The Sequestered US Government Needs a Therapist
Previously published on Mar 28, 2013
Of late, the US government has been acting especially dysfunctional to the point most experts are thoroughly stupefied by the unhealthy dynamic. Unfortunately, the irrational, damaging behavior of the US government cannot be fully comprehended in terms of traditional political science models, thus solutions to our government crisis cannot be derived. If the behavior of government is analyzed as a whole, it might be modeled as a dysfunctional person or as a dysfunctional group of persons. Although human beings and human beings as groups exhibit a myriad of dysfunctions, the most harmful aspect of unhealthy, destructive individuals is the tendency of these people to enable dysfunctional behaviors in others and foster dysfunctional, often degenerative environments.
My father is an extremely dysfunctional person. Part of his dysfunctional nature centers on his apathetic pursuit of his own interests, which makes his plethora of technical skills nearly worthless to him, his compulsive need to pursue affection from outside interests, i.e. friends, acquaintances, etc., by forgoing his own needs in favor of their interests, and his oppressively domineering nature. For his wife and children, his dysfunctions created an environment where healthy behaviors, such as studying, exercise, and scheduled activities, were aggressively discouraged while unhealthy behaviors, such as overeating, indefinite procrastination, and social disengagement, were expected, unless they inconvenienced him. My father's impulse is to avoid doing what he should be doing when he is faced with a task, especially when it is a challenge. Coupled with an ongoing effort to actively prevent others from compensating for his dysfunctional nature and his negligence, this particular dysfunction essentially guarantees he will accomplish little, if anything. Clearly, this is analogous to government.
My father's efforts to procrastinate always begin with an internal "debate" on what to do, which essentially consists of him avoiding the issue at hand by watching TV and, perhaps, mulling over a series of cyclical rationales for the first thought that popped into his head. The debating process is then followed by a series of booby traps, i.e. do whatever it takes to ensure the task becomes an irresolvable crisis; this usually includes losing or breaking the tools/materials needed to do the job as well as an all out effort to accomplish nonessential tasks he should have undertaken long ago. Thanks to his ability to thoroughly contort reality to the point his rationales and fabrications are more real than reality, his highly manipulate nature ensures others will almost never try or be able to correct his self-destructive behaviors. Like my father, the US government is essentially creating more problems and greater costs by avoiding the things it should be doing with an ongoing series of pathological manipulations and avoidance tactics.
In truth, the one thing that would have helped my father was good old fashion peer pressure. Because he so aggressively pursues the approval of nonfamily members, my father's most destructive behaviors could have been mitigated by constructive, positive peer pressure. Unfortunately, his dysfunctions make him highly exploitable while the prevailing socioeconomic dynamic of our culture, which is very prevalent in my economically depressed area, tends to foster exploitation. Consequently, he encountered mostly negative peer pressure throughout his life, which cultivated his most self-destructive behaviors, thus he failed to pursue his own/family's interests. In a similar fashion, special interests, especially corporate interests, mass media outlets, and the voting population have tended to reward our government's most dysfunctional behaviors; therefore, the US government has been encouraged to neglect the interests of the American People over the last two or three generations.
In the current battle over the National Debt and Sequester, our officials and political analysts enabled our government's dysfunctional behavior by offering them an easy out. That is, the Sequester was put in place to create a relatively minor crisis, so our politicians could solve our underlying budgetary issues before an irresolvable crisis hit in the future, i.e. the US Federal government goes bankrupt. Instead, politicians publicly focused on who was to blame for the Sequester and what would happen if the Sequester went into effect. By obsessing over this story, the news outlets and viewing public gave our elected officials the out they are always seeking. When our elected officials should have been discussing and resolving the political conflicts that exist across a variety of policy areas, including tax policy, tax philosophy, spending philosophy, social welfare spending, military spending, etc, they were too preoccupied with trying to avoid the political consequences of the Sequester. With the Sequester in effect, the American People are likely to eventually see another classic kick-the-can-down-the-road solution, which will do little to solve the actual problem of the Debt, should the true consequences of the sequester become apparent.
Unfortunately, the underlying issues surrounding the Sequester and the Federal Budget cannot be fully discussed in a single article. In order to resolve the many underlying issues fueling the ongoing budgetary crisis alone, the American People need to be part of an open, honest discussion on what needs to be done and what choices must be made. It is the responsibility of our Legislators to lead this discussion, not have a half-assed one behind closed doors as they publicly moan over the consequences of their own policies. (They even tried to claim they didn't understand what the Sequester was. They understood; they just didn't do what they should have done to stop it.) President Obama's outreach to Republicans and campaign style efforts to encourage voters to force their representatives to act is a start to what is needed, but we must have an actual public forum on the myriad of underlying public policies and governing philosophies.
My siblings and I have had to learn how to compensate for the dysfunctional nature of our father; however, we have come to learn that we can only compensate so much. Just as a dysfunctional person's destructive behavior can only be effectively mitigated with community support and engagement, the dysfunctional nature of our government can only be mitigated by greater community support and engagement for the pursuit of the American People's interests. With round two of the Sequester crisis underway and a whole host of other critical issues left unresolved, it is my hope the American People and our elected officials might start to have the truly difficult conversations we need to have, instead of avoiding them by quibbling over seemingly important, yet relatively trivial, arguments. It would also be nice if professional news outlets and professional journalists would help by doing their job and covering the broader stories surrounding the Sequester. The Sequester will pass with relatively minor, albeit extremely painful and destructive, consequences, but the underlying issues behind the budgetary crisis will still need to be resolved. Eventually, the US government will be forced to pursue its interests, or deal with a thoroughly catastrophic collapse of the Federal Budget and the US government that will have ripple effects throughout the world for generations to come.
Our public officials and unofficial community leaders should contemplate the following:
The more times you choose to the take the path of least resistance, the farther downhill you go.