If he’s remembered for nothing else, Donald Trump will go down in history as the first president to think out his policies in public, 140 characters at a time.
That may not be a bad thing.
In fact, I think we should strongly consider a constitutional amendment limiting Congress to 140 characters per law. Hold that thought...
“Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” the Donald suggested in a tweet on May 2, in a fit of pique over the U.S. Senate’s 60-vote cloture requirement. That requirement forced Republicans to negotiate with Democrats over a stopgap spending bill, in turn requiring Trump to give up on some of his policy goals for the short term to avoid the dreaded “shutdown.”
The president’s reasons for rattling the “shutdown” saber are wrong — the harder it is for Congress to spend money, the better — but his instincts are right. “Shutdowns” are much-needed opportunities for Americans to look more closely at, and hopefully re-think, the federal government’s true role.
As you may have noticed, the word “shutdown” comes with scare quotes both in Trump’s tweet and in this column. That’s because the federal government never really shuts down.
When a spending impasse in Congress brings about a “shutdown,” what happens is that “non-essential” government services cease operation and “non-essential” government employees go home on unpaid leave (unfortunately, the impasse usually ends with them getting paid for the time off).
Let that sink in for a moment.
“Essential,” per Webster’s, means ”(i)mportant in the highest degree; indispensable to the attainment of an object; indispensably necessary.”
If the services shutting down aren’t indispensably necessary, why is the federal government providing them the first place? If the employees who get sent home aren’t indispensable to the attainment of the federal government’s objective(s), why are they warming office chairs in Washington?
If these things aren’t essential, why are taxes withheld from your paycheck every week to pay for them whether you want them or not?
If Trump stands firm in September and forces a “shutdown,” pay attention to what stopped happening and what didn’t. Did you really need the things that stopped to start again? And as for the things that kept on happening, did you really need them either?
You’ll likely be surprised to discover how irrelevant Washington, D.C. is to your life and disgusted at how much you’re paying in taxes for how little you get that you actually need.
Trump often tells us that he’s not a politician. Maybe that’s true. Politicians fear and loathe government “shutdowns” — not because of the momentary delays in their grand schemes, but because there’s always a possibility that you will suddenly realize how little you need them.
Thomas L. Knapp
Director and senior news analyst
William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism