I saw a funny thing happening as two branches of the U.S. tromped their way toward either funding the government or triggering a shutdown. The alarming progression from republic to oligarchy to dictatorship in microcosm.


Now don’t get me wrong. I am not declaring American democracy dead.  What I saw was alarming, but not necessarily a full realization. Not yet.  But it was disturbing and fascinating to see the transition happen in micro-view while still have everything remain technically within the normal confines of American governance and legislative wheeling and dealing.


Have you ever seen one of those optical illusion drawings? Like the one where you look at it one way and you see an old woman.  But if you look at it again, you instead see a young woman.


See them both in this video by SehtestBilder from 2011


That’s what’s happened here. I look at things one way, and I see normal Congressional maneuvering going a bit amok.  I look at it again, and I see this alarming micro-view of a procession into rule of one. It’s not that I can’t see the one. It’s the fact that I can even seen the other at all that’s disquieting.




The government has been shut down by failure to pass legislation necessary to keep it funding before. A shutdown occurs when government spending bills expire, and Congress and/or the President and Congress find themselves unable to agree on a new bill for government spending. Prior to the 1980s, that did not necessarily mean a government shutdown. But in 1980 and 1981, things changed. The attorney general back then issued opinions requiring heads of government agencies to suspend their operations until such time as funding was reestablished, i.e., until a spending bill was passed turning the cash tap back on again.


As a result, since then, when the legislative and executive branch can’t get a deal done on spending, the government shuts down. Or significant parts of it do.  Others remain functioning, but there are issues of pay, etc. for the employees involved, and impacts begin to accrue.


Since the 1980s, there have been times when there were hiccups in getting a spending bill passed, but usually they were quickly resolved. However, during that time period, the government shut down 3 other times with some significant impacts.  Two times in the 1990s. Once in 2013.  All three times involved a Republican dominated Congress and a Democratic President.


In the 1990’s, the Hill clashed with President Bill Clinton.  Congress could get the legislation done, but the President vetoed it over attacks on issues like Medicare for the elderly.  Keep that in mind. Because of the Presidential veto power, when it comes to shutdown struggles, what the President wants matters. Like it does in any legislation the Congress passes and sends for signature to the Executive branch.




In 2013, Congress did not get a bill passed, even though they had a plan they could have passed. They had the votes to get it passed.  It was agreed to by the majority of Republicans and many Democrats.  The President would have signed it. The Republican House Speaker, however, refused to let the vote be taken on the proposed bill.  Why? Because a faction of the Republican Party, the Tea Party, wanted provisions added to delay or stop the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, a/k/a Obamacare.


That was very concerning in and of itself. See the ACA passed and became law under the previous Congress.  It was the law passed by the duly elected representatives of the people.  That whole “will of the people” argument I heard at the beginning of Trump’s presidency was also in play with the ACA.


That bill passed by going through the usual legislative processes, including debate in committee, amendments by both parties, etc.  The process took over a year. It was not rammed through, as some people have said. It was not rushed, as some have argued. It was available for scrutiny by the public as well as all Congressional lawmakers throughout the process. It was not “hidden” or unable to be read. There were bipartisan negotiations throughout the lengthy process.  And in the end, it passed Congress, and the President duly signed it into law.


But in 2013, a faction of the Republican party wanted to override that entire process in order to kill a law already passed by Congress, signed by the President, and ruled on by the Supreme Court.  That, to me, was very problematic. I pointed it out repeatedly at the time. This was an attempt to usurp our entire legislative process by a faction, not a majority.


And in 2013, the Republican Speaker of the house sought to appease that faction by refusing to take a vote on a spending bill that would have passed.  The solution was already there. There did not need to be a shutdown at all. Except the Speaker did not want to anger a faction in his own party that wanted to hold the government hostage rather than use regular and proper legislative means to rescind the law of the land.


As a precedent, it was alarming.  A small group was allowed to hold the entire government hostage to abolish existing laws. That’s not how a republic is supposed to work. What other laws could be overturned or suspended in this fashion?  The whole thing disturbs me deeply to this day.


For more information on past government shutdowns and what they can mean:




Over the last two weeks, a different kind of shutdown has loomed.  Different particularly in how we kept progressing to that state.  One thing remained the same. From a Congressional standpoint, a deal could easily have been crafted, agreed upon by both parties and passed by houses.  However, the reasons the process broke down differed from those in the past.


Significantly, Republicans not only control the House and the Senate, they also control the Executive office.  So arguably, with the right kind of compromise in the Senate, the Republicans should easily have gotten a bill passed and on the President’s desk for signature.  And he should have readily agreed to sign the bill.  At the root of all the other three government shutdowns lay feuding between a Republican Congress and the Democratic President’s goals. Not so this time. Right?


Maybe. Or maybe not. That’s part of the problem this time. But that’s getting into the dictatorship bit early.




So, before we get too far into that, let’s talk about this republic and some other specifics of the current situation.


It came to a head after Congress kicked the spending bill can down the road repeatedly over the last several months. The spending bill has come up again and again. And the Republicans in Congress, distracted by their other political agendas, have promised to get to it later. And passed resolutions to extend government spending bills for another few months, or a month, or a few weeks, as the year has gone on.


That is one of the big issues in play here. “We’ll totally get to it later. We promise.”  Except that they haven’t.


I strongly caution against relying on legislators’ promises to do something in the future. They rarely can be relied upon to fulfill those promises. When the pressure is gone, when everyone has stopped looking, they simply sweep it under the rug and move on. When a politician bargains to get something today in return for doing something in the future, don’t count on that future ever coming to pass.


Apply the same to politicians’ promises to get to CHIP or DACA fixes.  In the future.  Sometime.  In the case of the CHIP program, that could have been handled at any time along the way. It was not that big a deal to agree to fund and continue it.


As for DACA, that promise has been made for years. And it has not happened yet. Now there is more pressure than ever, and a ticking clock, on getting a fix together. There is no longer time to rely on future promises in this regard. More on that later, but the plain and simple fact is, both of these matters could or should have been addressed before this.  And need to have been.  Relying on future promises of handling both does not work. And is a fool’s bargain.




So, Republicans have put off the spending bill and put it off and put it off.  Meanwhile, the clock has wound down, and the bomb is ready to go off on several key issues in play, like the aforementioned CHIP and DACA matters.  All three have to be addressed now.


But here is the big thing.  All along, for months and months, both Republican and Democrat Congresspersons have been indicating that for the most part they want the same things in these regards. That they are not that far apart. That they want a fix for the Dreamers to either gain permanent residency or a path to citizenship. That they want the CHIP program to continue. That they will agree to some form of increased border security, including fixing and upgrading border fencing sections. Remember when, early on, Trump’s administration credited those kinds of upgrades as building Trump’s border wall?  They have indicated they are not that far apart and a deal should fairly easily be made. One the Republicans can live with. And the Democrats. And the President.


Then what is the problem here? Why is this so difficult that on Friday, the government shutdown.


Republic. To oligarchy. To dictatorship.


Again. I admit. Totally alarmist. And somewhat unfairly so. But also, important food for thought. And valid words of caution.




Republic. That’s our governmental system. That’s how it’s supposed to work.  That means a few things. Like representative government.  Representing the wishes of the people balanced against doing what’s best for the people.


For a Congressperson that means representing his or her constituency’s interests. Both as far as what people back home want. And also in coming up with the best law for them.  Basically, through compromise, coming up with legislation for the good of the American people.  Based on their desires and their needs.


That’s where the latest negotiations about the government spending bill started.  Both sides admitted they were close on most aspects. Both sides agreed to compromise to get something done for the good of the American people. That included handling CHIP funding. That included getting a DACA fix together.


Again, the time was running out on both of those, so everyone understood, for the good of everyone, a permanent fix was needed now.  No need to wait until later. Use the pressure of the funding to force everyone to iron out their few differences on these matters and come up with legislation for the good of the people.




Let’s take a small digression into the pressure on DACA.  The reason for the pressure on this issue is not because the funding ran out, like with CHIP or the government spending. The pressure is there purely because of the President revoking protections in place.


Those protections were a stop gap while Congress tried to work out a permanent fix. At the time the President’s administration announced those protections were going to be wound down, one of the White House arguments was that they wanted a permanent fix to help the Dreamers. This yanking of protections was supposed to start a timer that would finally pressure Congress to come up with a permanent solution. The President said he liked the Dreamers. He did not want them deported.


Dreamers consist of about 800,000 people for whom America has been their home since childhood. Who are here illegally through no choice of their own. Most of whom are gainfully employed. Some serve in the U.S. military. Many are educated. They all pay taxes, despite not being entitled to many of the benefits gained from those taxes.  Their loss, through deportation, would impact the government, its coffers, the economy, etc.


Understandably, getting a more permanent solution makes sense no matter what your party or ideology.


The point is, Presidential actions have forced the DACA fix into a “must be fixed now, can’t rely on future promises of a fix later, the clock is running out” situation. Meaning, with the government spending bill looming, it made sense to tie the two solutions together, regardless of your party.


CHIP is in a similar situation with respect to timing.




Like I said, the Congressional Republicans and Democrats agree on the key issues with DACA and CHIP. And they do want a fix now.  And based on their words and actions prior to and even during the last week, both clearly were prepared to fix it all now as part of a government spending bill.


They sat with the President in a bipartisan meeting and made various proposals.  The Democrats tried the “DACA now, we will get to funding border security later; I promise” approach. Republicans did not fall for it. But everyone seemed to have plenty of common ground. At the conclusion, the President said he would sign whatever compromise legislation Congress passed.


Over the next few days, bipartisan negotiations took place. The Republicans actually worked with instead of dictated to Democrats on the Hill.  If I recall correctly, this was the first time it happened over significant legislation since Trump became President. “We can do it together, despite our differences” rather than “You do as I dictate.”


As a result, a bipartisan group of Senators hammered out a proposal that, according to many Congresspersons, stood a good chance of passing both the House and Senate.  DACA fix, border security funding, government spending, etc.  All in one.


A republic. That’s how it’s supposed to work.


Not only that, but while everyone wins a bit, and loses a bit, with the Republican control of Congress and the Presidency, Republicans stood to take the lion’s share of the political kudos.


Then the Republican oligarchy and the dictatorship raised their heads.




I mentioned in an earlier blog that the proposal coming from the Senate was important.


Republicans have enough seats in the House to pass a spending bill without any Democratic support.  But in the Senate, the story differs greatly.  In the Senate sit 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats and 2 Independents who tend to vote with the Democrats.  That means there is effectively a 51 – 49 split.  Among those 51 Republicans is Senator McCain, who currently is home in Arizona struggling with cancer.  Thus, any vote along party lines right now would be 50 to 49.  And that’s assuming absolutely no Republicans vote against the party line. Something that has not been so easy to guaranty, as seen by the struggles over the last year.


More importantly, any spending bill would require a vote of 60 to 40 to pass.  Getting Democratic agreement on the spending bill is a Republican necessity.


That is not the Democrats’ burden. That’s part of the normal compromise built into the system. Republicans have to compromise in order to get the votes they need. Democrats have to compromise too. But the important part is that Democrats are not in any position to dictate to Republicans. They don’t have a majority, or control of the House or the Presidency.  Failure to pass a bill first and foremost lands on Republicans for failing to initiate sufficient compromise to swing the 60 votes.


That has not been impossible in the past. And this time, by the admission of both parties, it should not have been difficult at all. The parties admit to having positions that are very close. If the Republicans wanted the deal done, they could easily have compromised enough to get it done.  Without losing much, if anything, at all. They chose not to because…


But I get ahead of myself.


The point is the Senate is the house that most needs to compromise. Getting an acceptable compromise proposal from the Senate a week ago was significant forward progress. A solution was in sight. Triumph of republican ideals.  Our government still does work.




But then it all blew up. Having negotiated a workable proposal, one of the Senators involved in the negotiations then spoke to the President on the phone. The President sounded agreeable and asked the Senators discuss it with him in person. Two Senators, one from each party, went to the White House to talk the President about the solution. Where a surprise waited for them.


They thought it would be just them, the President, and maybe a few staff. But in addition, other Congresspersons, all Republican and most, if not all, anti-immigration, were also waiting.  They represented a smaller faction within the Republicans on the Hill.  Just like in 2013, the proposal did not need their approval to pass, especially in the face of wider bipartisan support.  But they are the ones who ruled the meeting. They had apparently bent the President’s ear first.  Or perhaps they just reflected something the President felt more deeply all along.  I have argued the latter before. But either way, the oligarchy of a few got its way.


Trump made his “shithole” comments. And utterly torpedoed the compromise.  Further, he sent a message that compromising by coming up with either a DACA fix, or CHIP fix, or a general immigration fix were non-starters for him. It was not just that he wanted provisions for the wall in there. (And by the way, the proposal included provisions for increased border security and money that could have been applied to the border wall or fence.) While Trump said he wanted provisions for the wall too, he also indicated he did not want any of those other provisions in there.




Let’s make clear how much of an about face Trump did on DACA. Remember how months ago, he had said he supported the Dreamers and was withdrawing protections to force Congress to get its act together and finally get a long-term solution in place. That was declared in defense. After angry accusations against him when his Attorney General first withdrew those protections. It seems clear Trump meant none of it. He does not care if there is a DACA fix and instead wants to deport the Dreamers.


Where do I get that drastic pronouncement?  Trump’s own actions, as usual.  See, while all this was going down, a federal court in California struck down some of Trump’s decisions in this regard. The judge basically reinstated some of the protections for Dreamers on a temporary basis, at least. When the decision came down, DACA was still supposedly on the table as part of any spending bill. And the President encouraged it.


But he did not mean it. If he had, then he would have left the Judge’s decision alone. Let it stand with no comment. Because Congress was about to pass legislation that would settle the matter one way or another anyway. And the judge’s decision would be moot.  No need to care about it, right?


Well, yes. But Trump’s ego does not stand for anyone contradicting him. Ever.  Again, based on his own actions. So, the judge had to be defied and responded to in some way. Trump did that with a tweet about California judges getting overturned. Good. Got that out of the system, right? But he was not done yet.


At about the same time, Trump gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he again expressed resentment toward the Dreamers.


There’s a lot of—there’s a lot of—there’s a big difference—first of all, there’s a big difference between DACA and Dreamers, OK?

Dreamers are different. And I want American kids to be Dreamers also, by the way. I want American kids to be Dreamers also.

But there’s a big difference between DACA and Dreamers. And a lot of times when I was with certain Democrats they kept using the word dreamer. I said, “Please, use the word DACA.” You know it’s a totally different word.


Let’s not get into Trump’s apparent confusion over DACA being the means of protecting Dreamers. Instead let’s move on. He sounded upset at Dreamers apparently for having somehow usurped the word “dreamer.”  Again, based on past Trump performance, that resentment is indicative of something deeper.


And that something deeper got revealed.  Trump signaled where he really stood. Because on top of “shithole” country comments, and comments resenting Dreamers, Trump took any hope of him supporting any DACA deal, put it on a huge pyre, and set it on fire to light the night sky.




As Trump’s presidency has progressed, the justice department has acted less and less independent and more like a creature acting on the whims of the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, and/or President Trump.  The justice department sought to have the California judge’s decision to reinstate protections for Dreamers be considered by the Supreme Court immediately. Do not pass “Go”. Do not go to appellate court. Go directly to the Supreme Court to decide the issue for once and for all immediately.


Think about that.  That is a huge step for anyone to ask. You don’t ask for that kind of bypass without some immediate “hair is on fire, gotta put it out right now” crisis in play.  That’s side stepping the usual course of law. Only to be done for some truly compelling reason.


As an aside, that request totally flies in the face of one current Republican talking point – That the shutdown was caused by Democrats being overly concerned about “non-Americans” (remember, the Dreamers are pretty much as American as any of the rest of us, just no able to get a path to citizenship yet) who don’t need any immediate relief.  Yet the Justice Department argues this matter is so pressing it needs immediate consideration by the Supreme Court. Which is it, folks?


Back to the point, though. You only ask for this kind of treatment because of an existing crisis.  But, if Congress is on the verge of passing legislation that fixes things for the Dreamers, or waives protections for them completely, why interfere with the court procedure at all? Particularly, if the plan is for a permanent fix so that the folks can stay.


Why have such a case heard at all, even in the appellate courts? Why rush? By the time the case would be ready to be heard, the fix would be done, and it would all be moot. Why waste the time, or the money on this?  Much less waste it by going directly to the Supreme Court for a definitive answer? Especially when a definitive answer is about to be had anyway, merely by having Congress do its job and add an immigration fix as part of a spending bill? Or having Congress “get to it in a little bit” as they have promised repeatedly to do over the last year?


Only one reason. The President does not want a fix. He wants to deport.


Which is why no one should be backing down on the DACA fix. If this is what both sides really want. And they say they do. And there are compelling economic and social reasons, to the benefit of America in general, to fix it.


Not only has the clock almost run out. The President has signaled he wants it to run out.  Therefore, there is no more time. This has to be fixed now or not at all. This is not the Democrats being “Chicken Littles.” This is the President telling them that’s the way things are.  His choice. His play. He made this a do-or-die situation on DACA.  No future promise will work. It gets fixed now, or there is no fix.




But we aren’t at the dictatorship part yet. Instead that just moved us to the oligarchy phase.  By quashing attempts at bipartisan negotiation, Trump opened the floodgates back up to business as usual on the Hill. For it to be exactly as it has been for most of the last year.


Some Congresspersons went back to the negotiation drawing board after that meeting. Others took it to mean there was no need to negotiate with the Democrats at all. Just like they haven’t for almost any attempt at significant lawmaking since Trump became President. Instead it was back to dictating to the Democrats. Republicans would do what they wanted, ruled by various smaller factions within the party, and that’s where negotiations, if any, would take place. What Democrats may want or not want did not matter.


That, like I said, can work in the House, but it really can’t work in the Senate for this bill. But the oligarchy of the House went ahead and did it anyway. That meant DACA was out entirely. They added the CHIP provision as a bigger club to hit the Democrats with. Remember, both matters have to be fixed now. Buying into promises to fix DACA in the future, with less leverage available, would clearly be foolhardy.  And there is no reason both cannot be fixed now. Except that factions in the Republican party, i.e., people who do not make up the majority of anything, dictate policy to everyone one, Republican and Democrat alike.


Don’t be distracted by the CHIP provision. It was clearly added to force Democrats to the table. Not by compromising with them. The majority in both parties want it.  But by saying, if you vote against this, you will look bad.  What it really implies is that that the Republican oligarchy would torpedo CHIP altogether.  It’s only there to make the Democrats look bad without risking actually having to give in on CHIP at all.  I mean, if they are okay with it, why can’t they vote to pass it by itself, right now? No spending attached. What? They won’t? So that means they were never committed to it in the first place, correct? How does that make the Democrats the heavies? They aren’t denying passing CHIP on its own. The Republicans are.


But another bit of caution. Remember how I talked about those optical illusions.  Looked at one way, the CHIP deal was Congressional power-games and shenanigans as usual. That’s what they usually do. Use something everyone kind of agrees on as a sweetener to the other party to get them to agree.  But if you look at it again, it is Republicans refusing to pass legislation for the good of the people in order to allow them, as an oligarchy, to dictate to another party and in the process all American people.


Add to that the deliberate exclusion of a DACA fix and characterizing it as DACA vs. CHIP battle. It’s not. It was always supposed to be both. Plus, there is no reason for it not to be both. Except because the oligarchy says so. Again, not for the good of America and not based on the will of most Americans, who would like to see DACA fixed and CHIP funded.


So, the House rammed through a bill by dictating to, rather than working with, another party. To get points for themselves – Their way or the highway and the other side will get all the blame – Rather than trying to come up with good legislation for the good of their constituents.


That’s oligarchy. The rule of the few over the many without much or any input by the many.




Then the dictatorship became even more apparent.


On Thursday January 18, 2018, the House passed a non-compromise spending bill. Refusing to address DACA for which a deal could be readily made. Trying to use CHIP as a hostage to dictate demands to Democrats.  Even though the majority of both parties agreed on these issues. But a smaller faction within the Republican party did not.


Still, there was some hope of pulling out a win for the American people, even if only temporarily. Remember, the bill passed by the House did not provide spending. It just kicked the can down the road a month. So, more fool’s bargains for promises in the future. Which is why it is problematic to vote for it. It lacks real solutions to spending and immigration issues both of which need to be addressed now not later.


And that bill went to the Senate Thursday. Senators could have voted on it that night, and if the vote failed, both sides would have had hours longer to go back and hammer out a deal that was more likely to work.  But they did not. Instead they lost precious time and were stuck with something virtually guaranteed not to work.  This practically assured government shutdown. But in truth, even before the bill got to them, the Senate was at an impasse. Why?


Because Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell had already said he would not put to the vote the type of compromise bill with which both sides already indicate they agree. McConnell refused allow a vote on any kind of bill with immigration proposals, despite the President himself making clear the clock had already run out on this issue. Despite the obvious futility in hoping a fix will be forthcoming by kicking the can down the road to a point where there is less pressure to get a deal done. In explaining his decision, McConnell said:



I am looking for something that President Trump supports. He has not yet indicated what measure he is willing to sign. As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we are not just spinning our wheels to this issue on the floor, but actually dealing with a bill that has a chance to become law and therefore solve the problem.


That. Right there.  That’s moving past the oligarchy where a faction within the Republican party dictates policy to the majority of both parties.  It’s progressed to the whim of one person dictates policy for all.




Let’s put more of the context in play. At the time those words were uttered, Trump had made clear that he was going to Mar-a-Lago on Friday. On Saturday, he had a big dinner and fundraiser planned to celebrate the first anniversary of his inauguration.  A private, pay-to-play, exclusive for the rich, at $100,000 per person.  Trump originally planned to go regardless of the spending bill vote results.


Now, maybe that was a signal that he thought a spending bill would pass with no problem. But, regardless, it was also a sign he expected things to bend for him.  Bill or no bill, it wasn’t going to get in the way of his party.


Never mind he had done his best to destroy chances of a bill passing, particularly in the Senate. His reaction in the meeting on January 11 blew up normal negotiations and gave the oligarchy leverage to dictate rather than compromise.  His actions during the same time period made it clear that a DACA fix has to be on the table now, or kiss the chances goodbye forever. Meaning that if Democrats, or anyone with a conscience, wants DACA fixed eventually, it has to be in this bill, along with CHIP, and everything else.


It was not until Friday, after Thursday night made shutdown seem likely, that the White House canceled the Mar-a-Lago trip. And some report that Trump has whined that the shutdown will/has made him miss “his party.” But the shutdown at this point is largely his doing. First by torpedoing the solution the republic came to and giving the oligarchy license to dictate rather than compromise. Second by hinting any spending bill must contain provisions that met his unspecified specifications or be vetoed.


You can argue about this party or that should have compromised. And this party or that is to blame. But the parties did compromise. And were told that was not going to fly unless they could figure out what the President wanted instead. Like some bizarre guessing game a French king would set his courtiers to play with real people’s lives as the stakes.





As part of a republic, Congressional lawmakers should pass legislation that for the good of the American people. Not pass laws based on the whim of one man. Educate and convince him, if he does not understand.


Again, like with the optical illusion drawings, look at it one way, and this is normal.  Pass a bill the President wants to sign or he will veto it. That was the issue with the government shutdowns in the 1990s.  It’s not dictatorial. It the way our government works. Part of the normal checks and balances.


But look at it another way. McConnell indicated he wants to make law not as a Congressperson, based on his constituency, but instead, based on the will of one man. The President of the United States. And not on clearly enunciated and understood policy. But on his whim.  McConnell admitted he did not even know what that whim was, but whatever it was, that’s the bill he wanted to put up for a vote.


That’s not about a republic, and compromise government for the good of the people. That’s not even law for based on the desires of a few, like an oligarchy. No, the real reason for the government shutdown, the real reason for the impasse, McConnell made very clear.  For law based on the desires of one man, desires not specified to those trying to make the law for him.


This has not been about what’s good for Americans. This has not been about the policies of one party. Remember, compromise was achievable until Trump shattered it. This has largely been about appeasing the whims of one man. Whims that have not been clearly expressed. By a man who would rather go to an exclusive party in praise of himself than sign a bill representing the will of the American people.


That’s dictatorship. Maybe only in the microcosm of this one bill.  Maybe only when looking at it one way. But the fact that it can be perceived that way at all should be a matter of concern for everyone in this republic.