The longest government shut down in our history has just completed 31 days and even if there is an end in sight—which I hope there is, but I’m not optimistic—there’s something that has become painfully clear. Government is the people.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was not only was famous for his “Fourscore and seven years ago” opening, but also said “…this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government: of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this Earth.” What does that exactly mean?
Of the people means we are the people who govern us, we elect our leaders they are not kings and queens.
By the people means we are the ones who make our government through those we elect
For the people, is that we do this for our own good.
At least that’s how many understand it when they spend some time thinking about government. For the past few years we’ve heard plenty about draining the swamp, the metaphor for changing Washington DC, by those who are out of power or most aggrieved, which is what they say when they want to seem an agent of change. This has become a particularly strong metaphor for conservatives, including Reagan and Trump when they want to argue against bureaucracy or too much governmental oversight.
This view is in conflict with what we’ve seen come out of the American experiment, as we have created agencies that protect our food, write safety rules for the cars we drive, distribute monies for social security ,which come from dollars we loaned to the government to be paid upon our retirement, and maintain security whether it’s at an airport, on the highway or inside the FBI. It’s easy to point at regulations or buildings or agencies and say they are not American, or hurting America and forget that actually, Americans are working there. They are doing the jobs—mostly invisible—that the majority of us need to exist in a functioning country.
George Lakoff writes about Why Democracy is Public: The American Dream Beats the Nightmare, where he states the American Dream is “built upon mutual care and trust.” Elizabeth Warren has spoken about this idea; that even the most self-made person was able to get ahead because there were safe roads (built by Americans!) to transport their widgets to market, literate workers (thanks American teachers!) and their factories and stores were not looted every night because of public security (thanks American police officers!)
So, not only is the shutdown hurting the federal workers—and it’s easy to empathize with their plight—but ultimately it hurts us all. This article gives an good overview of interconnectedness of our government to us, as well as the (usual) conservative schism that goes on within people who want limited government but like what they get from the government and can’t find anything to cut. So maybe, once this whole shit show is over, we’ll remember that government is us and we (and our neighbors) are government.