A little over a week ago I began “Government Shutdown Revisited: Causation/Responsibility/Blame And The Fallacy Of Conventional Wisdom” by noting, “Here we go again — with the looming possibility of another government shutdown and the frantic preliminary effort in the mainstream press and sympathetic circles to blame the Republicans.”
Now that the shutdown is here the full-court press blaming the Republicans has exploded as expected. In the mainstream press and analogous academic circles there is virtually no recognition of the fact that this shutdown, like previous shutdowns (see the links to my previous discussions in last week’s post), is the shared responsibility of two sides who preferred shutdown to compromise or surrender, not the sole responsibility of a lone villain, i.e., Republican president.
The evidence for the above is everywhere. For example, nicely if predictably combining the partisan myopia of the mainstream press with the identical myopia that now infects most of elite academia, Princeton history professor and CNN analyst Julian Zelizer writes that “the Trump shutdown” (not the Trump-Schumer shutdown) “is s a fitting way to end the second year of this presidency. The temporary closure of government was a crisis that could easily have been avoided…. But in the end, Trump couldn’t resist flexing his negative presidential power one last time before Christmas, to demonstrate to the world how far he could go when he wanted to get his way.” Schumer, of course, flexed no negative power; all the negativity came from Trump.
Writing in the Washington Post, David Nakamura asserts that the shutdown is the result of a “President who eschews responsibility … a chief executive who had brought Washington to the brink of a self-inflicted governance crisis with no clear strategy of how to manage the shutdown — or win it.”
Also in the Washington Post, Paul Kane, David Weigel, and Phil Rucker write that the shutdown “started after Trump torpedoed a bipartisan deal that would have kept federal agencies open through Feb. 8 but denied Trump any wall money.” This “news” writing reflects the Post’s editorial position, that “Trump’s shutdown stunt is an act of needless stupidity.”
There is no shared Democratic responsibility for choosing shutdown over compromise or a “deal.” (Significantly, the “deal” favored here gave the Democrats everything and the Republicans nothing. That is often the case of the “deal” and “compromise” recommended by the mainstream press.) The Democrats are invisible here and hence not responsible for anything.
Although assertions like these — and they are ubiquitous — pompously purport to be describing the cause of an event, all they are doing is assigning blame — singling out the actor who behaved in a way they disapproved. In the links included in my previous post I discussed chapter and verse of identical blame-assigning partisan myopia in several historical controversies of what now should be referred to (as I did several times) as our first partisan civil war. If you haven’t looked at those posts, I encourage you to do so.