Let’s be clear: This is Donald Trump’s shutdown. Totally Donnie’s; no one else’s. Not even partially Chuck’s or Nancy’s. Not Mitch’s either . . . well, not directly, though he is culpable for clearing the way for Trump; more on him later. Trump himself considers this travesty simply to be demonstration of his vaunted negotiating skill. His way of negotiating, however, means creating enough unwarranted pain for Americans that Congress will happily forego its ethical obligation to use its own judgment—especially about the border wall. For their part, House and Senate Republicans surrendered two years ago; fawning’s a hard habit to beat.
This shutdown is a Trump tantrum; he just doesn’t understand Congress’s audacity in not bailing him out of his beautiful wall showboating during the campaign. (Though bizarre, he’s still formally campaigning and still exercising the same poor judgment.) He seems to think otherwise, but Congress does not owe him whatever he wants, certainly not $5 billion. But this is The Donald, so not getting his way means someone must be punished. Enter government employees, just trying to do their jobs.
Voters who selected Trump in November 2016 knew what kind of man he is. No one with high school intelligence could have missed the proof that nothing he says can be trusted. Why did they then, and why do they still not understand that his promises are not something you can take to the bank. By the way, the president treats his promise to build a wall as sacrosanct, but not his promise that taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay for it. His interest is not in that fantasy wall. His interest is in how many uninformed and easily duped fans he can convince to look like a fundamentalist revival, then go vote for him. And yet most Americans keep treating his superficial seriousness about protecting the country as we would a reality-based and ethical politician, i.e., as if he really means it.
We’ve seen movies in which a criminal threatens to hurt a relative of the person being intimidated. We’ve not seen a president of that persuasion until now, to wit, give me my wall or I’ll shoot your mother. Trump—the criminal—inflicts pain on government workers, contractors, their families, all those who rely on them and the purchases they would have made. That larger number goes way past the reported 800,000 (which includes a close relative of mine) to millions of individuals, to America’s economic performance, and to our faith in stability. No matter, Trump sees that ruthlessness to be the fault of those who’ve not given him what he wants. His tantrums and his uncaring treatment of people is never his fault, but always that of others . . . others who don’t understand he is remarkedly intelligent, knows more than the generals, and needs only his gut for complicated decisions.
Trump took an oath of office that obligated him to put the good of the country ahead of personal gain, and to protect the Constitution including institutions that together virtually define America. That promise is paramount, exceeding all promises to his base when they conflict with what is best for the country. The fact that a wild promise was injudicious does not remove the obligation. Nor in Trump’s case, does a president’s dilemma justify the shutdown we are now in. Trump has shown he is willing to be cruel to get his way. He has shown repeatedly he is too unethical, too irresponsible, and too psychotically egocentric to deserve to lead even a banana republic.
Republicans in the House and even more so in the Senate are showing a slight bit of backbone in recent days, though the Senate Leader is not among them, wed as he is to partisan political considerations and Trump toadyism more than the national interest. McConnell’s “hey, don’t look at me” surrender of his obligatory role, an unmistakable mark of his sycophancy, was evident in his recent refusal to call a vote on a bipartisan bill that would have put Trump squarely on the spot.
If Kentucky voters are still able to experience shame, McConnell’s political punishment can be left for later. The historic shutdown itself continues to be imposed by Trump and Trump alone. His vicious cold-heartedness is currently working for him, for the shutdown goes on.
Thanks to Republicans in House and Senate and the continuing Trump supporters. You think maybe it’s time to drop our increasingly empty “greatest country in the world” pretense?