Today I must endure an achingly long and boring wait, bottled up inside my local Social Security office. Nobody enjoys this, being surrounded hours on end by sullen, sometimes foul-smelling, and frequently insane people, some with small children who scream and cry in a manner all of us understand. We sit there alongside a staff that, to a person, hate their job. The federal security guard at this office appears to be obscenely lazy–perhaps even drifting in and out of consciousness, and almost definitely high. I write this while I sit in a frayed, remarkably uncomfortable chair, waiting through the slow-motion crawl of people who literally have nothing better to do with their time. And I am one of them. Such realization is a wonderful way to begin your day.
But as I await my turn, my thoughts turn into the agony of expecting the federal government to move, to do anything, that might still make us proud to be living in whatever is left of Democracy. Of course experiences such as one in your local Social Security office, are not the best reflection of how federal government is supposed to work, but it is, probably, the most accurate and representative. The people working here seem nasty, having no patience whatsoever with the others coming to their window, half of them faking injury in order to get paid. The rest of the people are genuinely disabled, or simply old and broken by the wreckage of a hard and terrible life. And add to this the anxiety of the staff over the recent US Government shutdown (and while Social Security was not then affected, do not think that these people are not concerned that they are next), and you have a room filled with angry, disenfranchised people tapping away on their cell phones to pass the endless time.
The state government is best represented, I think, by the Department of Motor Vehicles, yet another torture chamber, which is always crowded, and filled with people who aren’t ever quite certain what they are supposed to be doing. The waiting in the DMV is a similar experience to the Social Security office, although it is a smaller, less urgent task. Here is a place you could take a nap for an extended period of time, and still not see your number come up, like standing at a supermarket deli counter run behind people with very specific tastes and orders.
When comparing Federal and State governments, you find functions operating in a similar manner: pettiness, a heavy dependence on meaningless paperwork that seems, more than half of the time, to get lost, or typed into the computer wrong, forcing you to start all the way back over, then return to the stagnant line to re-submit your work on another day. Even if this is not your fault, the nation and state has no choice but to blame you. They are a mindless organization, and you are being squeezed by only one of its many tentacles at a time.
And yet as I sit here aloofly, pondering the nature of things, one cannot help but return to the top, to Donald Trump and all the chaos surrounding him. In the waiting room the news is on, silent, but with the closed captioning blurting intermittent words. As you read along the crawl, a mistake every now and again, or delays that destroy the context of the story, one must acknowledge that whatever is being discussed has to do with the President. It does not even matter what news channel is on, whether it is CNN or Fox (here, for some reason, they have on MSNBC–I do not take this as a partisan bias on the part of the Social Security office, but merely a choice of the most indifferent of the top three cable news channels)–hell, even if we were watching the Newsmax feed, or Glenn Beck’s The Blaze Network, everything, all the time, would be Trump Trump Trump. Even when those networks supporting the President in everything, no matter how outrageous the nation might find it–even when they promote distractions about the misdeeds of Democrats, or some other horror story that has nothing to do with Donald Trump, there is always a subtle shade of at least he’s not guilty of this.
The people in the waiting area are also occasionally mentioning President Trump, his reign being perhaps the top topic of conversation in America these days. Most of what I overhear is “that motherfucker,” or, just as frequently, “that white motherfucker.” This is not even meant to be specifically racist, just an added insult made by someone looking for an alternative to ‘asshole’ for the audience they are presenting their idea to. But everywhere zigzagging around, you can here the echoing of ‘motherfucker,’ alongside other slurs meant to make failure slightly more forgivable.
Local governments are perhaps the worst. While they certainly deal with the most pressing concerns of the community, the real trouble lies in the fact that many of us know these representatives personally, their being our neighbors, or the girl scout cookie mom, or one of the parents’ of a child on your kid’s baseball team, or in the dance troop. We know these people, and we frequently bad-mouth them in one way or another. Even if they are among our closest friends, they provide dinner table gossip, and we know all about many of their flaws.
Local government officials are not involved in this work to simply help out the neighborhood, or make decisions on the budget of the Spring carnival, or blocking the licensing of a bar or strip club down the street from the high school. These are hungry, ambitious people who are all searching for a controversy to make them into a household name. Then they move on–state representative, mayor, perhaps even to Congress. And it is this sort of ambition that fuels the arrogance of the lowest politician. “I’m going to make my street into a better place!” and “How dare they teach that book in my child’s school! It mentions masturbation!” These are the issues–changing the date of trash pick-up, or hiring on a relative’s private recycling company; making an issue over how far a tree may grow into the street, or signing backdoor contracts with oil companies to extend a pipeline into their neighbor’s back yards in exchange for cheap repaving of neighborhood side streets and driveways. These are the people at the school board meetings who demand things that only they take seriously, or the parents at sporting events who scream that everyone other than their child is cheating (or publicly condemn their own for missing the ball). Local government is something we depend upon (they say that all politics is local), and yet we despise it too, realizing that everyone seems in over their heads.
If we walk back to considering Federal government, we can see similar local problems spreading out to consume every nation in the world. People have grown sick and tired of the perpetual incompetence, greed, and inactivity of their political leaders. There is always something to condemn because our systems hardly function. We learn to hate people with opposing ideologies, and exaggerate them into demons, or outright threats to our way of life, so much so that when someone dangerous actually comes along, we lump them into the same partisan divide, not taking the threat as seriously as we should.
And so we have started voting for ‘outsiders,’ these community leaders with enough charisma to trick people into believing that they understand what they are doing or, that they care about how a nation is supposed to work. They make like they are ‘one of the people,’ and then attempt to change the bylaws of the country to resemble whatever it is they actually do know, or desire, almost always to the detriment of the citizens they were elected to represent.
The problem with political outsiders is that they are not up to the job. If they have no experience in government, how can they possibly do the job correctly? Would you hire a chef who has never cooked? Hire a teacher who never learned how to read? Would you hire a police officer fresh out of prison? Would you hire a President who does not understand the Constitution?
And yet local government creates this issue, because all people involved begin as political outsiders–teachers and doctors and lawyers devoting their time to getting something they, and people they know, want passed. And then they quickly rise up through the ranks into state positions and, if truly talented, become governors, or Senators, or even Kings and Queens! But by the time they reach that pinnacle, they are no longer outsiders. They are professional politicians, and, no matter how corrupt they have become (or have always been), at least they know what they are doing and where they are stealing from. It is only with the outsiders that the crimes seem egregious, and this is because they come from a different world. What may have worked in private, is suddenly there for the whole world’s judgment. Locally you can mess with a person’s property taxes, or fine them for property tax violations, as a cheap sort of revenge. With the federal government, every move you make will be criticized. That’s because people pretend to care about one, while utterly dismissing the other. It makes you wonder: where is the real power?