Between & Beyond: Government Shutdown

The government shutdown is now behind us and we can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Or, better yet, we could not be relieved at all and call this the final straw. The shutdown served no purpose and has no lasting political effect, neither ideological nor practical. Politics by nature are masturbatory, but this goes above and beyond the norm, and maybe, just maybe, we have found ourselves a tipping point.

The shutdown and debt ceiling debate ended exactly on schedule. There are no surprises here. If you recall, the last debt ceiling stalemate, it played out exactly the same way. The harrowing drama and righteous tension ended at the 11th hour as if some playbill had scheduled show time down to the hour. Here, we not only have the same plot, but the same tired cast of characters as well, making the same empty gestures, with the news media all the while obsessively and compulsively picking at the festering wound.

But aside from the déjà vu nature of the whole ordeal, it should also come as no surprise because the macrocosm of the government reflects the climate that proliferates throughout our culture. American values (or lack thereof) are embedded in the characteristics of our governmental behavior, and we should be familiar with the values expressed by our broken political system. First and foremost, self-interest is the dominating zeitgeist of present-day America. From the local school district to the marble halls of the financial industry, corruption reigns supreme. All institutions across America are broken and they are each broken along the same lines of pathological greed. That greed seems to stem from the strange definition of survival that we promote: one that emphasizes a sort of tribal mentality. We must protect our family and our family alone. All these other families out there are in the way of our survival. The government acts no differently. The two tribal parties of Democrat and Republican are in a fierce war and the American people are the trampled grass, but unlike the bitter partisanship of a decade ago, there doesn’t even seem to be any clear cut ideology, just two totally ineffective Centrist parties bickering over the minute details of the status quo.

The other characteristic we should be familiar with is that of procrastination. Rather than taking roles of leadership and solving problems, we have a sickening series of stop-gap measures designed to avoid the task of decision making. This avoidance is no doubt based on the insane level credence given to that of political advisers. Politicians no longer act with decisive leadership because they carefully craft their careers along the lines of reelection. Even the adamant opposition to Obamacare was dropped from the whole game once the polls came in. Of course, this wraps back around nicely to the idea of self-interest. Quite simply: Politicians are interested in keeping power, not deserving it.

But, as we, the American worker, struggle through our day-to-day existence, mostly in service to empty and broken institutions that treat us with no respect or, more and more frequently, no living wage, we become jaded, disenfranchised, alienated, and uneager to play by the rules or for the team. These are the trickle-down effects on the American character. Our crisis is not a political one but a cultural one. The spirit of cooperation has been obliterated from the American landscape as has the concept of dialog and nearly everything we suffer through stems from this lack.

The cost of the shutdown shows in actual dollar figures, both in lost income and spooked markets. It also shows in the level of defamation that we will face internationally. The shutdown ended just as the early morning news cycle was ramping up in Europe and scathing critiques were in no short supply. Bewildered reporters pondered why a nation so in debt would act so rudely and irresponsibly. But maybe, this could be a tipping point. Maybe we can finally see that the system is utterly broken. America is in sorry shape, and the problem is that things aren’t bad enough. No matter what, even if we head out to protest, the vast majority of us can come home, take a shower, eat some nachos and fall asleep peacefully. But that majority is shrinking rapidly as the hollow promise of economic recovery continues to hold no water. And, as the system that we are responsible for continues in its downward spiral, some very terrifying cracks are beginning to show. We can no longer stand and face wicked men and demand that they behave. They won’t. What we can do is face each other and regain the value of cooperation and communication and community and learn to make out of our lives what we wish to see by way of our own will, our trust in each other, and our own intelligence and talent.