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The government shutdown has been an ordeal but also instructive. It was devastating to government workers, contractors and grantees, who were directly harmed by the failures of our leaders to reach a funding agreement and pay them. But taking a step back, and trying to find any silver lining in this 36-day nightmare, we can see three.
The lack of empathy for the workers and all those impacted by the shutdown conveyed by the woefully out of touch members of the President’s family and Cabinet was equally striking. What the public now knows more acutely than ever before is that a large percentage of the federal workforce lives paycheck to paycheck. They are not getting rich on the taxpayers’ dime – they are, by and large, doing these jobs because they feel a sense of purpose and pride from public service. In addition, the public’s impatience with the shutdown grew as the weeks drew on, putting in sharp relief the lack of awareness among those Trump wealthy “surrogates” like Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross for the important ways that the government provides services for a broad swath of Americans who don’t have private jets and trust funds to get them through.
Third, we hope that the public now recognizes how much we would all benefit by strengthening the capacity of our government. There is a stark contrast between our military prowess and strength, and the frayed civilian agencies that make do on small staffs using outmoded technology that is holding them back from serving us well, even on the good days. We need to upgrade government services and technology to make us more prosperous, and better protected from forces beyond our control. This is why we have government – to perform functions that are essential to our safety and to maximize the efficiency and sustainability of our economy – to harness our collective power to take actions that we could not manage alone. This shutdown has made even more apparent that we need to do what we have always managed to do in the past – to take our joint enterprise to the next level to meet the challenges that lie ahead so that we can maintain our greatness for future generations of Americans.
We have always been a resourceful and generous people, with a government that reflected our view that we are better when we work together for the common good. Let’s hope that the lasting legacy of this historic shutdown is a new appreciation for our country, its government, and the people who make the government run.
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