Shutdown is lesson in applied civics; grade is not good

Shutdown is lesson in applied civics; grade is not good
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With great drama and political theater, President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE and Congress recently ended the longest government shutdown in history by funding the full operation of government for three weeks. This has been a breach of faith with the American people. It is an unsatisfactory return on investment for votes cast and confidence placed in the president and Congress by the citizens of this country, a performance that would get most CEOs fired. They should get no credit for “reopening” a government that they shut down.

The burden now falls on the men and women who have been treated contemptuously as political pawns. Their task is now recovery, not from a natural disaster, but from a disaster politically inflicted by a failure of governance and leadership.

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Just because the shutdown has ended, do not expect things will go back to normal quickly. There will be long-term effects, beginning with the loss of trust and confidence in our political leaders by federal workers and Coast Guardsmen who bore the brunt of an unnecessary shutdown.

The shutdown was a stress test of many of our systems and institutions. There have been countless examples of the professionalism and dedication of individual government employees and how much we all depend upon them to perform important tasks on our behalf. Overworked, understaffed air traffic controllers exhausted themselves to sustain air traffic that carried members of Congress home during the shutdown. Secret Service agents protected the president without pay. Coast Guard crews responded to search-and-rescue cases while their families relied on food pantries. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers had to find ways to get to work to make sure we safely fly, without pay.

Behind the frontline, supply chains, support systems, maintenance and training activities were interrupted. Multiple layers of safety and security critical to government operations were put at risk. We should ask, “To what end?”

The reality that the on/off switch for government could be triggered by a specious political argument on border security should give every American cause for concern, especially when the unanimous position of our military and intelligence community points to our most porous border — the internet — which has allowed foreign access to every facet of our lives.

Myopic focus on a specific physical portion of the border distorts the larger, needed focus on national sovereignty. The border is a system of systems and misplaced, excessive focus on a specific segment in the name of U.S. sovereignty is, at best, poor judgment and, at worst, diverting resources from higher threats. Our adversaries are watching.

The ultimate measure of government leaders is how they accept responsibility, rise to meet challenges and lead the nation. It is clear that our elected leaders are failing in this task and have subjected the nation to unnecessary risks. Again, our adversaries are watching. We should be concerned. We are more vulnerable, less safe. We have been fortunate that we have not experienced a terror attack or other disaster. Instead of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” we have government “of the few, for themselves, at the expense of the many.”

So, let’s be clear. Another shutdown would be a reckless political act that would unnecessarily endanger the nation for a second time.

As former military officers and business professionals, we have led our people under a broad spectrum of crises and challenges. We have addressed what appeared to be impossible situations and catastrophic events. In each case, our challenge was to create the art of the possible where none appeared to exist. We had to manage complex situations where the risks were high, and have felt the personal responsibility and accountability for the protection of human life, the environment, and the high expectations of our fellow citizens. We also acknowledge we were fortunate.

But beyond chance and circumstance, the situations we faced demanded from us the subordination of personal and professional risk to a higher purpose, a responsibility we willingly accepted on behalf of the public we served. That shared sense of purpose binds us together as friends and is the basis of our call to action.

We are now engaged in the greatest civics lesson of our generation. It is not theoretical, it is real and requires not only our attention but our action. To our fellow Americans, your voice and your vote have never mattered more. Care. Be aware. Get involved. Our nation’s future is too important to be left in the hands of those who value retaining their own power and status over their constitutional responsibilities.

Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, captain of US Airways Flight 1549, is a safety expert, author and speaker on leadership and culture. 

Retired Adm. Thad Allen was the 23rd commandant of the Coast Guard and led the federal responses to Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.