Despite the measly stop-gap measure presented on Wednesday in Congress, will we someday look back on the government shutdown of 2013 as the moment that America's grand democratic experiment began irreversibly to disintegrate? Here's a look into one possible future, from the perspective of the year 2060....
It was nice while it lasted. Having a government, I mean. You grandkids don't remember the government, of course: We got rid of it long before you were born. I don't remember why, exactly. Some people got angry because they thought the government was going to force them to get health insurance, which they didn't want because -- well, I'm not sure why they didn't want it.
No, no -- the government wasn't going to send them to prison or anything if they didn't get health insurance. It was just a tax: The people who could afford to get health insurance but refused to buy it were going to be taxed a little more than people who bought health insurance. The tax was to pay for giving health care to people who couldn't afford to to buy their own insurance. But the same people who didn't want to be told to get health insurance didn't want to be taxed to pay for something that would help someone else.
Yes, those were the people who called themselves the Tea Party, after the Boston rabble-rousers who threw several boatloads of British tea into Boston Harbor in 1773. Though there was a big difference between the two groups: The Tea Party of 1773 was protesting the imposition of taxes by the British Parliament, in which the American colonies had no elected representatives. The Tea Party of 2013 was protesting taxes voted on by the American Congress. Our own government.
You didn't know that? Well, no reason you would. Somehow the Tea Party managed to make it sound like the law requiring people to get health insurance or pay a tax had been foisted on them by an undemocratic, alien entity, but that's not how it was. I'm not saying President Obama -- you've heard of that guy -- was perfect, but the American people voted for him twice, and Congress voted to pass the health care legislation Obama wanted, and the Supreme Court said it was constitutional. The Tea Party people in Congress kept trying to get everyone else to vote to overturn that law, but they kept on losing, vote after vote after vote.
And you know what happened? They shut the government down.
In 1773, the Tea Party fought for the right to have a democratically elected government in which hard decisions would be made by voting. I guess the Tea Party of 2013 decided they only liked democracy when the voting went their way.
I know, it all seems a little crazy today, when you can't get decent medical care for love or money. Now that the government's gone, and along with it the subsidies that enabled pharmaceutical companies to do research on new medications, and the rules that ensured drugs were actually safe, and the scholarship and loan funds that sent students through medical school-well, now almost no one has health care. Who can afford it? The few who still have money go to Canada for their health care, though of course it's getting harder and harder to get to Canada. With no government around to fund highway maintenance, the roads got worse and worse, and with no money for policing, the bandits got out of control. By 2030, long-distance travel wasn't really safe anymore for ordinary people, unless you traveled in heavily armed convoys.
And then the Canadian government built that wall along the border and stopped allowing commercial planes to fly in from the United States. I can't say I blame them: Why would they want millions of desperate, hungry people flooding into their country every year? Sad to say, it's not like we can offer them much of anything. Once the federal funds that supported public schools stopped flowing, the whole education system, which was weak to start with, collapsed in pretty short order. The teachers weren't getting paid. At the top, the wealthy kept sending their kids to private schools for a while, but, pretty soon, most of them opted for private schools in other countries. And once those kids got a taste of life in places where they still had governments, they didn't want to come back here. By the time the Canadian border closed in 2041, most of the educated people were already long gone.
Everyone else just had to make do with Bible schools or homeschooling, and, as things got worse, the Bible schools started being less and less about schooling in any traditional sense and more and more about the Bible.
Again, I can't say I blame anyone. When you're going hungry and just trying to keep your kids safe from the roving gangs, I guess maybe religion's more comfort than math and science for a lot of people. But the fact is, the Canadians and the Chinese and the Europeans want immigrants who can do calculus, fix 3-D printers, and program nanosurgery robots. They don't really need people who can quote the Bible but not much else.
Why couldn't we just force the Canadians to let us in? Well, that's a good question. We used to have the best military in the world, you know. Really, we did. But, starting even before we shut down the government, we were piling more and more onto the military. We had our soldiers doing everything from fighting wars to listening in on people's phone conversations, can you believe it? I guess they just got tired. Then, when we shut down the government, the military was the only part of the government that the Tea Party was willing to keep going. They didn't want to pay for teachers or roads or hospitals or anything like that, but they wanted to pay the soldiers.