MEMBERS ONLY: The Trump Shutdown Confirms The Tragedy Of The Commons

Donald Trump is a buffoon but he is incredibly useful for one thing so far: Exposing the worthlessness of right wing economic ideology. He’s done such a good job at it that Republicans are going to spend decades rebuilding their facade that tax cuts for billionaires are great for the working class and the GOP actually cares about the average American.

But the most recent example of Trump blowing up a right wing talking point has been the rapidly unfolding disaster within our national parks:

With tens of thousands of park employees furloughed, that means many parks have no workers collecting entry fees at the gates, patrolling the campgrounds or emptying the garbage cans and portable toilets. But the visitors keep coming.

The right loves to whine about the “nanny state” and libertarians tell us that the government is a burden that impedes human freedom and happiness. But while most people can be responsible, some aren’t. Even if only 1 in every 1,000 people are irresponsible (and I’m being extremely generous here), that still lets loose thousands of jackasses in our parks that receive millions of visitors. And the results are entirely predictable:

Visitors have posted pictures on social media of overflowing garbage bins. Empty champagne bottles were left strewn on the ground at Joshua Tree. Yosemite officials had to restrict entry to certain areas of the park after the accumulation of human urine and feces became a health hazard.

Think of how much human waste there has to be to become a health hazard. The shutdown has been going on for less than three weeks and people have already made parts of the national park system toxic. As Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcom said in Jurassic Park, “That is one big pile of shit.”

There’s a phrase coined by a different (and real) scientist named Garrett Hardin that explains this best: The tragedy of the commons.

The tragedy of the commons is a problem that occurs when individuals exploit a shared resource to the extent that demand overwhelms supply and the resource becomes unavailable to some or all.

A less polite way to phrase it is that people are assholes and when left to their own devices, they mess it up for everyone else every single time.

This does not always have to be a malicious or conscious act. One person says to themselves, “It’s OK if I pee over here. I’m not hurting anyone.” And they’re right. One person peeing in the woods in not a big deal. But then another person pees in the woods. And another. And another. And thousands more just like them all peeing in roughly the same area, completely unaware of the other people doing the same thing. That adds up and it’s not healthy for the local ecology. There’s a reason humans invented sanitation for our cities. Too much pee is dangerous.

The same thing goes for litter. One napkin or paper cup by itself is not big deal but it’s never just one napkin or paper cup. When every family drop one or two pieces of trash and there’s 50,000 families a day with no one to clean it up, our parks become landfills. Most people don’t mean to be slobs, they’re just used to someone cleaning up after them.

And then there’s the smaller group of people who are assholes because they can be.

The lack of maintenance and oversight is taking a toll. There are reports of illegal camping and off-road driving in sensitive habitat areas. Unsupervised tourists were harassing elephant seals at the Point Reyes National Seashore, prompting officials to close off part of the beach.

These are the people libertarians pretend don’t exist. The drunken “my daddy’s rich” frat boys. The cross section of society that the rest of us just want to punch in the face. They can’t resist breaking stuff just for the fun of it. Like these idiots:

An online video of two Boy Scouts of America leaders knocking over a 170-million-year-old rock formation in a Utah State Park has touched off worldwide outrage, state officials said on Friday, and the two men may face charges.

The video was posted on YouTube showing scout leader Glenn Taylor dislodging the massive rock free from its tiny perch in Goblin Valley State Park as Dave Hall films him while singing and laughing.

There’s going to be vandalism. Lots of it. The second people think they can get away with ruining something beautiful, they will because they think it’s funny. The first group contributes to the tragedy of the commons, the second is more like the tragedy of the douchebags.

This didn’t happen in 2013 when Republicans shut the government down because Obama closed the national parks. A lot of people bitched and moaned that this was politically motivated and maybe it was, in part. But it seems far more likely that the Obama administration, filled with professionals who actually understand the role of government in public life, understood what would happen if the parks stayed open. Conversely, the Trump regime did not understand what the impact of a shutdown would be on little things like the nation’s airports or millions of people that depend on food stamps to feed their children:

Nobody in the administration had a clear understanding of just what a shutdown would entail. Two devastating reports in the Washington Post over the weekend detail the horrifying scope of their ignorance. The administration did not realize that 38 million Americans lose their food stamps under a shutdown, nor did it know that thousands of tenants would face eviction without assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

If they didn’t understand big picture stuff like “millions of families won’t eat,” “people will lose their homes,” and “airports will shut down,” then there is zero chance they understood that keeping the national parks open without staff would be a disaster. Again, this is what happens when people who despise the government and don’t understand what the government does are put in charge of running it. It’s like putting a person with severe motion sickness and an acute fear of flying in the pilot’s seat at 20,000 feet. You can’t possibly be surprised when the airplane crashes into the side of a mountain.

But despite the ongoing damage to our national parks, we can at least look at it as real world proof in why we need the “nanny state” the right so often derides. People simply cannot be trusted not to destroy our shared resources. Whether through ignorance or arrogance, the result is the same: Everything is ruined for everyone else. The tragedy of the commons is very real and thanks to Trump’s incompetence, we have more irrefutable evidence that conservative “small government” ideology is garbage.