Recapping the closing days of 2018 is worse than one of those “previously on . . .” television-program montages.
The stock market is recovering a bit after its worst Christmas on record. The president of the United States blames the recent volatility on the chairman of the Federal Reserve, and wants to fire him but is not sure whether he can. The president has just fired the secretary of defense, who was in the process of quitting because he thinks the president is unserious and irresponsible, and said as much, if diplomatically, in his resignation letter. The president also lacks a chief of staff, and there is no attorney general. (There are acting placeholders in those positions.) Fewer than half of the positions requiring Senate confirmation at Justice, EPA, Transportation, and Interior are filled; barely half of those positions are filled at State, Labor, Treasury, and HUD.
The federal government is, as of this writing, partially shut down, largely because Senator Schumer believes that he will benefit from denying the president a partial victory on immigration control, the president’s top issue but one that he managed to do approximately nothing about during a time when his party controlled both houses of Congress. The Russians are feeling frisky as the U.S. abandons its efforts in Syria. The secretary of the Treasury, who was the producer of The LEGO Batman Movie, has been panicking the nation’s bankers by calling around to check on their liquidity. Just in case, you know.
The federal government is a big, sprawling, messy thing. It is too big to get one’s head around, especially during the holidays, what with the champagne and jet lag and all. That’s too much. Let’s take the U.S. Postal Service pars pro toto. The USPS is a negative asset: Even setting aside what it costs the taxpayers (and don’t believe the fiction that the USPS is self-sustaining), the Postal Service — “service” begs the question — creates more hassle than it provides in service. This is true on a pound-for-pound basis: I have confirmed this by weighing a month’s worth of actual mail and the junk mail received during the same period. But it is true in other ways, too: The semi-official status of the USPS provides a facsimile of due diligence to agencies and firms that send obligatory paperwork to addresses that have not been current in years, and the agency is only too happy to cooperate with semi-fraudulent mail marketers who disguise loan applications and the like as checks, which sometimes fool elderly people and dim ones. Even for a writer such as myself, who gets checks in the mail fairly often, the USPS is much more trouble than it is worth. If I could opt out of postal service entirely and rely on private-sector alternatives, I would do so. But that is not an option.