Washington DC, October 16th. 24 hours to default
The Founding Fathers must be spinning in their graves. Lincoln is probably shaking his head with an awful sense of deja vu.
America is in a mess.
Earlier this year the country marked the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of Gettysburg. The Civil War battle was the biggest ever fought on American soil. It was the awful embodiment of a country at war with itself.
Lincoln had famously warned politicians, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”. All these years later his words must echo hauntingly around Washington DC’s Capitol building.
The federal government is in shutdown. Division is again the order of the day. Politics and politicians ideologically at odds with each other. In the most powerful country in the world non-essential government employees have been temporarily laid off, furloughed as they say here. Institutions, museums, parks, landmarks, all shut; medical laboratories unable to get their work approved. The list goes on and on.
The Lincoln Memorial is one of the finest monuments in the world. A triumphant tribute to a great American. To describe the memorial to you is beyond me. Actually, to be more precise, it’s beyond a fence. On it is a sign: “Because of the federal government shutdown all national parks are closed.”
That sign, or at least a variation of it, has been keeping me company down the North East coast of America. In New York the Statute of Liberty was closed. Next, Philadelphia’s Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell were off-limits to me. Now I’m in Washington. The national monuments and the Smithsonian museums are all closed. Visitors from all over the world gawk at the landmarks from behind the barricades.
Everywhere I’ve been the angriest tourists are the Americans themselves, embarrassed and unhappy at the farce.
At the World War Two memorial veterans and families today brushed aside the fences. They’re in no mood to be told they can’t pay their respects to those who died while wearing the uniform of the United States.
Putting the politics aside, what upsets many people is the absurdity that closes some facilities. Tim tells me of a dog park in the middle of Philadelphia which is closed down. “It’s really tiny. Get a couple of dogs in there and it’s full. No rangers ever go there but because it’s federal property the gate is locked and entry is impossible.”
Wealthy private citizens have stepped in to fund veterans groups who provide crucial services. Mount Rushmore is reopening courtesy of money from corporations. Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was assassinated, is about to reopen thanks to a private donor. The Grand Canyon will be temporarily funded by the state government to try to bring the tourists back.
Meanwhile, here in Washington, we sit and wait. To be honest, life for most people is continuing as normal. As a tourist there’s plenty to see and do. But the reality is that America might, just might, be about to tip itself over the edge.
Foreign governments and financial institutions warn that shutdown could become financial meltdown if the debt ceiling is not raised on Thursday. America’s credit rating is in danger and it will start to default on its worldwide debts.
If you or I default on our mortgages our home can be repossessed. I wonder if that will happen to the USA. Perhaps it will be divvied up between China, its biggest creditor, and Britain its former owner/occupier. The “shutdown” signs at the Lincoln Memorial are bad enough. Imagine if they have to be rewritten in the language of the new owners, “由于联邦政府关闭所有国家公园被关闭”
Absurd I know. But no more ridiculous than the world’s only superpower laying off its own public servants because it can’t agree a budget.