Longest Government Shutdown in US History Ends

The Gryphon discusses the US government shutdown and why it’s one of the longest in history.

On the 25th of January, President Trump signed a  measure to fund the government temporarily, which effectively ended the government shutdown. The legislation, signed by the President, funds the government till February 15. “I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government”, said the President whilst addressing the press in the West Wing.

The narrative regarding the Government shutdown amongst Democrat voters and Republican voters have nothing in common, apart from both agreeing on the fact that the government shutdown began on 22nd December. The primary reason for the shutdown was the insistence of Republicans, led by President Trump of funding, for the construction of a border wall at the southern border. Building a border wall, was a large part of Trump’s 2016 campaign and still remains an issue dear to his core voters. Trump’s vociferous advocacy of a wall at the southern border during the Republican Primaries is an important factor in what set him apart from the rest of the Republicans. Most Republicans, fiscally conservative, are not particularly in favour of big spending. The President had demanded 5 billion dollars to fund the construction. In the early days of the administration, Trump did face some resistance from fiscal hawks in the GOP. However, that changed after Trump’s regular comments about how 5 billion is a small amount compared to the amount of money the US gives to its “allies”. Pakistan as an example was often used by the President stating how all the money flowing outside was a waste as Pakistan continues to be a breeding ground for terrorism. Choosing Pakistan as an example was not a fluke as there is bipartisan agreement amongst Democrats and Republicans that US’s close relations with the troubled country in Asia, has largely been a source of embarrassment.

Although the Republican resistance for funding a border wall did end, the President has failed in making the Democrats support the wall. The Democratic Party, which was a centre-right party even a few years ago when Bill Clinton was the President has moved towards the left in a rapid manner. Even during the Obama administration, the viewpoint of the Democratic Party was that – illegal immigration is bad, mainly because it is illegal. The Democrats increasingly refer to illegal immigrants as ‘Dreamers’, a term which now even the Republicans are using. The underlying idea is that people who entered the US illegally, did so in search of a better life and US should welcome them with open arms. This is the reason why Democrats are unwilling to fund the wall, with most Democrats stating that a wall is “immoral”. The focus of Democrats during the government shutdown has been on 800,000 federal workers not receiving their paycheck because of the shutdown. It is not incorrect to say that the reason President Trump agreed to sign a bill ending the shutdown is because of the sharp focus of Democrats and media on the plight of these workers. Many of these workers live pay-check to pay-check. Missing one means inability to pay the bills. The fact that the US is suffering from an opioid crisis doesn’t help. A large section of the American population is on prescription medication, most of them on some sort of antidepressants. Missing a paycheck not only means inability to pay the cable bill but also the inability to get antidepressants. Once addicted to the pills, missing them, especially during winter is “not a very good thing” says Phycology professor at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson. Although President Trump said, ‘most of the unpaid workers support me’, in reality, it is quite the opposite. Most of the unpaid workers and the population living in or around America’s east and west coast or a metropolis like Chicago in general, blame Trump for the shutdown.

Democrats are celebrating the end of the government shutdown as the defeat of US President. Many American journalists are stating that the President didn’t gain anything politically from the shutdown.  That statement may be true if one was speaking about the US as a country. The Journal on Tuesday, in fact, reported that the US economy lost a lot as a result of the shutdown. 11 billion dollars according to the congressional budget office, to be precise. That’s much more than the amount Republicans asked for the wall. But no one is blaming President Trump in Alabama or Texas. In fact, the Republican base is more galvanized than ever. Before the shutdown, Trump was facing a lot of flak from his core voters and conservative commentators like Ann Coulter for not making enough effort in building the wall. What politician Trump has done very skilfully is placed the blame on Democrats for obstructing him from fulfilling his promise. Amy Mek, a conservative commentator with a large following on twitter who is currently on a trip to London says, “well he tried all he could, but they have developed a visceral hatred for him, anything he says they’ll label it as racist, will they call Obama a racist too, he was much harsher”. This kind of sentiment will come in handy for Trump as he gears up for his 2020 campaign.

The statement of Obama, Mek is referring to is the one he made as a senator of Illinois in 2005 whilst campaigning for the oval office. “We all agree to better secure our borders and to punish employers who choose to hire illegal immigrants. Now, remember, we are a generous and welcoming people here in the US but those who enter the country illegally and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of law and they are showing disregard for those who are following the law. We simply cannot allow people to pour into the US, undetected, undocumented, unchecked and circumventing the line of people who are waiting patiently, diligently and lawfully to become immigrants in this country.” It is hard to disagree that if one looks at Trump administration’s immigration reform policy, by the current standards it appears a Democrat policy. One will also be hard pressed to find a Republican who says employers who hire illegal immigrants should be punished. The government shutdown only depicts the increasing amount of ignorance and tribalism among party loyal American voters on both sides.

Sagar Kär Debroy