The federal government sort of closed for business this week, a shameful display that unfortunately is neither unprecedented nor out of character.

It's worth stressing the sort-of aspect of the shutdown because the U.S. Armed Forces remain on guard, the Postal Service continues to deliver the mail and, after the political lessons of the last self-inflicted federal shutdown, Social Security and other checks will still be cut and distributed. In other words, no one involved thinks the country is going to close up shop and the states go their separate ways. It's just political theater.

Which is part of what makes it shameful.

It's also worth noting that, while it would be easy for people on either end of the discussion to proudly claim the founding fathers would be either ashamed of or inspired by the shutdown and the political tomfoolery associated with it, the reality is the founding fathers were no more united than any of the pols who engineered this bit of administrative knot-tying. Heck, the founders got along so poorly that founder Aaron Burr shot and mortally wounded founder Alexander Hamilton (of $10-bill fame) in a duel.

The founders may well have held each other in more contempt than the two most mutually repellent members of Congress seated today.

Moreover, budget fights and the associated delays are nothing new. The federal budget year didn't always begin on Oct. 1; that dates to a time in the 1970s when, after an extended spell of passing stop-gap measures, the budget year's start date was officially, and somewhat arbitrarily, moved.

Still, these disagreements over coming to basic agreements about funding U.S. government are both counterproductive and expensive. They also make the nation appear to outsiders as weak.

The situation is counterproductive because the agreement that will end up being struck in 10 days or 10 weeks when this comes to an embarrassing end will be very much like the one that would have ended up being struck last week. It is expensive because shutting down the government has an unnecessary cost associated with it, as does keeping open the politically sensitive parts of it; re-opening it also will have costs that didn't need to be incurred associated with it.

In the eyes of other nations – allies and enemies – the U.S. appears to be a good deal more divided than it really is.

This country has a history of division, debate and respect for the minority opinion, which is what has made it great. When the majority opinion doesn't work out, people are free to take another look at other options. But shutting down the apparatus of nationhood is disturbingly close, at least in theory, to divesting ourselves of national heritage and striking out on our own as 50 separate countries.

Though it is easy to make light of the government and its bureaucracies – even the most proud of those who have served in the military have more than a few tales of mindless waste – the reality is the U.S. government is really us. Government employees are in harm's way fighting for their nation, and also at desks in cubicles in buildings whose size can be more easily measured in acres than square feet. But they are us, or our neighbors, friends or relatives. And if you count people who make a living thanks to contracts they or their employers have with the government, well that's even more of us. And all of these people work for all of us, even if some of us think what some of us are doing is unnecessary.

It's an easy enough conclusion to illustrate here in Harford County where Aberdeen Proving Ground is employment opportunity No. 1.

It's time for us, or U.S., to get beyond the foolishness of self-inflicted harm designed to make esoteric political points and come to the realization that we're all better off together, even when we disagree, or especially when we disagree, than we are out on our own.

Keeping this in mind may well help people of all political shades to be a little more giving when it comes to making deals to keep the government open. At our age as a nation, we really should be well past the stage of shooting each other in duels or shooting ourselves in the foot.