, Salem, MA


October 10, 2013

Column: Distrust fuels the debt ceiling crisis

The United States has got itself into an awful place. The country is polarized, the government is paralyzed, and too much anger and righteousness are on display in our politics.

Too many citizens don’t trust anybody or any institution, and too many other citizens trust only those people or news sources who do one of four things:

1. Describe things as citizens already see them;

2. Promote a political viewpoint or ideology that citizens already hold;

3. Appeal to the fears, insecurities, prejudices or emotions that citizens have;

4. Encourage the division of the citizenry into an us-versus-them framework.

Additionally, too many citizens have become cynical or have disengaged completely from following or participating in political activity.

I am prompted to consider the condition of the American citizenry because the federal government is shut down, and the debt-ceiling crisis is imminent. If something in the current political dynamics doesn’t change, I fear that — for the first time ever in the history of the United States — the government will start to default on debt payment obligations.

If that were to occur, it would happen because — again, for the first time ever — one political group placed its opposition to a law ahead of the responsibility of our nation to honor its existing financial contracts. That would be an extraordinary development.

In this case, it would be congressional Republicans who oppose Obamacare who would be responsible for the failure to raise the debt ceiling. It may be true that they are only responding to Obama’s faults, or Obamacare’s unknowns, or the hardball politics of the legislative process that passed the law, but nonetheless, they would still be initiating — quite possibly — a chain of events that could unravel the economy.

If ordinary citizens cannot understand why congressmen in the past refused to issue default ultimatums, then I fear that Washington politicians will feel empowered to let default occur. For it may be that only public opinion can change the dynamics of this standoff.

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