Before round two of shutdown/showdown begins on or about February 15, 2019, a useful exercise sponsored by H.L. and the George Santayana School of Not Failing to Learn the Lessons of History, is to list and rank the losers and winners in round one. The press, of which this blog is only technically a member, has reached consensus that Trump was a big loser, but not the biggest.
Mainstream and left leaning media decided instantly, on day one of 35, and weeks before any paycheck was missed, that the biggest losers were the 800,00 federal workers furloughed (euphemism of the year) or required to work without scheduled paychecks. Their suffering and that of their families, illustrated in a billion heart-rending scenarios and interviews, dominated press coverage. It was reported and elaborated ten times more often than the plight of those who did not get government services from those furloughed or the work without pay group whose rate of self-furlough rose steadily during the shutdown’s five weeks. That group of losers comprises pretty much all of us. And when the undelivered services were mentioned, the reporting usually involved some other check or benefit (SNAP, tax refund etc.). That the press reflexively arrived at and stuck to that pain ranking betrayed both laziness and a desire to identify easily explained and consumable “victims.” Perhaps during the interregnum, between the first and next round, the press will decide that these victims are “survivors.”
Laziness, because it’s much easier to get testimony on a missed, or soon to be, car, tax, fuel, insurance or tuition payment than to do the hard work necessary to analyze and report the short and long-term consequences of undelivered services, involving things like safety and health monitoring and research. There are many additional cancers, other illnesses and deaths incubating because of this presidential tantrum. One obvious shutdown consequence virtually reported itself, when long lines and delays developed at airports toward the end. The point is not that the workers were not losers, but simply their hardship is qualitatively and quantitatively less important than that of America’s people and society. This coming from a longtime state government stiff, whose family needed timely paychecks but was given play money called “scrip” during a long budget battle between the governor and legislature. More to the point of empathy, it comes from a former legal services lawyer on strike for several harsh winter months, but like most of his union sisters and brothers covered all court appearances for our truly needy and desperate clients. Without pay, current or deferred.
One very bad consequence of excessive and nearly exclusive press concentration on government worker hardship, without at least equal explanation of the value of their work, is who becomes the shutdown’s biggest winner. It’s not Minority Leader Schumer or Speaker Pelosi (“or Nancy as I call her” what a moron is our President). It is Grover Norquist and his washcloths. Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, was recently the most powerful person in the Republican party. He controlled 95 percent of Rs in Congress with a Triskelion-like obedience collar called the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
With the Trump/Ryan/McConnell out of control deficit and defense budget (so larded up that a wall of $5 to $50 billion might be built with its spare change) it is not clear whether Norquist has any influence left. But Norquist and what’s left of his other than rhetorical followers still subscribe to Norquist’s famous quote about downsizing government. “I’m not in favor of abolishing government, I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
What better way to do that than ignore and devalue what government and its workers provide and present government as merely a jobs program that does not produce anything much worth reporting.