Here we are, in August of 2017, and there’s a greedy child sitting in the White House, Congress can’t pass anything of substance, and Connecticut’s been without a budget for the past month. When did our governments get this abysmally bad at doing their jobs?
We don’t need to look far to find branches of government that seem incapable of doing even the most basic and fundamental things. The Connecticut General Assembly, controlled entirely by Democrats for the past two decades, didn’t bother to pass a budget before the mandated end of the legislative session. That’s depressingly normal, sadly, but usually the budget is resolved before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1st. That didn’t happen this year, and there is no budget agreement in sight even now, a month later.
Meanwhile, the governor is running the state by executive order, which is not how the state is supposed to be run. Lack of funding and uncertainty are starting to take their toll.
Consumer confidence is down, nonprofit groups who serve the state’s neediest residents are struggling, and cities and towns are facing the start of the school year without a clear idea of how much the state will spend on their districts.
The legislature did manage to get it together long enough to pass a deeply flawed deal with the state employee unions, though, so it’s not like they’re doing nothing.
This could have been averted if the House had agreed to pass a so-called “mini-budget” to keep things running while they agreed on a long-term solution. But they didn’t.
The legislative branch of the government, specifically the House, has failed. It’s a stunning display of incompetence.
That’s nothing compared to what’s happening at the federal level, though. Congress has been a basket case since around 2011, when Republicans decided trolling President Obama was more fun than governing, but now the executive branch has sunk to their level as well. Agencies are staffed with inexperienced incompetents like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, or with antagonists who are bent on undermining their own agencies like Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
And of course there’s the incompetent-in-chief sitting at the apex of this garbage pile, grinning smugly from the Oval Office.
How did it come to this? How did things get so bad?
There are a couple of reasons. First, governing an American state and the country as a whole has become more and more complex over the past half-century, but the actual processes of governing haven’t changed as much. Connecticut’s legislature is still part time, and its members are still dreadfully underpaid, meaning that only the wealthy and those with alternate sources of income that can survive six months of absences can serve. This has, with several notable exceptions, turned the legislature into a warren of conflicts of interest, wealth, privilege, and myopia.
Connecticut also suffers from one-party rule. Only a fraction of seats in the legislature are truly up for grabs each cycle, and incumbents can usually stick around for far too long. The governing machinery of the Democratic Party is ancient, rusty, and out of both ideas and drive, while Republicans — thanks to the horror show of the national party — are culturally anathema to large swaths of the state.
At the federal level this crisis has been building for a long time. The parties have delighted in thwarting one another rather than governing since the election of George W. Bush in 2000, except for a brief period of Democratic dominance from 2009-11. White grievance and anti-government populist extremism on the right sent people to Washington who were more interested in shouting, sneering, blocking, and ruining the government than legislating.
President Donald J. Trump is the culmination of this, as is the embarrassing failure of bickering, fractured Republicans to pass their godawful Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill.
How do we get out of this? It’s up to all of us, as voters.
First, we have to reject both extremism and populism on both the right and the left. Extremists and populists are all about the revolution, and not about making the government run. Second, we need to demand more than just easy or boilerplate partisan answers to complex problems, and accept that we may not always like where that takes us.
Lastly, we need to show up. Extremism and populism flourishes when voters stay home. In 2018 we all need to demand better than this gross incompetence at the ballot box.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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