The Government Shutdown Was All About Political Power

Although we are supposed to see our recent record-breaking federal government partial shutdown as a principled battle between Democrats and Republicans regarding border enforcement policies and practices, the reality was both far more complex—and commonplace. There was a cold calculation on both sides that they could benefit politically by harming their opponents. Moreover, both Republicans and Democrats already have their eyes firmly fixed on the 2020 election, and each side is already auditioning applause lines and fundraising pitches aimed at their respective supporters as they maneuver for advantage in what is certain to be an particularly dirty and divisive campaign. As with most supposedly high minded activity by politicians, this shutdown was instead about the same old thing: how to get—and keep—more money and power.

Although the mass media encourages the belief that our nation is a hot mess of warring factions—liberals against conservatives, men against women, educated against uneducated, urban against rural, rich against poor, young against old, and so on—it could be the case that the division that sets us at each other’s throats is far more simple: the powerful against the powerless. Sometimes this power is open and obvious; sometimes it is exercised surreptitiously or indirectly. Nonetheless, power—and the immense wealth that follows right along behind it—has been the subject of our most primal human lust since we first squatted in a cave many tens of thousands of years ago.

Because of the ever increasing globalization of business and finance, the divide between our world’s winners and losers has grown wider and wider over the recent decades. Win enough power—economic, regulatory, or technological—and one can now stand bestride the planet like a Colossus. The central role that government interventions now play in both granting that power and jerking it away has turned government service into an incredibly lucrative career for many, and the immense concentration of wealth in capitals the world over has made the mere proximity to government a main driver of personal wealth.

The areas surrounding Washington, D.C., which now contain most of the wealthiest zip codes in America, has become a near-monolithic block of federal employees and contractors whose highest loyalty is reserved for those elected officials (a.k.a. Democrats) who strive to increase their powers and remuneration. The hostility directed against President Trump by those who work for the federal government is readily explained by his open disdain for much of their work and his desire to close or reduce many of the make-work bureaucracies for which they labor. Knowing that their livelihoods are on the line, it is little wonder that Donald Trump is viewed as a unwelcome interloper whose policies must be “resisted” at every turn by government employees whose loyalties are often clearly not with the elected President of the United States.

It has, of course, been pointed out that one result of the partial government shutdown is that federal workers have now been compelled to confront the kind of personal financial angst that everyone beyond the comfortable cocoon of government employment deals with every day. It is doubtful that every American is moved by the plight of federal workers who were forced to cancel their yoga studio memberships, cut down on restaurant meals, or deal with temporary financial problems that were worse as the shutdown dragged on. This new exposure to employment insecurity faced by federal workers—who will, nonetheless, be made whole on every penny of pay they missed when their paychecks were not being issued—is an unfortunate daily reality that many, many Americans employed in the private sector have suffered for years. The stories blasted throughout the media about the plights of furloughed federal employees, although certainly sad, perhaps produced more schadenfreude than sympathy among some of our nation’s beleaguered taxpayers.

The disconnect between the lives of the vulnerable ruled and those of the—at least until recently—well insulated rulers is, I believe, one aspect of President Trump’s continued appeal that those who live and work within the long shadow of federal power still simply cannot comprehend. The core belief of many Washington’s leaders in the benign and beneficent nature of the immense power they exercise over every facet of our daily lives makes it impossible for them to comprehend the frustration the average person feels each day as they crash into a brick wall of laws, rules, regulations, practices, guidelines, and advisories that cumulatively strip them of personal autonomy and invite the specter of investigation, lawsuit, or arrest if they fail to obey. These pronouncements from the high castle of federal power, which are generally designed to ensure strict oversight over the unruly serfs (a.k.a. you and me), are often the product of scholarly study by a priesthood of credentialed experts who have little interest in—or understanding of—the actual lives or values of those whose existences they zealously regulate.

In addition, the stench of corruption that has emanated from official Washington for many years—a grotesque assemblage of bribe givers and bribe takers (a.k.a. lobbyists and elected officials)—is simply too foul to any longer ignore. Hillary Clinton’s biggest liability in 2016 was not that she was a woman or completely lacking in charisma; the root of the problem was that she was a shameless creature of the D.C. Swamp World of back scratchers, influence peddlers, and money grubbing parasites. She was, therefore, rejected by voters who were willing to roll the dice on a blunt and graceless businessman who spoke directly and forcefully to their anger at an entrenched ruling class who thought them a herd of idiots (a.k.a. Deplorables) whose lives and aspirations needed to be carefully controlled and monitored.

Donald Trump’s election has put powerful D.C. insiders into a two year collective freak out that has been helpfully spun by their compliant media partners into a parable of “resistance” to right wing oppression and Russian chicanery. Taking a step back, you have to admire the genius of those who have created and encouraged this narrative while (wink!) resisting every effort to rein in the incredible powers of the national security state, reduce federal oversight of our daily lives, or remove American troops from dead end wars around the world that accomplish little else other than further enhancing the profits of international arms dealers—quite a Jedi mind trick, to say the least. I don’t, for example, recall Barack Obama meeting with the leader of North Korea to negotiate for the end of their nuclear weapons program, do you?

I know that having their paychecks temporarily stopped and stressing about paying their bills was terrible for many federal workers. Given the clear intransigence of Democrats regarding any negotiations regarding border security, it is possible that this partial shutdown could be back again in only three weeks. The apparent unconcern with which Democrats were willing to forgo the least flexibility and prolong this shutdown until public safety was finally put at real risk leads one to wonder just what kind of end game is being contemplated here.

Is the long-term plan to create chaos, crash the booming national economy, use the megaphone of the mainstream media to place all the blame on President Trump, and try to stampede an impeachment by continually screeching the Clinton campaign accusation that President Trump is an agent of Russia—despite the utter lack of any actual evidence to support this after two full years of the Robert Mueller sideshow? If we remember that this standoff is less about principle and more about power, it makes a certain Machiavellian sense. It is, therefore, likely this is just the first act in what is going to be a titanic power struggle between Washington’s entrenched and angry elite and President Trump and his Republican allies—not all of whom, truth be told, find the current reality all that distasteful. Those Republican legislators and bureaucrats contemplating post-governmental careers as a D.C. lobbyist or lawyer/fixer, with all the wealth and influence that this implies, likely see The Swamp as an ecosystem of power, prerogatives, and future fat paychecks they do not want to actually disturb—sad to say.

Stay tuned, America. You might be witnessing a truly pivotal moment in our nation’s history because this ongoing battle seems like it is going to leave only one side standing, and the future direction of our nation certainly hangs in the balance.

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