• Rodney

Is the shutdown less about President Trump and more about our inability to act for our interest?

Updated: Feb 13, 2019

I started to discuss the current government shutdown in the larger context of economic and political disruptive strains as discussed in In Karl Polanyi’s 1944 book, “The Great Transformation.”

Using this framework, I began to question if there was a bigger picture? Maybe instead of looking at this singular issue, collectively there is something larger to consider:

Is it possible that the inability of our government to build consensus is due to slow, but steady decay across many areas?
What does the political stalemate and shutdown say about the efficiency of our political system?
Are the executive and legislative branch so dysfunctional that checks and balances have become mere exercises in political posturing?
Is this how the political process works in the greatest democracy in the world?

As I previously stated, these are big topics. So, let’s take a cursory look at domestic political disruptive strains:

Declines in domestic politics: in Francis Fukuyama’s books Political order and political decay from the industrial revolution to the globalization of democracy, he defines political decay as, “a condition of political development: the old has to break down in order to make way for the new.” He further states that political decay can be slow, gradual and at times extremely chaotic and violent. Using this as a way of viewing the current political climate, we can see a gradual transition to a different type of government. Highlighting two key concepts from his book, the term repatrimonialization, vetocracy are two relevant concepts to consider.

  • Repatrimonialization is described using the following quotation, “Reciprocal altruism, on the other hand, is rampant in Washington DC., and its primary channel through which interest groups have succeeded in corrupting government. As legal scholar Lawrence Lessig points out, interest groups are able to influence members of Congress in perfectly legal ways simply by making a donation and waiting for unspecified return favors.” In 1971 there were 175 registered lobbying firms and within ten years 2,500 spending an estimated 3.2 billion by 2013. Simply put, interest groups undermine common interest by writing a check.

  • Vetocracy is described using the following quotation: “The American political system thus presents a complex picture in which checks number of veto players in the political system has become unbalanced resulting in gridlock". A quote from legal scholar Gerhard Casper stated, “In our system of public administration and adjudication of public law issues, we suffer from too many layers of government with concurrent jurisdiction."

Has political complexities of checks and balances led to the increased use of executive orders and debt ceiling stalemates as the only means to implement policy or fund efforts? It seems that congress has implemented complex rules that reduce the government’s autonomy resulting in gridlock.


Maybe the issue with the government shutdown is less about President Trump and more about our institutions inability to effectively act in our interest. This in turn is leading us down a path of having an Executive Branch with too much power. Just as military strikes without the declaration of war have become the norm, Executive Orders have also become normalized.


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