Don't buy the shutdown hype

  • 3 January 2019
  • NormanL

Parts of the federal government have been shut down since Dec. 21. While we are pleased to note the world continues to spin, there are those who believe that a day without all the government we can possibly get is a calamity. Don't buy the hype, folks:

While Trump has already approved about $931 billion of the proposed $1.2 trillion in spending for the fiscal year, funding has lapsed for agencies that rely on the rest. This didn't automatically mean closures. Thanks to a contingency plan adopted by the National Park Service earlier this year, many national parks remained open for a time, just without the park rangers, maintenance workers, and other staff who've been furloughed by the shutdown.

But without those workers, trash has piled up and restrooms have gradually gotten dirtier. As a result, officials have opted to close down Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Joshua Tree National Parks in California, as well as parts of Yosemite.

In D.C., meanwhile, the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art remained open using leftover funds that had been previously allocated. That money has since run out, and the Smithsonian announced today that its museums and the National Zoo would be closing. The National Gallery notes at the top of its website that its status after today "is yet to be determined."

It's not hard to understand why some people are making a fuss over these closings. This is, after all, one of the more visible effects of the shutdown. That's because the federal services and employees deemed "essential"—the parts of the government authorized to shoot you, for instance—are still functioning. National parks and the various historical and artistic institutions run by the federal government are classified as "non-essential," and rightfully so. Without getting into whether these institutions should be privatized (though there's a good case for that), their current closures largely affect people's leisure activities and nothing more.

Government shutdowns typically revolve around so-called "Washington Monument strategies," where the most visbile parts of government (parks, museums and yes, the Washington Monument) are very publicly closed. The aim is always the same: showing pictures of disappointed school kids who hoped to visit a monument or museum, but couldn't because of those evil Republicans. It's been a fairly successful ploy over the years, and it's no surprise to see it being used once again. But will things be different this time? We will be watching closely.