The Government Shutdown is Driving the U.S. into a Failed State

The longest government shutdown in U.S. history reaches its one month mark soon, and it’s driving this nation into a failed state. Around 800,000 government workers remain furloughed, unable to provide for their families. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Air Traffic Controllers must work without pay, compromising their work ethic in crucial areas of national security. Piling trash and overflowing restrooms plague the beauty of many national parks.

The shutdown began on December 22, 2018, when President Trump and Congress failed to agree on an appropriations bill to fund the government for the 2019 fiscal year. The shutdown stems from President Trump’s notorious campaign promise to build a wall on the southern border with Mexico and his subsequent backlash, primarily from Democrats. House Democrats have proposed multiple bills to reopen the government without appropriations for the wall, but the measures failed in the absence of Republican support.

The Global Policy Forum defines a failed state as one which “can no longer perform basic functions such as education, security or governance, usually due to fractious violence or extreme poverty.” Although the U.S. has avoided an unspeakably atrocious humanitarian crisis like those that toppled states like Syria and Rwanda, many citizens’ standards of living here are in decline due to the government shutdown, especially considering America’s long-held status as a first-world powerhouse and many citizens’ current standards of living compared to economically similar countries like the U.K. and Japan.

National security tops the list of crises during the shutdown, which ironically coincides with Trump’s entire reason for shutting down the government in the first place. The Coast Guard, the people who patrol our water borders and engage in a number of marine safety efforts, remain unpaid. Even more concerning, Air Traffic Controllers, the people who ensure that planes land safely on the ground and monitor the skies, remain unpaid as well. A similar agency, the TSA, checks bags for weapons or other suspicious material, also must work without pay. How can one incentivise these workers to put forth their best efforts without pay? The federal government certainly can’t.

For example, a number of press reports have indicated that TSA workers are increasingly “calling in sick” to avoid working during the shutdown. This leads to not only delays, but also to less-thorough checks on what enters the planes that people fly in every day. One viral story even said that a gun slipped through TSA screening onto the cabin of a plane set to depart from Atlanta, though the TSA told TIME that they do not blame the shutdown for this incident. Nevertheless, the story seems suspiciously relevant under the shutdown.

In addition to the problems the shutdown causes for federal workers, the shutdown is also affecting many of the nation’s impoverished people relying on food stamps (SNAP) and Electronic Benefit Transfer to feed their families. The 38 million people using these services received their February allotment in mid-January because the government does not have money set aside to provide benefits beyond this month unless a resolution occurs. People affected by the loss of their benefits may soon experience the food insecurity characteristic of a failed state unless the government reopens soon.

Though a number of charities and non-profits are attempting to help those affected by the shutdown, times are only growing tougher. A Washington Post editorial discusses how a D.C. food bank has received “an influx of inquiries from furloughed and unpaid government workers” amidst the shutdown. Such organizations must rely on limited emergency funds to help their increasing food-insecure populations. If the shutdown truly continues to last “months or even years” as Trump suggested a couple weeks ago, nonprofits will no longer be able to step in the place of what the government once provided.

A wall is not worth sending a number of citizens into economic turmoil, especially when Congress finds no need to fund it. The checks and balances of our political system have spoken, and the president should not act as a dictator and resort to mafia tactics at the expense of the general public. The wall will not help our population significantly. It will not increase public health or decrease the national deficit. It rather serves as a symbol of a failed leader unwilling to accept the outcome the representatives of the people have relayed to him about the respective populations they serve.

If the government remains shut down much longer, the President is no longer serving his position in a capacity beneficial to his citizens, but rather, running away from his duty to compromise and find viable solutions.

“Mr. President, we won’t get anywhere if you don’t start breaking these walls down.” Cartoon courtesy of Nora Jacobs, ’19, Staff Writer

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