in line together. The post office traditionally served as an avenue of advancement for people of color, when other paths were closed.
One of Trump's deep grudges lies at the bottom of this wishing well. The president can't stand Amazon founder, billionaire Jeff Bezos, a richer mogul than he, who owns a newspaper. In private, Trump seethes at Amazon's postal rates for package delivery, claiming the agency charges Amazon too little.
That should be a small worry for a president. But Trump wields political power to settle personal grievances.
To be fair, President George W. Bush weakened the post office by imposing the unique burden of prepaying its worker pensions.
After a cruel spring, the country will awaken from this nightmare. Yet let's not sleep through the casualty of a cherished institution.
Jamie Stiehm can be reached at JamieStiehm.com. To read her weekly column and find out more about Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit creators.com.
Photo credit: anSICHThoch3 at Pixabay