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The Current Government Shutdown: A Winter of Discontent

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lisa Saye
January 21, 2019


I remember long days of summer perfumed by yellow honeysuckles and purple azaleas. I knew real seasons, built happy snowmen and played in piles of multi-colored autumn leaves. I thought those scenes would be with me until I was old enough to appreciate nature’s precise order. I miss the nature that we have managed to confuse. To visit much of what I remember, I have to rely on foggy recall, cracked photos and YouTube. And sadly, I may need to do the same when recalling a time when the United States government was more stable.

I am not sounding a warning about the end of democracy. There are countless authors, bloggers and filmmakers that have done so for decades. I am merely pointing out the symptoms of a sick government that refuses to takes its medicine. A government that doesn’t trust anyone—not even itself. A government that seems to operate in opposition to its usual caretaker nature. A government that seems to take pride in a shutdown of public services and public sector pay.

William Shakespeare and John Steinbeck wrote about the winter of our discontent; Shakespeare in the second sentence of his play “Richard III, and Steinbeck in a book bearing the title and borrowing the line from Shakespeare. Both authors deliver drama in their storytelling, but it is Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” who after falling from his horse in a most decisive battle, cries out, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” that really grabs the reader’s attention. Any resemblance to the current upheaval is not a coincidence. Steinbeck is a bit kinder to his lead character and at the last minute saves him from death, thereby allowing him to redeem himself and correct his misguided ways. Again, any resemblance to the current upheaval is not a coincidence.

For those convinced that democracy is over, you probably lean more towards Shakespeare and the tragedy he always delivers in his endings. Others, who believe in last minute acts of redemption certainly lean more towards Steinbeck’s ending in his book. I’m not judging anybody, but I’m leaning Steinbeck.

Citizenship

It certainly would be easier to return to a time when all phones had dial tones, when all lights had manual switches or when all cars were built like a 1970’s Buick. Nostalgia is always lacking in the retelling because times have never been as good as we remember. What we remember more accurately is how much we have changed as individuals and how much our changes have influenced the space we currently live in.

Any attempt at remembering what government used to look like brings about a series of questions. When did we lose our collective sense of shame and when did we begin to allow our government to reflect that loss? Why haven’t we checked the not-so-subtle efforts of late that have been waged to demagnetize the notions of democracy and introduce permanent chaos, discord and discontent? Have we forgotten that we live in a republic of the people, by the people and for the people? What must we do to rescue our government? And finally, are we the ones to fix it?George Orwell in his 1936 essay entitled, “Shooting an Elephant,” decried the act of killing an elephant, but lamented even more as he acknowledged that “His own face had grown to fit his mask.” This quote is fitting for the times. Perhaps we allowed our government to get away from us. Perhaps we hid behind a face of approval that was anything but approving. Perhaps our face and our masks have now become indistinguishable from the other.

We may not be the ones to fix what is broken in government. We may yet be the ones we need to blame. Democracy is participation, not observation. We have watched too long and have acted too little. Citizenship does not end with a final exam in 9th grade Civics class. Citizenship begins long before then and later manifests itself in movement, change, fairness, compromise and compassion. Citizenship requires authenticity, but it breathes on faith. We have to believe in each other and when one of us is unable to see the next day, we have to believe for each other.

Citizenship is connection and at times it is pain. A shutdown is a failure of citizenship. I cannot put it any tidier nor state it any plainer. But, we are not defeated — we’re energized. We are ready to move and ready to fix this because we can. This is our moment of redemption. No matter when you were born in the United States, citizenship represents a long march toward a more perfect union. Citizens don’t need masks. They need comfortable shoes.

The Image was taken by Lisa Saye in Chicago, Illinois.


Author: Lisa Saye teaches Applied Statistics for Public Service and Research Methods for The School of Public Service at DePaul University. She served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. Saye earned her Master’s in Human Resource Management at Troy University and her Doctorate in Public Administration at The University of Alabama. She can be reached by email at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

2 Responses to The Current Government Shutdown: A Winter of Discontent

  1. Mike Nwosu Reply

    January 24, 2019 at 8:36 am

    I agree with you that “a shutdown is a failure of citizenship”. America appears to be undergoing political “metamorphosis” but the bottom line is that “the people are not defeated, but energized and ready to move”. The government should feel the pulse of the people whom they represent. Speed is nothing if you are not traveling in the wrong direction, especially if you are traveling in the opposite direction to the law.

  2. James Nordin Reply

    January 21, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    On a much less literary note, Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy, and they are us.” It turns out to be true. Americans get the government they deserve.

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