This is the Winter of Our Discontent?

Instead of reading what newspaper writers and Television talking heads had to say about who “won” and “lost” as a result of the government shutdown, the average American has taken to the internet to read and write for themselves what they are really thinking. It is the dawn of a new media for a new day.

While the immediate crisis has been temporarily avoided, the polarized political climate shows little sign of changing. The current deal only funds the federal government through early January and only extends the debt limit until early February. More importantly, while Congress struggles to find common ground, Americans are growing increasingly frustrated, even with the representatives of their own party.

A recent Gallop Poll taken during the government shutdown shows that the approval rating of Congress has dropped to 11 percent. By comparison, approval ratings were much higher in the months surrounding the last government shutdown in 1995, at roughly 30 percent. Today, Americans also only give their own representatives a 44 percent approval rating, demonstrating that they also tend to disapprove of their own party.

Similarly, Pew Research found that only 19 percent of those surveyed trust the federal government to do what is right just about always or most of the time. An alarming 30 percent report being “angry” at the leaders in Washington, while another 55 percent are “frustrated.”

While large groups of citizens have not taken to the streets, as seen during the anti-Vietnam and Watergate protests, these statistics show that anger and distrust of the government is approaching similar levels. The only difference is that the social commentary is largely taking place online, through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other new media.

As government websites went dark, the public took to social media to voice their displeasure about the shutdown. According to InsideFacebook.com, more than 17 million users uploaded approximately 45 million posts related to the federal government shutdown. On Twitter, users attached the hashtag #DearCongress to their opinions. Posts included: “The real non-essential government employees are YOU. Everyone else was doing their job” and “If ‘Pro’ is the opposite of ‘Con’… Then what is the opposite of Progress…”

Regardless of whether you agree with what people say online or not, the extent of the commentary in this new medium and the near single digit poll numbers of unhappy Americans reveal more than an image problem with government. If Congressmen ignore the public, part two of the government shut down in January may have unintended consequences.

Donald Scarinci is a managing partner at Lyndhurst, N.J. based law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck.  He is also the editor of the Constitutional Law Reporter and Government and Law blogs.

 

This is the Winter of Our Discontent?