We’re rightly exasperated with the idea that a small conservative minority in Congress, and now the president, can hold the federal government hostage as a negotiating tactic.
The arguments against a government shutdown are valid enough: a threatened or real shutdown is disruptive and distracting, as well as counter-productive, should your government job encompass some useful activity such as crafting laws. And because the process is counter-productive, it is also expensive.
But worse, those who would shut down the government are engaging in the crudest political experiments, on a system they barely understand. They act as though the government were some super-sized elementary particle – opaque, mysterious, and responding only to external stresses that are nasty, brutish and not necessarily short.
These pseudo-physics experiments are as self-fulfilling as they are unrevealing: Look! The particle recovered from a shut down without major issues – next time perhaps we can shut it down for longer and save ourselves some real dough. Look! The particle was able to survive without a budget– clearly, we no longer need to concern ourselves with that pesky nuisance. Look! The particle can run indefinitely without useful output, so we can spend our days and nights waging internal war on our political enemies.
And like bad, mad pseudo-scientists, our nominal leaders will continue to stress the ill-understood government particle until something really does break. It’s hard to know what will break first, but something will, quite possibly one of the capabilities now actively supported by government research. Perhaps the ability to right a teetering economy, or defend against a pandemic, or prevent a cyber-attack against our infrastructure. It’s quite possible that time will unfortunately tell.
The particle-collider approach to governance may seem irrational – after all, it explains nothing of what government actually does, but only what it can endure. In reality, it makes perfect sense. Contempt and ignorance has created a situation where our nominal leaders are both in charge of government, and on the outside looking in. That the tools of their craft have become entirely crude should surprise no one. It’s unsurprising, but also not pretty. We’ve elected Bamm-Bamm Rubble as president, hoping to impress Pebbles with his mighty prowess. Duck, if you can.