The greatest spectacle in the life of the US president—the annual State of the Union Address before a joint congress—is now uncertain as the continued non-essential-services shutdown of the US government is currently the longest on record at nearly a month.
As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged President Trump to postpone the State of the Union address, the president pulled his rank as the head honcho and stopped a delegation led by the speaker of the house of Congress from flying to the battle fronts in Afghanistan just a couple of hours before departing on Pentagon-arranged military aircraft.
Political feud between an egotistic Republican president and a stubborn Democratic speaker of the congress in the USA has never been so raw and stinging.
The US government shutdown was triggered by a presidential veto on an expenditure bill (basically a periodic budget) that was passed by the Republican-controlled senate—the upper house of the congress. President Trump vetoed it because the bill did not include a USD 5 billion provision for a perimeter wall along the US-Mexico border that he has been promising to his xenophobic supporters since the beginning of his presidential campaign.
The partial shutdown has affected the so-called non-essential services such as park services, environment protection services and even some airport security—in all, 800,000 government workers went without the usual bi-weekly pay-chequers earlier this month prompting widespread indignation and forcing cash-strapped workers to scavenge and borrow from any source they can. The capital of the 'Free World' now houses the largest soup kitchen (for the hungry poor) in the world.
The shutdown even forced the US president to serve run-of-the-mill fast-food to a college football team invited to the White House upon winning the national championship. It's probably a matter of time before even visiting foreign dignitaries are served home-delivered pizza for lunch!
Anybody watching any of the major global news channels will get the distinct impression that the US government is completely broken. That's a scary thought when you realise that the US maintains the largest known stockpile of nuclear weapons. It would be tragically hilarious if the US had to fend off a missile attack with military commanders munching on pizzas and burgers!
Across the pond, the UK isn't doing any better. This power supremo of the 19th century still has all the trappings of a super-power including a veto power on the UN Security Council. Their love-and-hate relationship with the European mainland over the last several centuries came to a head when they decided to split from the European Union in a referendum held in 2016, and now they can't agree on how to effect the separation. Even celebrity divorces are less dramatic. The British prime minister had to weather several “no-confidence” motions by the opposition and had to stomach a landslide defeat of the so-called Brexit Deal which even her own party men rejected. With ministers and other top government officials dropping like duck-pin bowling, Prime Minister Theresa May appears to sit atop the most chaotic British government in recent memory.
France, another member of the UN Security Council's veto club, is roiled in populist opposition to the government reforms which opponents say are favouring the super-rich.
The rough seas in the West are not a good harbinger for us either. Sooner or later, our exports will suffer a drop as the anarchic conditions in the US and the UK are bound to tamp down their economic growth. However, the silver lining is that the budgetary fiasco in the US can be easily overcome if one side of the political divide caves in—it would be interesting to see who blinks first. On the other hand, the Brexit situation will probably linger on until either the EU and the UK agree to come to the negotiating table once again or if the UK decides to hold another referendum to scuttle the whole Brexit enchilada.
Compared to such rowdy political situations in the West, thank goodness that the waters are calm on the eastern front all the way from Japan to the Indian sub-continent. We must thank our lucky stars for a well-functioning government. God forbid if we have to order fast food in case of any shutdowns—we will certainly go hungry as no fast-food deliveries would be able to negotiate their way across the traffic gridlocks paralysing the capital.
Habibullah N Karim is an author, policy activist, investor and serial entrepreneur. He is a founder and former president of BASIS and founder/CEO of Technohaven Company Ltd.