Why Is the Government Still Shut Down?
Those who follow me know this: I rarely write about politics. Now and then I’ll retweet something that I really feel passionate about, but that’s it.
For a long time, I saw no point in writing political essays. So far, writing has been my escape from the madness that is the current U.S. political landscape.
I also think political writing has lost its bite, because a) it won’t change anyone’s mind, and b) there are so many issues that what’s outrageous one day is forgotten in favor of the next, increasingly outrageous, news item.
Enter: a government shutdown.
These things happen. There have been shutdowns in the past. Interestingly, the last two major ones were from Democrats: 21 days in Clinton’s administration, and 17 days in Obama’s.
What’s troubling about this one is that there are no signs of it stopping anytime soon.
When the government shut down 15 days ago, I asked someone more politically informed than me about it. He said it would be up and running again soon after New Year’s Day. Well, it’s Three Kings Day, and there is no sign of the government starting up until at least Martin Luther King Day, if that. We might be headed into Valentine’s Day with no functioning government.
I can’t predict the future. The shutdown could miraculously end tomorrow, and we’ll all be talking about the next big scandal. But the president doesn’t seem interested in ending it. There is no work toward a compromise. Previously, he said he was looking forward to a shutdown.
Here is what happens when the government shuts down:
- Government contractors — 800,000 people — are furloughed. They do not work and do not get paid for that time. (They do get unemployment. They can be paid later, but it’s not guaranteed.)
- Government workers, like TSA agents and air traffic controllers, work without pay. New staff cannot be trained or hired. Retirements can’t be processed.
- National parks can’t be staffed.
- Benefits programs may run out of funding.
- The IRS does not issue tax refunds, and when the government starts up again, tax refunds will be delayed.
Look at this list for more people affected. The reason for all this? Trump wants to build a wall across the U.S. - Mexico border, at a cost of around $5 billion. Congressional Democrats do not.
A lot of people live paycheck-to-paycheck in this country. Have you ever started a new job after being out of work, then had to wait three or four weeks for your first paycheck? You’re scrambling to put gas in your car or pay for a bus ticket. You still need to buy food and pay for child care. Until the check comes, you’re counting every penny.
No surprise, TSA workers are calling out sick, a technique used by those who can’t legally strike. (I’m picturing long lines of people waiting for their shoes to get X-rayed.)
If the government shutdown goes on for a long time, people who count on their tax refunds won’t get them. Will people still support Trump then?
Trump is counting on people’s pain in order to get what he wants for his base. Whenever I say this to Republicans, they say something like, “You’re against the wall? You just want illegal immigrants to murder everybody and take away all of our guns and illegally vote in elections.” I usually respond with some of these talking points:
- Other countries can handle borders without literally building walls across them. Why can’t we? And what was with that travel ban against people from certain countries, even though they had had visas or green cards? It’s clearly not about border security, but prejudice against certain groups.
- Why are Republicans always concerned that people are trying to murder them, thus they need guns? You’re more likely to die of heart disease, but no one is building a wall around fast-food restaurants to protect everybody.
- Voter fraud is “extraordinarily rare.”
You could unpack my responses and see what’s important to me: treating people fairly, and healthcare. I’m not as concerned about risks that are, statistically, less likely (getting murdered by a stranger, or voter fraud). I’m more interested in making sure everyone is OK.
But do we have a debate? Do people listen to my statements, then make a counterpoint? Not anymore. Trying to have a conversation about politics between the two sides has become futile. One Republican I know told me that if I don’t like it here, I should just leave the country permanently. She said she was looking forward to “one less liberal voter.” (I live in a blue state.)
The thinking goes, my side is right and your side is wrong. “Even if my side doesn’t make sense, I’m sticking with it because it’s my side.” Doesn’t that sound absurd?
Lately, I’ve been reading some conservative news sites to see what’s important to Republicans. And let me tell you, the top stories are completely different from what’s on, say, NPR. The two sides might as well be on different planets. We’re not listening to each other, and that’s a problem.
I don’t want people to simply pick a side and stay there. I want people to think for themselves. And what we’re all fighting over — a wall — is just a symbol of how divisive we’ve become.
As a country, we’ve stopped listening to each other to the point where it’s self-destructive. We don’t hold leaders accountable anymore. We all stick with our groups, blue or red, until we’re all black and blue.
But it doesn’t have to be us vs. them. We’re all in this together.
Correction: Previously, I said the Senate is against the wall. While the Senate needs 60 votes, House Democrats are the main opposition.