By Charles McCollester
President Trump’s government shutdown was a cheap, tawdry, fear-mongering piece of blackmail designed to assert his will over Congress and possibly impose a shameful border wall, even if it takes diverting money from the military in the name of an imaginary national emergency. It is only the latest and most dramatic result of the 40 year right wing attack on government itself in the name of freeing the capitalist entrepreneurial spirit from all restraint. Trump’s fictional border crisis quickly developed into a real one as children were separated from their mothers in a slovenly and vindictive fashion.
The shutdown of the government and threats by President Trump to repeat it if he does not get his way caused direct pain to federal workers and contractors as well as undermined the vital work done by a myriad of agencies that oversee transportation safety and maintenance, worker health and safety, environmental monitoring and protection, food and drug inspections, emergency management, national parks and monuments, education and housing assistance from the federal government, food stamps, veterans assistance, national health researchers and a myriad of other programs that impact state and local government activities as well.
The shutdown was a logical extension of a Republican anti-government agenda that has been cutting social services and desperately needed infrastructure investment for decades in order to transfer untold wealth to the obscenely wealthy. Using the threat of a shutdown to build an ugly racist wall is only the latest example of an ideological assault on government operations, taxation and regulations that has radically increased economic inequality, pushing a large segment of the middle class into the category of the working poor.
These actions reflect a highly organized movement to unleash the aggressive pursuit of private gain and unlimited accumulation of wealth by a very few, rather than provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare of all. Republicans for decades cloaked their incessant demands for cutting needed social, labor, infrastructure and environmental programs behind a phony concern for the expansion of national and state debt. The total hypocrisy of this ritualistic shedding of crocodile tears over the burden that governmental debt will supposedly place on our grandchildren was revealed when Trump gave massive tax breaks to the rich, pumping up long term debt to fuel a false short term prosperity based on easy money and stock speculation. There was nary a peep out of the legions of once bold deficit hawks.
Government, as discredited and corrupted as it is on many levels, is the main institutional counterbalance to the power of private corporate wealth. Budget cutting and deregulation on the state level reinforces the effect of the Trump assault on federal workers. While right-wing commentators and think tanks attack the operation of the public sector at all levels as wasteful, their lobbyists work to block regulation, enforcement and funding. While the lobbying arm of the moneyed oligarchy corrupts legislators and thwarts legitimate governmental efforts, their propaganda arm screams about the corruption and ineffectiveness of government as the natural outcome of liberal, collectivist or socialist policies.
Trump has declared a national emergency over the few thousands of ragged refugees from poverty, crime and exploitation gathered at the border. Using such a declaration was tried after Katrina by President George Bush when he attempted to unilaterally reduce the minimum wage for cleanup and restoration efforts. Pushback from Congress forced Bush to reconsider, but Trump’s threat to redirect military funding and bypass Congressional funding powers extends his encroachment on legislative appropriations powers. These repeating crises lets him selectively decide who are essential and must work without pay and those that are furloughed and neither work nor get paid until this manufactured crisis or the next one is over.
There are encouraging signs that people are rising in defense of public service. Women and the young are taking the lead. A wave of teacher strikes bubbled up from the bottom, out of the rank and file, and swept across West Virginia, Arizona and Oklahoma. The movement revealed broad public support for public education. In the recent engineered government shutdown, the public outpouring of gratitude and material support for federal workers at the airports, parks, coast guard and elsewhere working without pay mirrored that for teachers striking for increased state funding for the education of children. The new crop of Democratic presidential challengers are advancing a range of progressive proposals on tax policy to reverse the growth of inequality and enable investment in universal single payer healthcare, public education from preschool to university, and a green new deal.
The spirit of aggressive self-interest stirs up the forces of confusion and division to prevent us from entering into an intense dialogue about the kind of world we are leaving our children and grandchildren. We need radical nonviolent change that bridges the divisions between us: urban-rural; public and private interest; head vs. hand workers; men and women, young and old. More than ever we need a revival of the spirit of compassion and solidarity. The days are lengthening, the sun inches higher on the horizon each day, spring will come!
Charles McCollester is a member of the Battle of Homestead Foundation.
(TMC newspaper VOL. 49 No. 2 March 2019. All rights reserved.)