Just over a week ago, the nation watched as the United States government shut down for the first time since 2013. This latest shutdown was due mostly to a continued disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over the future of the children of illegal immigrants—or ‘dreamers,’ as they are often called. The shutdown was resolved two days later when Congress Democrats relented and voted the new budget through, settling for a confirmation from Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell that Republicans will address dreamers within the near future.
For many, this story sounds eerily similar to the 2013 shutdown, when Republicans refused to sign the budget unless it included a full defunding of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This stalemate lasted from Oct. 1, 2013 to to Oct. 17., at which point Republicans conceded.
Gridlock, as it is often called , was and is a significant concern to the general public. Today, politicians and citizens alike have doubled down on the blame game. This hasn’t at all been helped by President Trump, who seems to relish any chance he gets to pander to his base at the blatant expense of the rest of his other constituents. While it would be easy to discuss the inadequacies of President Trump (of which there are many), the fact that Democrats have now utilized a government shutdown as a tool should be of much greater concern to everyone, as it signifies another milestone of political standstill from which it may be difficult to return.
According to the Pew Research Center, as of Oct. 2017, the gap between the political right and left in the United States has continued to widen to frightening levels, with no signs of stopping any time soon. Our country is staunchly divided on local, state and national stages. Though it is easy to forget in high-stakes debates, political and societal progress is built on compromise—or at the very least, negotiation. In light of the recently-celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Dr. King had an acute understanding of this and went about promoting change with this in mind.
This is not to say people shouldn’t stick to their guns and insist on change, as that’s an integral part of the negotiation process. That said, indulging in the culture of manufactured staunchness is, at its core, a gamble. Founder of Vox Ezra Klein discussed these risks in his article “Are Democrats becoming more like Republicans?” Rather than playing ball on the terms and details of the already-passed ACA—as moderate Republicans would do later on—conservatives in Congress made an unrealistic bargain in demanding that Democrats completely defund the ACA, the Obama administration’s proudest achievement. This did nothing but keep government employees from receiving their paychecks for over two weeks.
Democrats were much more realistic (as it insisted upon the inclusion of a policy rather than the defunding of an entire program) with their demands during the most recent shutdown, but if prior political trends are anything to go off of, Democrats’ usage of the shutdown may have opened to door to more of this tactic in the future. If Democrats manage to take back the majority in Congress, we may have yet another shutdown on our hands next year, as Republicans take their turn in the game of political retaliation. Meanwhile, the causes politicians are supposedly fighting for—access to healthcare, employment availability, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—are kept from making even marginal progress in any direction.
At this point, it’s difficult to determine a solution to get us out of this predicament. We are dealing with an America split between two diametrically opposed value systems. But at the very least, it is up to us as citizens to express deep dissatisfaction in the partisan games of those we have elected.