Ahead of the November election in which American voters decisively elected President-elect Joe Biden over incumbent President Donald Trump, Trump was waging a personal and deeply political and partisan war on a revered American institution.
That institution? None other than the United States Postal Service. It’s important to note that Trump was only furthering over a decade of work to defund and dissolve the mail service — Republicans have long hamstrung the essential government service. But President Trump took it a step further. He installed a loyalist as the head of the mail service, who then worked to derail and put roadblocks in the way of the government department ahead of what would be — and what was — historic numbers of mail-in-voters due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But while Trump was only thinking about politics, there was another service that the USPS provides that was on track to being sabotaged as well, had he been very successful: none other than Operation Santa, the program in which the USPS connects children in need with volunteers across the country to buy them Christmas presents.
According to Dana Nachman, a documentary director who was making a documentary about the United States Postal Service and Operation Santa at a near-serendipitous time in its history, having begun it before Trump tried to, and admitted to, withholding USPS federal aid that was desperately needed by the organization as they struggled to keep up with the mail-demands that the pandemic wrought on the organization, Operation Santa was nearly caught on the crossfire of Trump’s Grinch-like behavior.
In The Daily Beast, Nachman writes about her film: “Yes, there are all the trappings of your favorite family Christmas film in Dear Santa… cute kids, the emotional wants and needs of people, and lots of magic and whimsy to go around. But at the heart of this film are the dozens of USPS workers who spend their busiest time of the year not only doing their jobs but also helping families in need. This program has lived under the radar for 108 years. Focusing on it this year seems extra poignant, as many of the USPS employees have gone the extra mile for us in the pandemic while the organization is being used as a political football.”
Luckily, as Nachman notes, the program has been digital for a few years. The letters that get sent to Operation Santa won’t get lost in the maelstrom of political infighting, despite concerns about mailing out gifts to those in need.
But the staffing cuts, the pay cuts, and the cutting overtime — all things that Postmaster Louis DeJoy attempted and underwent in order to stop mail-in ballots from arriving on time, while also having the effect of delaying medications, bills, and more for millions of Americans, could have had a deleterious effect on Operation Santa. Keeping Operation Santa afloat relies largely on volunteers who work at the USPS.
“Helping Santa answer all of his letters might seem like a small gesture, but this is a pay-it-forward program that is propelled by many postal employees—in their off-hours—who earn modest salaries and still give back,” Nachman writes. To have USPS workers be so dedicated to the cheer of a nation after nearly having their backs broken by a sadistic defunding fight is remarkable. It also speaks to the strength of our nation’s postal service.
Nachman’s documentary, Dear Santa, will be released on December 4, wherever you rent or buy movies.