Government Shutdowns: Lessons, Morals, Costs, and Opportunities

  1. There is a lot of pontificating going on about the government shutdown. What was actually important to learn?


Well, the government shutdown is behind us – at least for now

President Trump continues to make growling noises about doing it again in a couple of weeks. With this president, who knows? Still, it seems unlikely at this point.

Shutdowns are not new, although this one had some unique wrinkles, as we will discuss. The uniqueness of any one shutdown notwithstanding, there are lessons for anyone who wants to learn them. Some lessons are practical, others are moral. All should give pause to the next person who thinks this is a good idea for their problem du jour. Let’s briefly review them; we need not linger long on this topic.

The Lessons are Painfully Clear

  • A shutdown is almost always a bad idea. They rarely provide the solution sought. The party in power usually takes a hit for the whole exercise. In most cases, they do not work.
  • If you do decide to stage a shutdown, you might want to have some plan for what happens next. This administration appears to have concluded the opposition would crumble. They also believed their ranks would hold fast. How is that working for you? Having a plan B, plan C, and a few more might be a good investment of one’s intellectual capital.
  • One might wish to consider the ramifications of failure, you know, just as a thought. Trump has managed, in one fell swoop, to weaken his own power and fracture his party in Congress. He has emboldened and invigorated his opposition. Thanks to him, Speaker Pelosi’s power and reputation are consolidated. His base is deeply irritated. A good number of those who voted for him but have not yet had a MAGA hat stitched to their head are gone. He further weakened us abroad. That is a lot for 5 weeks.
  • Look at the idea of having an adult in charge of all messaging. When the perpetrators of a shutdown say things like the following:“Most of those hurt are Democrats, anyway,”
    “Grocery stores and, you know, locals, will help you out,”
    “I don’t understand why people go to food banks. Just take out a loan,” and
    “People are voluntarily coming to work without pay – they so support this policy,” 

you have lost the public information war. On the good side, you are a shoo-in for the Marie Antoinette Public Sensitivity Award this year. A Life Time Achievement Award could even be yours.


  • Using the government as a hostage is morally wrong. Hundreds of thousands of government employees and families are badly hurt by this. So too are the people they serve. People were forced to work for no pay or risk being fired or were not allowed to work and not paid. This is simply wrong – I don’t know any other way to state it.
  • Bipartisan legislation is in the hopper to outlaw this. I am not optimistic they will get it passed and signed, but it should be the law of the land. I don’t like shutdowns no matter which party precipitates or elongates them.

The Costs are High

  • Shutdowns are expensive, in every way. Getting things up and running again is expensive – in the billions. Make up efforts often need to be accelerated, at large cost. Those who loose permanently, like contractors, don’t pay taxes as they would have paid. The US Treasury takes yet another hit.
  • People’s lives are hurt, and unnecessary risks are taken. Even in this partial shutdown, thousands of people were in medical or legal limbo. How many aircraft safety inspections do you think went overdue during this shutdown? How many food safety inspections? How many warrants for arrest for federal crimes were not served? How many criminals ran free for 5 weeks?


There are a few opportunities in the offing

  • People learn blindly following someone often comes with real costs.
  • Shutting down the government might go a little better if done in the name of a cause that most people find worthy.
  • Both are unlikely, but we might get a bipartisan consensus out of this to accomplish two things. (A) To not do something like this again. (B) Finally get serious about comprehensive immigration reform. Trump’s base will never support reform. Enough Republicans might be ready to get this painful topic off their to-do list.
  • People who thought it was a bad idea to have Nancy Pelosi serve as Speaker again get to rethink that position.

Next Time?

Next time could be in about two weeks, but let’s hope not.

This was one of the dumbest and most unnecessary government shutdowns ever. But most of them end badly. Be smart, so-called leaders. The next time you hear that siren song, walk away.

And if you choose to listen to Mark Meadows about this – or anything else, for that matter – you will get the fate you deserve.

Bill Clontz, Founder, Agents of Reason      Bill Clontz

If you find this blog worthy of your time and curiosity, please do two things:

(1) Join the conversation. Your voice counts here.

(2) Share the word about this post with friends and colleagues. Share a link (htttps:// your emails and social media posts. Let’s grow our circle.


2 replies to Government Shutdowns: Lessons, Morals, Costs, and Opportunities

  1. I would argue that this administration did more than hold the government hostage. It held the people hostage. My friends. Fellow parents, families and hardworking Americans. Diplomacy first. That’s another lesson I’m taking from this. Thank you also for sharing yours.

    • Absolutely correct. The human cost was direct, deep, and wide.

Your Turn to Comment