American Privilege & the Shutdown

I’ve been wanting to say something about the government shutdown, but every time I got to write about it all that comes out is, “KFNL%#)MWQ!KKXTE##$^DMAAK!?!?!?!!!”

Thankfully, some other folks are saying much more articulate things about the situation. Unsurprisingly, outside of the U.S. there is a whole lot of confusion and justified disgust at the idiocy of the whole situation. I found Anthony Zurcher’s comment, from the UK, striking:

For most of the world, a government shutdown is very bad news –- the result of revolution, invasion or disaster. Even in the middle of its ongoing civil war, the Syrian government has continued to pay its bills and workers’ wages. That leaders of one of the most powerful nations on earth willingly provoked a crisis that suspends public services and decreases economic growth is astonishing to many.

Zurcher goes on to comment on the impact this may have on the global economy. In the era of globalization, playing these sorts of games threaten not just US, but the global economy as well. In my last post, I wrote briefly about privilege, and I think that’s an important part of the current political mess. There has been much discussion about how avoiding the immediate effects of the government shutdown is possible from a privilege position. If you don’t rely on food stamps or WIC formula, the government shutdown may feel like any other day. And that’s a convenient position, but there’s a baffling lack of empathy required in order to fail to recognize that’s not a universal position. Fox News (as filtered through The Daily Show) does a good job of demonstrating this attitude (right around 2:30):

(Side note: I love the show deeply, but I could do with at least 60% fewer penis jokes on TDS.)

But the ways that privilege plays into the House Republican stand off are deeper, even,  than the failure to recognize this. Those who support (and also those who do not oppose) this shutdown and impending debt ceiling crisis are able to live in their delusional bubble because they take for granted America’s position as an international superpower, as a global economic powerhouse, as “the greatest and/or most powerful country on earth.” The comparative wealth and power of the US, and the comfort that affords us as Americans, is completely taken for granted and, dangerously, taken for a constant.

It’s like the rich kid in college, who can spend all his rent money on booze and late-night pizza delivery,  because he knows his parents will always bail him out. James Fallows discusses this in a short piece in The Atlantic:

As a matter of substance, constant-shutdown, permanent-emergency governance is so destructive that no other serious country engages in or could tolerate it. The United States can afford it only because we are — still — so rich, with so much margin for waste and error.

And in this way, in addition to highlighting the danger of extremism and gerrymandering, this current manufactured crisis is a profound example of America’s sense of exceptionalism. Our national mythology is one of invincibility; we cannot imagine a world in which we do not dominate. Like that rich college kid drunk and full of pizza, we only see possibility and infinite lives. House Republicans can risk the national and international economy on a bet, because they cannot imagine a world in which we do not win. Not only do they fail to grasp the arrogance of that bet, it is precisely that attitude that weakens America’s national health as well as our global position of strength.

P.S. If you’re looking to stay up-to-date on the saga of our federal government, I’ve been really enjoying The Slate Political Gabfest’s 15 minute daily digest throughout the shutdown.


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