Kevin Costner Won’t Save Us This Time

A retired admiral warns that the President is undermining our institutions.

I opened retired Admiral Bill McRaven‘s WaPo op-ed “Trump is actively working to undermine the Postal Service — and every major U.S. institution” prepared to decry his, yet again, broaching the norms of civil-military relations by weighing in on a debate where others are far more qualified to comment. But I must reluctantly doff my cap to McRaven or the staffer who crafted this lede:

In the 1997 film “The Postman,” set in post-apocalyptic America, Kevin Costner plays a drifter trying to restore order to the United States by providing one essential service, mail delivery. In the story, hate crimes, racially motivated attacks and a plague have caused the breakdown of society as we know it. In his quest to restore order and dignity to the nation, the Postman tries to recruit other postal workers to help rebuild the U.S. government. But Costner’s character is opposed by the evil General Bethlehem, who is fighting to suppress the postal carriers so he can establish a totalitarian government. Fortunately, our hero, gaining inspiration from the motto, “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night,” fights on against Bethlehem and saves the country.

Not surprisingly, the movie was panned by critics and was a financial disaster. I mean really, racial strife and a plague so bad that it threatened our society? And even if that happened, who would try to destroy the Postal Service? Where do they come up with these crazy plots?

Well played, sir.

FILED UNDER: Humor, Popular Culture, US Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. We are re-watching/completing Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and last night watched the two-parter in season 3 wherein Sisko, Bashir, and Dax get sent back in time to 2024 Earth where they have to deal with a past filled with social and economic strife in 21st Century San Francisco filled with riots, the lack of adequate social policies and infrastructure, and an increasingly authoritarian government.

    It was escapism at its best.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Where do they come up with these crazy plots?

    I guess that answers the question of where trump got the idea from.

  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    The other day, my wife and I were talking about buying a vacation house in Nova Scotia or an apartment in Quebec City. The idea of living someplace, even a few months of the year that has a functioning government and a populous that has diverse political and social view points that can interact socially and not mimic the Hell’s Angels and Devil’s Disciples showing up at the same bar, sounds so appealing.

    But, of course, Canada won’t let us in…

    Joe & Kammie 2020!

  4. gVOR08 says:

    Than you. I’d skipped reading the piece as it sounded like same old same old. Appreciate you calling it to our attention.

  5. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    1) I am trying to watch Deep Space 9 again. Still in season 1. I am just having a problem with the tropes: The Ferengi are severely off-putting not because greed is their trope (and it is ham-fisted overplayed), but because the whole ears thing is just stupid and distracting. Odo and Kira have over-the-top anger issues. The captain is a sensitive warrior, and the “promenade”… WAY too much focus on Quark’s bar because exposition to drive plot.

    2) I really enjoyed “The Postman” as I am a good-overcomes-evil type person. I think the movie failed financially as it held up a mirror to America’s “militias” at the time. Some people may not appreciate being shown their true brand.

    3) Unfortunately, evil-overcomes-good when given the opportunity in most cases. Apropos to this conversation, an article on the end of the American Empire.

  6. ImProPer says:

    From what I understand, his unwelcome occupation of states with federal troops is the first credible threat to the third amendment in our nation’s history. Previously thought to be inconceivable, which in the mind of this president, inconceivable means direct challenge. I wonder if all the “People v. Trump” court challenges getting racked up will break his previously impressive record he held as a simple citizen. We’ll see, 4 months to go, which is still an eon in Trump time.

  7. Arm The Homeless says:

    If The Postman were made today it would be an epic trilogy. But after Waterworld aka Mad Max on boats Hollywood grew skittish of Costner’s “genius.”

    Trump’s (mal)administration is going to birth a deluge of both black comedy and dystopic political fiction. People will want to know that they weren’t crazy and that a major political party set itself on fire to support a fascist in a phyric attempt to create a permanent minority power-bloc

  8. Michael Cain says:

    Even before the pandemic, Charlie Stross said he was giving up writing near-future speculative fiction, basically on the grounds that if he submitted current events to a publisher as a suggestion for a novel, the publisher would tell him that the plot was too unrealistic.

  9. @Liberal Capitalist: The first season is uneven (although is comparably better than the first season of TNG). Late in season 2, the show starts to come into its own: the amplification of certain elements of Bajoran politics, the introduction of the Maquis, and the Dominion. This amplifies in season 3. I am looking forward to the show becoming more serialized with the Dominion war storyline, which I did not finish when it first came on.

    Quark should have been thrown in prison and the key tossed on several occasions.

  10. Kathy says:

    Speaking of DS9, which I haven’t watched in years, there is a three-part episode to open one season, I forget which, where control of the station hangs in the balance, which was pretty good.

    There’s another which is sheer genius, concerning an increasingly paranoid, and desperate, Chief O’Brien, who becomes ever more certain everyone is against him, and he’s right! (and that contained no spoilers). I think the title was “Whispers.”

    IMO, most series doing 20-25 episodes per season, no matter how flawed in premise, cast, plotting, or execution, is bound to produce a few good episodes. An average run series will produce some great ones.

    The new fashion of doing a single story arc over a season, or even over a few seasons, pioneered by Babylon 5, makes for fewer “blah” episodes, as in the end what matters are the story and character arcs.

  11. ImProPer says:

    @Arm The Homeless:

    “Trump’s (mal)administration is going to birth a deluge of both black comedy and dystopic political fiction.”

    It would take quite a bit of comedic genius to outdo a straight up documentary on Trump. His unintentional unfolding farce of a presidency, after the prerequisite mourning, is the source of much slapstick humor. Though I do have visions of a paranoid dictator sneaking around the White House naked and calling himself “Q” believing himself to be invisible because a witch doctor sold him the superpower, much to the chagrin of his obsequious staff.

  12. dazedandconfused says:

    Who would hatch these plots?

    Are we sure that was the plot? If it was it was terribly ill-conceived. No way to silence all those postal workers. I can’t follow the thought process of this plot. What were they thinking?!?

    Occum’s Butterknife says DeJoy, whom the news reports is heavily invested in logistics, was simply seeking to castrate a competitor, the USPS, for his own benefit. Poetic, or perhaps Wile E. Coyote justice may well ensue: DeJoy gets fricasseed for trying to undermine our system of government, a terrible fix created with the help of injudicious comments from his patron Don Trump?

  13. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Awful film….

    Costner is killing it in Yellowstone, though.

  14. Michael Cain says:


    Occum’s Butterknife says DeJoy, whom the news reports is heavily invested in logistics, was simply seeking to castrate a competitor, the USPS, for his own benefit.

    But IIRC, the companies he and his wife are directly invested in don’t do the kind of service he’s ruining: low-price small envelope two-to-four day delivery to every address. Nor is that a service that those companies — hell, any company — seems likely to attempt to enter. It takes a ton of personnel and facilities and the price point where it’s viable is low. Not much margin there.

  15. Monala says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: IIRC, Sisko asked Quark to stay at DS9 early on (Quark was planning to leave after his bar was destroyed) because he was a consistent link to all the people and players around, so was a good starting place to rebuild the station.

    When Worf joined the crew, I recall him asking Sisko why he tolerated Quark. Sisko responded with something like, “The Federation sees everything in black and white. But here on DS9, everything comes in shades of gray. And Quark is a deep shade of gray.”

  16. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Cain:

    That may be true, may not. USA Today rates the claim “Missed Context” but doesn’t explain why they gave it that rating well at all, as they also report:

    Together, DeJoy and Wos may claim up to a total $75,815,000 in assets from U.S. Postal Service competitors, according to government records.

  17. Joe says:


    His unintentional unfolding farce of a presidency, after the prerequisite mourning, is the source of much slapstick humor.

    @Steve Allen:

    Tragedy plus time equals comedy

  18. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    FWIIW, I would recommend the David Brin novel of the same name. Intelligent and hopeful post-apocalyptic is a pretty rare commodity and I quite liked it. It’s easy to go all grimdark. But to write a readable idealistic novel takes some skill.

  19. flat earth luddite says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Nah, Sisko didn’t need to “brig” him. That’s what the airlock’s for. IMHO.

  20. @Monala: Most episodes all that fits, but sometimes it is off the scale. For example, the episode early in season 2 (“Invasive Procedures”) where he disables station security allowing it to be taken over and almost leads to Jadzia’s death and the theft of the Dax symbiot was more than just hijinx or a gray area.

  21. Kathy says:

    Another thing about DS9. I don’t recall much of the Q episode aside from this scene, which still cracks me up:

    Q: You hit me! Picard never hit me!
    Sisko: I am not Picard.

  22. @Kathy: That was one of the most memorable scenes in the whole first season!

  23. Michael Cain says:

    Spending some time online, the big bucks DeJoy and his wife have invested are in XPO Logistics. XPO does last-mile delivery of heavy stuff — eg washing machines. They’re one of the biggest in the US at doing that. There’s no indication that they’re interested at all in competing with the USPS for last-mile delivery of little stuff. OTOH, they do contract with the USPS to carry tons of mail from one distribution hub to another, which looks like a clear conflict of interest.

    Occam’s butter knife says he’s just willing to screw with local delivery long enough to keep the states that are late to the vote-by-mail game from doing it well. It’ll all get overturned in court in January no matter who wins. By then, though, it doesn’t matter. The gambit has either succeeded or failed.

  24. Michael Cain says:

    On my bad days — this afternoon is one, I’m tired of breathing smoke — I am convinced that no one will save all of us. I’m willing to settle for saving some of us. Even if it means I have to organize a conspiracy to peacefully partition the states.

  25. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Cain:

    There has been a long term effort to screw with the USPS, driven by logistic industry insiders. Overfunding the hell out of the retirement fund was part of that. It may be DeJoy was simply pursing the desired end-state of the US government selling the USPS to private industry. Having a big retirement bank to rob helps that a lot.

    IOW, I might not be on-the-money on his motives, but essentially correct is saying there wasn’t him and Trump deciding to do this to screw with the election.
    Putting themselves in this position was stupid. I don’t discount the possibility of Trump doing stupid things. He came to realize at some point it might help him so he defended it? Can’t be rule it out.

  26. JohnSF says:

    I thought Brin rather missed a trick in The Postman by not having a plot twist where the AI was actually still working behind the scenes all along.

    re. DS9: IMHO too many irrelevant meh episodes; but Garak is one of the best fictional characters ever.
    His final scene IIRC:
    “Eight hundred million dead…”
    “Well, aren’t you going to congratulate me, Doctor? My exile is now officially over. I’ve returned home.”

    “Do you know what the sad part is, Odo? I’m a very good tailor.”

  27. JohnSF says:

    Thinking about it, didn’t Gainan stab Q with a fork, though?
    Poor old Q.
    Perils of being such an annoying plot device, LOL.