The effects of Donald Trump’s prolonged government shutdown won’t go away instantly. That’s certainly true for government workers who are still wondering when they’ll see their missing paychecks and finally be able to address everything from rents to groceries — without taking one of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s special 9 percent interest loans (not everyone can just steal $120 million when they need it). And there are other lingering effects, like a US brain drain, as scientists who were deprived of funds began to look elsewhere for projects. Trump’s pointless, ultimately futile action not only damaged the economy, eroded national safety, and left hundreds of thousands of government workers in a kind of de facto pay-free indentured servitude, the destabilization resulting from this event will have effects that are impossible to determine for months or years ahead.
After undermining the faith that other governments had in the United States to act as strategic ally, and demonstrating that the United States could not be counted on to stand by its word (repeatedly), Trump has now brought that evidence of instability home — He has demonstrated definitively that the US government under Donald Trump cannot be trusted.
The brief three-week respite will be enough for many families to receive their pay, and for some agencies to begin dealing with requests and requirements that have piled up in the absence of furloughed workers. It will not be enough to restore any sense of stability. Because Donald Trump has demonstrated, categorically, that as long as his short fingers are on the tiller, there can be no stability. Not only was Trump’s shutdown the longest on record, but it was also the shutdown that came with the least warning, the least planning, and the least possibility of effective resolution. Because this was a shutdown that was generated out of Trump’s own wildly swinging emotional reactions. it showed that the US government is one off the cuff remark from a conservative media host away from an action that disrupts the lives of millions.
Nancy Pelosi’s steadfast determination throughout the whole manufactured crisis was admirable, but it was the only bright spot in a sea that’s decidedly dark. A manufactured crisis … is still a crisis, and Trump’s shutdown only exposed another way in which the nation is vulnerable to the capricious demands of an executive whose authority outstrips his consideration by a factor of infinity.
On Saturday morning, as TSA workers return to airports, Coast Guard forces patrol the nation’s waters, and inspectors begin trying to sort out the nation’s food, water, and workplaces, all of them have to be relieved that, finally, a paycheck should be on the way. But many of them have to be sharing another thought — how do I get out of this outfit?
For some conservatives, the only disappointment with Trump’s shutdown is that it is over. They didn’t care about resolving it. After all, even Trump’s most fervent supporters realize that Trump’s “wall” is an unbuildable, ineffective, and indefensible waste. They cared more about how the shutdown itself was doing the Great Work that Republicans have been about for decades: Undermining America’s faith in the government.
Every day that the government stayed in shutdown, was another day in which Republicans could pass along the subtle message of “See? You didn’t need it.” And every day that government workers went without support, was a day in which they were given straightforward proof that the government did not care about the work they did or the conditions in which they lived. Every shutdown day is a happy day for people whose task it is to make American’s believe that “The government is the problem.”
Except that the only way Republicans, Fox News, and AM radio hosts everywhere were able to whistle a happy libertarian tune was because the government was still working. Agents of the United States were still ensuring safety, dealing with disasters, and arresting criminal GOP strategists. They were just doing it all for free.
There were also a number of services that Trump’s pals really liked — such as handing out permission to drill for oil and gas on public lands — that never became a problem because they never stopped. That was just one of several issues for which Trump magically found the funds to keep people at work. In fact, those permits were processed more quickly than ever, unhampered as they were by any review.
Trump’s shutdown gave Republicans a chance to test out the government by carve-out, running only the systems they liked while barring the doors on environmental, safety, and regulatory concerns. A conservative paradise.
However, conservative paradise turned out to require the diligent work of hundreds of thousands laboring without pay. That was unlikely to generate anything resembling a moral quandary for those cheering on the shutdown, but it was also an unsustainable position. Despite a carve out here, and order there, and a national emergency act in his pocket, day thirty-four of Trump’s shutdown was making the truth all too clear.
Government isn’t the problem. Bad Republican government is the problem.
Good government, effective government, is necessary to the function of the nation. There’s not one department or agency in place because someone thought it would be peachy keen to employ more “faceless bureaucrats.” Every government job exists because it meets an identified need, and the people undertaking those tasks come with not just faces, but families and friends — many of whom vote.
Republicans who grinned over Trump’s government shutdown as a means of demonstrating just how little Americans need government workers may find that the action has another lingering, unexpected effect. What Americans discovered isn’t just that they do need a government. They need a government that’s consistent in its operations, fair in its administration, and available when services are required. What they don’t need is Republicans willing to put all that at risk.