Boston University

How the Democratic Shutdown is Threatening the United States Democratic Legitimacy by Chad Krys

The most recent United States government shutdown of 35 days recently ended on January 25th.  This wasn’t the first shutdown: there have been 13 government shutdowns since 1981, but the threat of the next shutdown may come before the end of the week. President Trump and the Republican Party have threatened another shutdown if they don’t receive the support they want on their border security deal. Regardless of specifics, what may have the biggest repercussions as a result of the shutdown is the normalization at which the state of our government has been in will become.

What will begin to be questioned by most Americans is the legitimacy of our current government. Regardless of whether or not the United Sates is democratic, our government should be judged on how they handle the basic duties and responsibilities that are entrusted in them. In this case the government cannot handle the steps involved with policy agreements without a shutdown at this point. The threat to the legitimacy of the United Sates right now will start with the public acknowledgment of an inability take care of their duties.

One can acknowledge the fact that the Democrats were trying to play hardball at first by not seriously acknowledging the presidents proposals. This was a legitimate negotiation tactic that they let get out of hand in the first place. The President made provisions to his original bill that was labeled in the public eye as generous. The problem is, the Democrats sat on these newly formed without giving a counter offer or negotiating for quite some time. This is all while they were saying that their priority was to reopen the government and get federal workers paid. The problem is when they didn’t act quickly or appear to make revisions parallel to the Republicans it reflected a government that not only was acting extremely selfishly but also dysfunctional.

            Along with this what cannot be overlooked is the effect of what a shutdown is known to do internally to the government itself. With many federal workers being out of jobs over a lengthy period of time, they are obviously not getting paid. The result of this is federal workers looking elsewhere for employment where they know they won’t be without a job for month stretches over a year. As a result of this normalized sense of a shutdown new college graduates along with specific skilled workers within the government may no longer be there anymore. Losing these top grade specialized skilled workers will then lend the government to beginning to get 2nd or even 3rd tier workers at certain jobs. This will snowball in continuing to threaten the legitimacy of our democracy as well.

The government’s continued willingness to shutdown as a result of policy gains between parties may in the end increase the chance of a much larger threat to legitimacy of the democracy, as we know it.  


  1. Kendall Sirica

    February 14, 2019 at 9:33 pm

    I agree that the shutdown threatens the legitimacy of our government. It may have people within the country wondering if the next major disagreement between the two parties will lead to another shutdown, or cause countries around the world to wonder if the government will be able to participate in negotiations if we cannot negotiate within ourselves. I would also argue that Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southern border also threatens the legitimacy of the government. It comes across as an abuse of his power to declare an emergency where there is none in order to bypass Congress and get funding for his wall. It would be interesting to see an international perspective on the shut down and the call for a national emergency.

  2. Emily Betancourt

    February 16, 2019 at 8:31 pm

    I agree that a government shutdown will never have a positive result on democracy and may possibly have threatening consequences on the legitimacy of our nation but, I would argue that it was the democrat’s duty to limit government authority to have formal checks and balance. If the Democrats gave in and funded the border security deal instantly, what would that say about our separation of powers? The United States is different from other democracies because of our political system. As you mentioned, “…our government should be judged on how they handle the basic duties and responsibilities that are entrusted in them.” This is a great point and I could not agree more. However, I have a different take compared to your analysis of the responsibility that the democrats partook. I believe that it was the duty of the Democrats to question the intentions and integrity of the border security deal regardless of how long it took because if they did not then we would have an incompetent government. Moreover, you make great points about the way a shutdown affects federal employees. I would go as far to say that losing federal employees can affect the functions of government centers which can spread chaos along to citizens because when a shutdown occurs, everything gets backed up: transportation, mail, taxes, etc. Lastly, it will be interesting to see what the end result will be for the border security deal and how it all evolves.

  3. Madison Wadsworth

    February 20, 2019 at 2:22 pm

    This post argues that government shutdowns hurt the legitimacy of the US government, have become normalized, and are used to play political hardball when they shouldn’t be. While I agree with all of this, I think most of the blame in shutdowns is on the executive branch, and Trump’s shutdown this year has been one of the worst in recent years. The framers of the Constitution wanted the executive to be a check on the legislature, but now it has become the opposite. Such as in this case, the executive was the one with the policy idea, or the request for border wall money, and the legislature had to check him. For this, I do not blame them for not giving into his demands – he was out of place. If the legislature is supposed to represent the public, and less than 40% of the population want the wall, they did the right thing by not providing funding for it. Negotiations could have been a lot better, but ultimately it was up to the president to re-open the government. The declaration of a National Emergency is a whole other issue and definitely threatens our legitimacy as well. Unfortunately, with polarization as bad as it is, I don’t see this improving any time soon.

  4. Mackenzie Cannon

    March 19, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    I do agree that the government shutdown threatens the legitimacy of our government and democracy in this country. On the contrary, I believe that the Democrat’s response to the border security deal was one of a rational response, which according to Nancy Bermeo’s “On Democratic Backsliding” is a good thing. Democratic backsliding is inevitable but how our government responds to it can be tailored to a better outcome. Some may say that Trump had an “irrational” response to Congress using their checks and balances to rationalize his process as to getting his border security deal. I believe that the use of rational responses to irrational decisions is important when slowing down the process of democratic erosion. Our government may not be perfect but our institutions are still using rule of law to implement democracy.

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