Politicians Embrace Government Shutdowns, Death of Healthcare Reform As Part Of Their Scorched-Earth Political Tactics
The US government faces another shutdown in a decades-long series of shutdowns due to the ongoing failures of Congress and the Executive Branch to get the Federal government’s fiscal house in order. This time around, however, it is also the result of a political spat over funding for Donald Trump’s border wall. The President and his supporters want a wall that stretches the entire length of the US-Mexican border. While the pros and cons of building such a wall have been debated for decades, Trump has decided his wall is a deal-breaker. Democrats, who won back control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 Midterms, have every reason to oppose the President’s agenda, especially when it comes an issue most Americans do not prioritize. This shutdown fight, of course, comes on the heels of a federal court ruing that declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional based on the fact the 2017 Republican tax law zeroed the Obamacare’s individual mandate and a 2010 Supreme Court upheld the reform effort based on the tax. Both developments highlight the degenerative nature of extreme partisans and the embrace of mutual annihilation as a political end-game.
A government shutdown is generally considered harmful to the sitting US President. Not only is the President blamed for a shutdown, shutdowns tend to undermine the political influence of the President. If he fails to resolve the shutdown on his terms, it hurts the President’s ability to implement his agenda. If he can resolve the shutdown by extracting meaningful concessions, the President can strengthen his political hand and bolster his standing among the American People. For Congressional leaders, a shutdown can be just as harmful and helpful. At any rate, there is always a political cost, so it is not wise to allow a shutdown over an issue that resonates with a small number of Americans. For Donald Trump, however, the political calculations are very different. Men like Donald Trump view concessions, even trivial concessions, as signs of weakness. Unless Trump can spin a lack of border wall funding as a non-issue or victory, he feels compelled to stand his ground, no matter the cost.
Today is an era when politics trumps everything. This is a time of extreme partisan division and political dysfunction fueled by identity politics. It is an era where political leaders no longer feel beholden to the interests of their constituents from across the political spectrum, including most of those who voted for them. It is an era in which political leaders cater to key demographics and highly influential groups, which more and more include those on the fringes of the political spectrum. Politicians tend to be opportunists, so they will do what they want and what the electorate will let them get away with. Most politicians are, however, motivated by their desire to expand their power and stay in the good graces of voters. This helps constrain the behavior of even the most rebellious public figures. For Trump, whose brand and reelection depend on him doing and saying controversial things that would lead to most elected officials losing their reelection campaigns, there are few things that constrain the behavior of the President. Only under the imminent threat of legal action does Donald Trump feel compelled to do something to avoid the legal consequences of his misdeeds.
Unfortunately, this means the President is not motivated by a quest for constructive public policies, the interests of his supporters, or the common good. He has no inherent reason to compromise and no reason to push public policies that benefit the majority of Americans. He can gleefully embrace the prospects of a government shutdown, because the political consequences of a government shutdown do not have a perceived impact on him. He can cheer on the demise of the Affordable Care Act, despite the consequences of Americans losing protections against coverage denials based on preexisting conditions, because he is already opposed to Obamacare. He does, however, have an interest in appeasing diehard supporters, because they are the reason he has influence and he needs them to protect him from the consequences of actions. For them, a government shutdown is seen as a victory for the President. The end of Obamacare, no matter the consequences to sick Americans, is insignificant. It is a victory in their eyes. The impact on the majority of Americans or the desires of the majority do not matter as long as their objectives are met. The quality of Trump’s leadership does not matter as long as he trumpets their political positions.
Quite frankly, politicians have rarely been driven by the will of a majority, proper governance, or the common good. They have always catered to the whims of the key groups that ensure they remain in power. Today, their self-serving ways have been taken to a crippling extreme. In the past, there were always responsible parties or moments of responsibility that ensured government as an institution could function to some degree. In the extreme, public policy and the common good are held hostage to ensure partisan victories. Superficial political policies, self-serving political agendas, and egocentric causes trump functional governance. The push to silence the majority with one’s own political goals and gain the support of those with the same ideological identity drives those in power. To achieve victory at all costs, political operatives are more than willing to embrace the political equivalent of scorched-earth tactics. To deny those who dissent from their positions, those who oppose them, they are willing to deny their opponents any form of victory, even if that means sacrificing their own victories or harming the American People.
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