It’s popular to hate on the federal government, but try giving it some love instead. We couldn’t manage without it.
We citizens ought to take a minute once in a while and give the federal government some love. We couldn’t prosper or be relatively safe without it.
Federal aid mattered when hurricanes struck Houston and Florida, and in Las Vegas, where the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are helping investigate Sunday’s mass shooting. How the federal government acts matters in Puerto Rico and in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where citizens have pleaded for the same attention other Americans get.
Americans love to complain about taxes, regulations and poor service, and sometimes with justification. Ours is not a perfect government, but it’s one of the world’s better ones, and it deserves a little respect. I’m talking about the agencies and people who do the work of government, not the politicians we choose to oversee that work.
There are times when the political part puts the important work of government at risk. And we seem to be in one of those times. We citizens have to blame ourselves for that, since politicians have to follow our lead if they want our votes. Tell them to tear down the government, and they’ll do it — but we’ll pay a price.
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Federal grants and training help local police departments prepare for mass shootings, and federal assistance helps communities recover from natural disasters.
Remember the Oso landslide in March 2014? Forty-three people were killed, and numerous homes and other buildings were destroyed in the community. In the aftermath, we heard about how tough and helpful local people were, and about the generosity of volunteers from elsewhere. But the feds were there, too, with money and help, primarily the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Highway Administration. We take that help for granted, but we should recognize how fortunate we are that we can take it for granted (usually).
This isn’t just cheerleading. If we don’t pay attention to the role that government plays, it will be too easy for us to let it be eroded. Many services vital to millions of Americans need our support — Social Security, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and access to health care, among them.
A few months ago, the Trump administration proposed an 18 percent cut to the budget of the National Institutes for Health (NIH). The NIH gives universities across the country billions of dollars to support research that leads to benefits for American businesses and individuals.
Last year, the UW got $138 million from the NIH. The salaries and construction and other work that money supports gets spent around the region, supporting a wide range of businesses. And that’s just part of the support we get here. The UW is one of the top public universities in terms of the federal research and development dollars it gets. In fiscal year 2016, the UW received $994,788,120 in federal funding.
Most people know that it was federal money that led to the creation of the internet, but we forget how often the U.S. government has sparked innovation and growth throughout our history.
Last week, I went to hear the acclaimed Stanford historian Richard White talk at a Town Hall Seattle event about his new book, “The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896.” White, who taught at the UW in the 1990s, focuses on the 1800s, and the book is about the period between 1865 and 1896. The U.S. was re-creating itself after the Civil War.
At one point, White showed a painting from the period that illustrated the American movement westward and noted that it left something out: the role that the federal government played.
The U.S. government funded the railroads that crossed the continent. In fact, government played a role in every aspect of the settlement of the West. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided settlers with 160 acres of land surveyed by the government.
The government devastated native populations to make way for Europeans. Government in a democracy is an instrument of the people who vote and who are responsible for recognizing and supporting the good that it does while rooting out the wrongs.
It’s our job to recognize the difference and to hold politicians accountable for making sure the government does right and does good.