Appreciating Public Employees

During the English Civil War, parliamentarian opponents of Charles I dubbed his aristocratic supporters Cavaliers. They were the entitled, beautifully coiffed gentry that controlled the kingdom’s wealth through their land holdings.

Soon, cavalier became embedded in the English lexicon meaning dismissive or disdainful like the attitude that has been shown towards government employees beginning when Ronald Reagan’s uttered, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

Since then, the rightwing has done a hit-job on government employees, caricaturing them as overpaid functionaries sucking on the public teat.

The current out-of-touch, Mara-a-Lago Le Roi Soleil has put that cavalier attitude on steroids in a way that “would have made Marie Antoinette blush,” as columnist Karen Tumulty put it.

“Trump targeted them as no one did before,” she wrote. “From his earliest months in office, he and his allies have portrayed those who dedicate their lives to serving their country as the corrupt, subversive ‘deep state’ — the bottom-feeders of a swamp in need of draining.”

Income isn’t the only gap between the uber-wealthy and those who work for a living; so is reality.

Lara Trump patronizingly opined that workers would endure only “a little bit of pain, but it’s going to be for the future of our country.” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was befuddled about why furloughed federal workers couldn’t just float a bridge loan. And economic adviser Kevin Hassett wondered why workers weren’t celebrating their good fortune: vacation days off.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was taken aback, particularly when she heard fellow Republican senators say they “never really felt the urgency” during the shutdown. It was only when they were personally inconvenienced such as at airport security lines that they realized what was blatantly obvious to most Americans.

“It was stunning to me,” Murkowski said. And, hopefully, an eye-opener for Republicans.

In addition to the shutdown being a blistering repudiation of the Wall and Wall-ites, there are other take-aways from it.

Critical services provided by government employees were put front-and-center before the American people. That gave them pause. They saw through the anti-government, Ayn Rand ideology that government employees are the enemy warring on private citizens and efficiency.

Americans not only empathized but also identified with the public employees. Their deeply personal stories of struggle humanized them specifically and government workers generally. Everyday people saw them for what they are: Everyday people enduring the same trials and tribulations they experience, dedicating themselves to performing their jobs with integrity and efficiency. It resonated with working Americans because they know firsthand what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck by scrimping, planning, and saving only to see what took years to build erased by events, machinations, and power beyond their control.

The condescending attitude reflected in Hassett’s comment has been directed at public schools and teachers with particular vengeance. But teachers are becoming stronger advocates, with strong public support, for what they do for the nation’s children. At the time of this writing, Denver teachers are poised to strike over an inadequate compensation package offered by an overpaid, top-heavy administration.

Here in Clear Creek, I was pleased to read teachers are finally getting a long-overdue, well-deserved raise. But I was chagrined to learn the base pay for a rookie CCSD teacher is $34,000. That is $5,000 less than what NFC player were awarded for losing the NFL Pro Bowl. The winning AFC players got $67,000 for frolicking in the meaningless scrimmage.

The week of May 5-11, 2019 will be Public Service Recognition Week. In 2018, the POTUS issued a proclamation acknowledging “our Nation’s civil servants for their hard work and willingness to serve their fellow citizens.” They include “teachers, mail carriers, first responders, transit workers, and law enforcement officers” who “help make America better, safer, and stronger.”

With another shutdown looming on February 15th, let’s hope he remembers those words so that they don’t ring hollow again.

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