Government shutdown shorter than 2013’s but just as troubling

Ysabela Golden

It may not feel like it’s been that long, but before the beginning of the three-day government shutdown on Saturday, Jan. 20, it had been over four years since the last time the U.S. had to restrict most of its routine operations because Congress couldn’t agree on how to pay for them. Thankfully, this year’s fiasco ended much more quickly than the 2013 shutdown, which lasted sixteen days and temporarily laid off 850,000 federal employees

The shorter window meant there wasn’t enough time for public panic levels to reach what they did in 2013, but even before it ended, the reaction of the American public in 2018 was notably more apathetic than it had been years before. Even on Grand Valley State University’s campus, where pretty much every other building has multiple television screens showing 24-hour news coverage, most of my classmates hadn’t even realized the shutdown was over until days afterward. 

The lessened reaction is understandable. When it happened in 2013, it was the first experience many had ever had with government shutdowns, with it being the first the U.S. had experienced since the 1995-96 conflicts between President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress. Seventeen years later, those incidents were far enough in the past and out of the public’s mind that the concept of the government shutting down for any period of time was as unexpected as it was troubling. In 2018, we’re familiar, if not overly enthusiastic, with the process. Not only do we already know what to expect, but we’ve become so desensitized by our new political landscape that it’s hard to imagine that any headline could be as shocking now as it would have been five years ago today. 

The seemingly endless controversies under the Trump administration have had the double effect of both numbing Americans to political catastrophes and focusing so much of our attention on the president that it can be difficult to notice anything else. Despite an amusing overlap with the anniversary of his inauguration, Trump himself had little to do with the shutdown. The issue, much like in 2013, stemmed from congressional disagreements, this time over immigration instead of health care. 

Considering how the majority of Americans felt party divisions in Congress were irrelevant even before Trump was elected, it’s sad but not surprising that the details behind a conflict that shut down federal operations would capture less public attention than the details behind Trump calling Haiti a “shithole.” A three-day government shutdown over immigration feels like just another blip on the radar, especially since that radar has also been blipping with travel bans, the impromptu removal of the director of the FBI, attempts at fundamentally changing our country’s health-care system and accusations of collusion with foreign powers.

Though I’m certainly glad the government has reopened, Republican leadership promising Democrats they’d vote on a legislative fix for DACA is far from a solution to the tension that created the shutdown in the first place, and not even the ironclad commitment many Democrats were hoping for. After months of nothing but Trump’s exploits in the news, this three-day government shutdown has been an unwelcome but necessary reminder that our country’s legislative branch isn’t any less dysfunctional than it is executive—and though Trump is a recent addition to our political landscape, the problems we’re seeing in Congress have been there for a very long time.