Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Aug 21: The Postmaster General vows before a Senate Committee that the US mail can handle mail in voting securely for the election. Paul Alexander criticizes the NIH’s use of randomized, controlled trials, known as RCTs, which are considered the best way to study the efficacy of new treatments. “Consider this as a philosophical sharing and debate to spurn discussion,” he continues. “All this to say that if the NIH’s position is that RCT evidence is your standard, then this must change.”

Aug 22:  The House passes legislation that would provide $25 billion to the United States Postal Service, while also banning any operational changes to the agency like the removal of mail-sorting machines and collection boxes. Trump claims that the “deep state” is keeping the FDA from having enough people for vaccine trials. Big protests continue in Portland.

From the Cutting Room Floor...

On the freeway, I pass a postal truck being towed, the wind making a humming sound as it whips through the truck’s open side doors. Seconds later, a story about the steady de-funding of the US Postal Service comes on the radio. There have been abundant reports lately that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is cutting back overtime for workers and removing blue post boxes across the nation.[1] Yet, just four days ago, DeJoy said in an official statement that Post Office retail hours were not going to change, that blue collection boxes will remain where they are, that no mail processing facilities will be closed down, and that overtime for workers will continue to be used “as needed.”[2]

It is difficult to know what is actually happening with the Post Office. Their statistics show that their mail volume has been decreasing steadily over the last ten years, as have their employee numbers. Their annual operating revenue has remained steady for the last decade at around $70 billion, all while their expenses continued to grow.[3] The last time the Postal Service recorded a profit was in 2006. According to the Pew Research Center, their cumulative losses since then have totaled $83.1 billion. The experts agree that the Postal Service has failed to generate revenue because it is delivering less mail, particularly less first-class mail (down by 33.6%) and fewer periodicals (down by 41.3%).

So, what should we make of the tow truck I saw today and the photos that are splashed across twitter and facebook of postal boxes stacked like Legos behind chain link fences? On the one hand, there is cause to worry. We know that the USPS has been reducing its workforce over the last decade, which disproportionately affects minorities, women, and veterans.[4] We have heard Trump claim that the Post Office will not be able to deliver election ballots in a reliable way, spawning fears that he will sabotage the USPS in order to prevent mail-in voting and undermine the legitimacy of the election.[5] We have also seen people like Larry Kudlow, who is the current Director of the United States National Economic Council and a man with no formal training in economics, declare openly that Republicans are not interested in defending “voting rights” for citizens. “That’s not our game,” he said cynically today. [6]  Indeed, if you wanted to stop populations from voting in the middle of a pandemic, your first step might be to undermine the postal service.

On the other hand, it seems pretty clear that the photos of the postbox graveyards are not what they appear to be. The photo evidently started as a post on Reddit, made its way to Twitter, got retweeted by some celebrities, and has become a standard cause of panic across the country. In truth, the photo is not of a graveyard, but of a refurbishing yard. And while some postboxes have been removed, that process started years ago when the quantity of delivered mail began to drop.

This moment may not say much about the real status of the Postal Service. But the fact that we are in such a panic over its precarious fate does say a lot about who we are as a nation right now.

In 1964, the philosopher and writer, Hannah Arendt, wrote in a letter to one of her detractors, “It is indeed my opinion now that evil is never “radical,“ and that it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension. It can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface. That is its banality.”[7] Small acts that by themselves seem shallow and meaningless can accrue power over time. Right now, as thousands die, as racial injustice continues, and as the ability of citizens to cast their vote seems increasingly precarious, we are concerned that the banality of evil could overwhelm whatever aspirations to democracy we might still have.


[1] Jordan Weissmann and Aaron Mak, “How Much Should You Panic Over the U.S. Postal Service?,” Slate Magazine, August 22, 2020,

[2] USPS, “Postmaster General Louis DeJoy Statement – Newsroom – About.Usps.Com,” August 18, 2020,

[3] USPS, “A Decade of Facts and Figures,” Postal Facts – U.S. Postal Service, n.d.,

[4] Drew Desilver and Katherine Schaeffer, “The State of the U.S. Postal Service in 8 Charts,” Pew Research Center, May 14, 2020,

[5] Sam Levine, “Trump Admits He Is Undermining USPS to Make It Harder to Vote by Mail,” The Guardian, August 13, 2020,


[7] Letter from Hannah Arendt to Gershom Gerhard Scholem, Dec. 12, 1964, The Hannah Arendt Papers, Library of Congress, p. 5.

Read more

Eva Rendel, “Farmworkers struggle in the aftermath of Northern California fires,”  KQED Truly CA, August 7, 2020,

Rachel Kim, “Southern California Air Quality Even Worse With Extreme Heat, Wildfires,” CBS Los Angeles, August 19, 2020,

Mayde Gomez, “Farm workers continue to work during the wildfires, in the smoke,” ABC 10 Sacramento, August 25, 2020,

John Oliver, “Voting by Mail,” Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, HBO, June 1, 2020,

John Oliver, “Voting by Mail,” Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, HBO, June 1, 2020,

“Hundreds protest Nevada mail-in ballot law amid unfounded voter fraud claims,” KTNV Channel 13 Las Vegas, August 5, 2020,


*If the pdf thumbnails are not appearing, please reload the page.

Ewing, E. Thomas, Jessica Brabble, and Ariel Ludwig. “Masks on Campus: Historical Lessons from 1918 for 2020.” The Flu Mask Research Project at Virginia Tech, August 21, 2020.
Levine, Sam. “Trump Campaign Fails to Show Evidence of Vote-by-Mail Fraud, Filing Reveals.” The Guardian, August 21, 2020, sec. US news.

William Brangham, “The truth about vote-by-mail and fraud,” PBS Newshour, June 9, 2020,

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Additional Links

* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.