The best decision of the day in Washington DC? National Geographic’s bright idea to invite “all furloughed government employees and the general public” to visit the Museum in the US capital for free. Waiving the normal $11 admission gives some federal employees sent home on unpaid leave something to do – and provide foreign visitors with possibly the only sightings of America’s great outdoors they will get while the shutdown prevails.
The 800,000 workers tangled in the infantile bickering in the US Congress deserve sympathy – but so do the rather more numerous tourists who will be directly affected by the shutdown.
When, in 1908, Theodore Roosevelt described the Grand Canyon as “The one great sight which every American must see,” he could not have envisaged how planet Earth’s spectacular wound would become a target for tourists from across the world. But the tens of thousands from Australia, Brazil and Britain who turn up at the park gate today will be sent on their way while American politics plumbs the depths of absurdity.
As a direct result of Republican opposition to the president’s health-care reforms, the National Park Service contingency plan has come into effect. “Day-use visitors will be instructed to leave the park immediately,” it stipulates. Guests staying at the Grand Canyon’s park lodges and campgrounds have been given 48 hours to get out, before “Park roads will be closed and access will be denied”.
Staffing for a park the size of Norfolk (and scenically even more interesting) “will be maintained at the very minimum for the protection of life, property, and public health and safety”. Happy holidays.
At least in Arizona there is much else to see, including some stunning State Parks that will remain open. But across in the great governmental theme park that is Washington DC, the main attractions are locked and barred because of the unseemly row on Capitol Hill. As the Washington Post succinctly put it: “If it’s usually free, it’s probably closed”.
From the Freedom Trail in Boston to the San Francisco Bay, UK tourists find they are trapped in a nation on life-support – with not even the option of an escape to Alcatraz open to them.
We love America - its people, its history and its landscapes. But once again the tolerance of the British, who remain the most loyal of overseas visitors to the US, is being tested.