When pressed at a recent House hearing on his plans for the future, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said he intended to stay in office “a long time. Get used to me.”
It would be easier to live with the ear-piercing sound of cicadas than another summer of DeJoy. Why, oh why, is he sticking around when most of the other misfit toys have moved on? There’s Ivanka lounging on a beach chair in her new Miami Beach apartment, Jared asserting he would cease doing his father-in-law’s business in favor of his own. Child-snatcher Stephen Miller is looking for steady work and a book contract. Only DeJoy remains among us like a Jurassic Park dinosaur returned to life to undermine an institution first led by Benjamin Franklin instead of following others home to spend more time with his family.
Sadly, DeJoy’s fate is not up to the new president but a nine-member board of governors. Despite three new stellar Biden appointees—one founded The National Vote at Home Institute—it’s still packed with enough members sympathetic to DeJoy, thanks to Mitch McConnell’s attention to such matters, to keep him there.
There’s a glimmer of hope that DeJoy’s threat to persist could be cut short by an FBI investigation revealed last week. It will be looking into whether DeJoy extracted donations from employees he would later reimburse with bonuses in order to avoid campaign finance limits, the better to impress Trump with his largesse and win a plum job. But campaign finance is to the law as the military is to music and it’s hardly enough given the damage DeJoy’s caused. With his 10-year plan unveiled in March, he’s promising more of the same. It’s like the authorities prosecuting someone for a broken taillight when the driver was DUI at the scene of a deadly crash.
In case you’ve forgotten DeJoy—and you may have if you enjoy the parallel services offered by FedEx— he’s the businessman only slightly less intense than the My Pillow guy but positioned to do much more harm as the head of an institution so vital, its duties were enshrined in the constitution by the Founding Fathers. Franklin was the first postmaster general, Abraham Lincoln once served as a local postmaster, a mission so critical that 18 U.S. Code 1701 punishes interference in carrying out its appointed task with imprisonment. No exception is made for the top guy.
But justice is a limited commodity, necessarily triaged, and maddeningly slow, especially against lawyered-up white collar miscreants. If not, there would have been a posse waiting outside the White House gates at noon January 20 to round up the usual, but high target, suspects possibly hiding hard drives inside the banker’s box holding a potted plant and photos. But Trump’s enablers were far too wily to be caught red handed. They regularly blew off oversight by the other two branches of government and stonewalled judges, congressional committees, and special counsels as they tossed subpoenas in the junk drawer, confident Democrats would never send the sergeant-at-arms to haul them off to confinement in the Capitol. Just last week, former White House counsel Don McGahn proved the strategy right. Having resisted a subpoena for four years, he finally gave limited testimony on his terms behind closed doors. Ship Mueller had long since set sail.
As Trump demanded, DeJoy used the post office to reduce the impact of expanded mail in voting and seed enough doubt in any outcome that didn’t reelect Trump to create a constitutional crisis over an election. He shared Trump’s flimsy presumption that voters, inspired by Trump’s greatness, would show up in person on election day, pandemic or not, and the other guy’s voters, lazy to begin with, would mail in theirs in numbers greater than ever before. DeJoy first constructed a red wall to see that the mail-ins he presumed were more likely to be from Democrats didn’t get counted and, if they were, to lay the basis for challenging them, in keeping with Trump’s drunken history of the election, including wild tales of thousands of ballots floating in an unnamed river, or stored in plastic bins seen in one picture but not another, or cast in the name of someone’s dead mother. The last turned out to be true in one documented instance—by a supposedly grieving son who voted for Trump.
In plain sight, DeJoy oversaw the largest reduction in postal services in generations. If you believe he was doing it for the routine Republican purpose of proving government doesn’t work, a federal judge disposed of that last fall when he wrote that DeJoy had no “legitimate business concerns” for what he was doing, but was driven solely by Trump’s need to “disrupt and challenge the legitimacy” of an election.
To that end, he unbolted mail boxes from sidewalks and hauled them away. He reduced more than 600 sorting machines to a heap of spare parts that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put back together again. Postal workers could no longer witness an absentee ballot. He cut hours and closed service windows. Your check and Lipitor might be in the mail but not in your hands until who-knows-when. Surveys found that a letter that used to take two days to get across the country now can take five. Despite the slowing of first class mail, sending that Father’s Day card next year will cost 5.5 percent more.
When DeJoy took over, 91 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the post office in a Pew Research survey, despite some very real problems brought on in part by Republicans just having fun with it. As part of its decades-long effort to privatize its most lucrative services, Senator Susan Collins sponsored legislation that hobbled the agency’s finances by requiring it to pre-pay 50 years of health and retirement benefits, a senseless, debilitating requirement borne by no other institution. There’s been no serious study of what to do to compensate for the sharp decline in volume since the dawn of the internet. It’s counterproductive to dis Amazon, however satisfying it is to take after the tax-averse Jeff Bezos. Delivering brown boxes the last mile is one of USPS’s most profitable enterprises. There is such a thing as too much of a bargain. Once the post office returns to making its daily rounds through snow, rain, sleet, and the gloom of night on time, the cost of sending a first class letter has to go up.
Because DeJoy brought a sledgehammer to a knife fight, Democrats who saw what was happening practically hand carried their ballots to the registrar’s office or showed up in person like the MAGA crowd, some of whom would have preferred to vote absentee if Trump hadn’t convinced them something fishy was going on. The only difference in the two groups was that the Democrats wore masks.
One study estimated that 99 percent of the mail to and from voters got postmarked in time, but there’s no telling how many ballots got “lost” in the mail or the cost of a debilitating wound to democracy that’s left a majority of Republicans believing Trump won the election and will be “reinstated” in August.
DeJoy is like so many Republicans who hate Washington until they get here. He likes being addressed as general and taking his Bronx-born ‘whaddya-going-to-do-about-it’ swagger to Congressional hearings. Cameras never showed up when he was holding forth at New Breed Logistics. He’s the poster man for the appointee who came not for public service but to be recognized. In fact, it’s those whose names we don’t know who make government function. Name the Biden aides who got Covid vaccines to 70 percent of the country? Time’s up. That would be Jeff Zients who once rescued the Obamacare portal, Andy Slavitt, the former director of Medicare, or that other chump of a civil servant from the deep state whom Trump tried to disappear, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
The best known figures from the Trump administration achieved their fame for nefarious reasons: commandeering public aircraft to attend a son’s hockey game, deputizing a wife to coerce staff into walking the dog or throwing parties in the State Department’s ceremonial rooms for supporters, or renting a condo at below market rate from a lobbyist. Would we still be talking about Michael Flynn, the national security adviser with the shortest tenure ever, if he hadn’t returned to the fold to push for martial law and a military coup modeled after one in Myanmar. DeJoy won’t be remembered for careful stewardship of the post office anymore than Kushner will be recalled for bringing peace to the Middle East.
After the FBI investigation became public, DeJoy responded through a spokesman that he’d never “knowingly” violated the law. That’s the cue for “not that I remember” answers on his way to wheedling out of accountability for the constitutional crisis he seeded. He’s not the type to be overtaken by shame and leave voluntarily to return to the family he suddenly misses.
Still, that the authorities are going after DeJoy at all is, well, a joy, however limp our campaign finance laws are. It was disappointing in 1933 when G-men got Al Capone on five counts of tax evasion when his crimes against humanity cried out for so much more. Yet a rough justice was achieved more swiftly than had they waited for something more. Capone was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison and served most of it before being released to die at home of syphilis, possessed of a mind, his doctor said, of a 12-year-old.
I’m not wishing an ugly death on DeJoy, just that the FBI get its man for more than bundling checks from his staff, a matter punishable by a slap on the wrist. There’s a new sheriff in town. Former judge and now Attorney General Merrick Garland is a genuine public servant who doesn’t see himself as the president’s consigliere as Bill Barr did. After he finishes the urgent business of rounding up the individuals who attacked their own government, he’ll get to the higher-ups who inflamed them, as a legitimate prosecutor does. The wheels of justice grind slowly, but if we don’t want another January 6, they will deny DeJoy his prediction that he’ll be tormenting us for a long time to come. His exile can’t come soon enough.