Border Patrol

Questioning the fundamental usefulness of government is the backbone of some American political factions, notably including the now seldom-mentioned Tea Party. Most of these righteous skeptics don’t live off the grid in libertarian enclaves, hatching anarchist plots. Instead, they are good people simply wondering what the heck all our taxes and deficits pay for.

No matter whether a U.S. citizen is anti-government or not, we all will be increasingly noticing just what government does, now that a significant fraction of it has been turned off by a political squabble.

Any attempted discussion of the ongoing partial federal government shutdown inevitably ignites bitter infighting between those who believe President Trump can do no wrong and those who think he’s a lightweight conman doing the bidding of radical talk-show hosts. However, here in this mutually reliant Eastern Oregon enclave so far removed from the beltway, we need not and should not resort to useless finger pointing. It’s fair to say that nobody in Washington, D.C., gives a moment’s thought to local political analysis in the form of angry Facebook posts.

What we must do is mitigate harm to local people and assets, while calmly pulling toward future election results that put an end to these ridiculous and damaging shenanigans.

Beyond the stark impacts of the government shutdown on some federal workers, this situation threatens to delay payments to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. More than 14,000 people in Umatilla County — about 18 percent of the population — are helped by SNAP.

Around half of these households include one or more disabled people, more than 40 percent include children, and around one-third contain senior citizens.

While this sorry situation grinds on, we all must do our best to help with local food drives, and contribute cash to food banks so they can address what is certain to be a surge in requests for help. State legislators and agencies may need to shuffle spending priorities to ensure our fellow citizens don’t go hungry.

Much remains uncertain, starting with whether the shutdown will be allowed to go on for months — as the president has suggested. How will lack of federal salaries and aid reverberate in the local economy, as spending on everything from groceries to cups of coffee begins to dwindle? Is it time to convene emergency community meetings to plan responses?

This shutdown, like those in the past, will eventually be resolved. It’s likely most furloughed employees will receive back pay — even those who, unlike the Coast Guard and ICE, aren’t still actively on duty. But we should be sure to elect people to Congress and the White House who are prepared to maturely and sensibly confront our national spending addiction, border protection and other priorities without resorting to destructive gamesmanship.

Shutdowns are a ridiculously blunt weapon, when what we really need are national leaders ready to make intelligent decisions.

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