Shutdowns are an almost uniquely American thing, a fitting spasm of officialdom given the country’s historical skepticism about government.
With the increase in the number of employees affected, however, a greater strain has been placed on this mechanism that has been used, to varying effect, since the 1970s.
And while the benefits of being a federal employee — good health care, pensions, child care, etc. — can still outweigh the pitfalls, the strain on the national psyche is often cited as a reason to avoid shutdowns. I disagree.
Most Americans didn’t realize this shutdown was a thing. By “a thing” I mean either happening at all, or still going by the end of it. In fact, 65 percent said neither they nor their friends or family were affected. But what of the remainder? Are a significant minority of Americans to suffer in the face of partisan punching baggery?
I’m afraid the answer is “yes,” and the responsibility for such things rests not just on the shoulders of the legislators and the president. It is manifestly the fault of the public, which knows — or should know — the stakes when picking a Democrat-run House to “balance” a Republican White House, or vice versa. America’s politics are increasingly pendulous: both hanging low and oscillating rapidly. The public has to know that parties or presidents must be allowed to fulfill their legislative agendas, over a term or two at least, or all you’re going to end up with is investigations, shutdowns and polarization.
President Donald Trump and his acolytes made this case in the run-up to the 2018 elections. America didn’t listen. Now voters have little cause to judge this president for doing one of the only things he can to tell Congress he resents its agenda: shut the government down.
Until and unless the American people decide on a common route forward, the shutdown remains a legitimate means by which an elected president can push back against the dominance of the opposition party in Congress, and indeed the caprice of the voter.
Raheem Kassam is a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute.