TL;DR--Shorter: Republicans are the dissatisfied and angry diners at the table of life.
We've seen a lot of weird reactions… but one thing that really strikes me is the rage and antipathy that has been displayed towards Federal Workers themselves… [not] unusual, but… significant…. Varney's attitude towards the Federal Work force is the same attitude as (some) diners take when they are eating out in a fine restaurant and they fear that they don't have enough money or status to get good service--and they suspect that someone else is getting better service. They want to tip, and they want to use the tip to punish the worker for failing to give exceptional service to the important people (the diner himself). The diner comparison isn't because I think this is trivial, but because people take the issues surrounding service in restaurants very, very, seriously, and become nearly as unhinged as Varney when they don't feel they can control the experience they are having. And I think (and others are arguing this right now) that a huge part of the Republican experience of governance in the US right now is about disappointment and lack of control…. I also think that Varney's attitude… is based on another and deeper cultural reality: that for Republicans the government itself is understood as an employee and the individual Republican fancies himself an employer--and he wants the power of that relationship to be vindicated in every instance. Where it is not expressed and understood as oppressive then its not working for Varney. Let me unpack this for you as an Anthropolgist, because I think it says something about the enormous gap that lies between these people (Republicans and Punishers) and the rest of us.
There are several things at issue here: the status of workers, the status of employers, and the status anxiety Republicans feel when they don't believe that they are treated as an employer should be treated by their employees. In this case everyone in the Federal Government, from the President down to the lowliest Federal Street Sweeper, is not giving Varney the satisfaction that he thinks is his due. And he is damned if they will be paid when they don't do their job to his satisfaction. In this way his attitude is like that of the angry customers, the "Punishers" described in Jay Porter's series of essays about what happened when he moved an entire restaurant from tipped wait staff to non tipped.
Porter was running what he wanted to be a great restaurant and in pursuit of this he eliminated tipping--he felt that tipping overvalued the work the waiter was doing and undervalued the work the back of the house staff did, and he knew that it resulted in waiters making separate deals and occasionally sabotaging each other and the house in pursuit of a better tip from one set of customers. What he did not expect was to discover that tipping, rather than a burden on his customers, was one of the chief sources of pleasure for them in the meal. Not because they enjoyed the extra 20 percent on top of the bill but because he found they enjoyed the power they thought it gave them over the waiter and over the nature of the experience. They believed (erroneously in his view) that they were given better service because the waiter anticipated the tip. More importantly, they actively enjoyed imagining using the threat of the withheld tip to punish bad service--they enjoyed this imagined power so much that people became frantic and angry when they couldn't tip. They experienced themselves as having lost their voice and lost control over the situation.
Porter argues that his customers see the restaurant experience as a special subset of other kinds of service experiences in which one person is superior and the other inferior, one person commands and the other serves, and that in the midst of a professional setting in which all persons might have the right to expect equal and equally good service the tip-oriented customer sees a setting in which preferential treatment should be meted out to the good tipper and bad/non preferential treatment should be punished.
The Restaurant customer, and I'd argue many Americans, don't respect work or workers and see situations in which they are served by a worker as a kind of passion play in which the served get to experience the power of the purse, the power of the john vis a vis the prostitute, the power to coerce service and specifically the power to punish one person for disappointment or bad service or really anything the tipper wants to punish that person for. More than that: Americans see tipping as an occasion to right the wrongs of a situation and to restore a balance--a balance that is upset when one person (the client) expects something good and gets something they didn't want.
Porter's entire series of posts should be read, but I want to focus on just one part of the last section: what is lost for the patron when they can't tip? Something vital, something that they didn't even know they wanted: the ability to communicate with the worker non verbally and punitively. Porter describes many such situations but this one is quite poignant. After the restaurant had gone to a "No Tip" policy a restaurant reviewer chose to publicly humiliate a server, by name, in a bad review. The reviewer did not correct the server to his face, nor did she report him to management and try to get the service issues handled at the time.
I responded, I agree that the bad service is my fault. I’m saying you should have ripped on me and not him. I’ve apologized to him for putting him in that position, but it is still not right of you, writing under a pseudonym, to publicly embarrass him using his actual name.And she came back with the clincher: Well, with your fixed service charge you didn’t give my any choice. I couldn’t give him a lower tip. How else could I punish him for his mistakes?
That made it all clear. She, like some other patrons, felt the burden of having to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. Obviously, some people like that role, and some people don’t, but at the very least our culture has trained diners that it is their job. When you go to restaurants, you are responsible for rewarding and punishing your server.
Porter goes on to argue, on the basis of his experience, that sometimes it seems like the entire point of the tip is to punish the server and rebalance a relationship of hierarchy which has been violated by the server not being attentive enough or the meal not being perfect enough.