Here’s a list of things that should last 35 days- a summer vacation, a bad haircut, your last tinder fling, but probably not a government shutdown. That’s right, the United States Government has just completed its longest shutdown in history and the shadow of another one looms over the horizon due to President Donald Trump and Congress’ stalemate over national security.
After reopening the Government on the 25th of January, Trump continued to tweet about the ‘tremendous’ herd of ‘unwelcomes’ caravaning to get into his precious border and that he still is demanding a ‘physical barrier’. Insert shocked emoji here. As border security continues to be debated in congress with the shutdown temporarily lifted, Trump reified that this decision was made for the millions affected by the shutdown, and that if no deal is completed in 21 days it’s ‘off to the races’.
The longer I’ve spent away from my home country the more I have missed events like this. It took me a while to hear from friends and peer groups about how the government shutdown was affecting them. It wasn’t an unusual occurrence to see people posting about their furloughs or complaining about a national service unavailable to them; I saw the articles like a faint glow in the background of my life, but somehow it didn’t strike me for a long time. The American news cycle had become my estranged, unwelcome friend. These days I tend to avoid her, push her away until she throws a big enough scene that is too loud to ignore, chucks a Budweiser in my face and screams obscenities until I can no longer overlook her.
I will not pretend; I do not long for this “home” like others. I decided to flee, an intellectual refugee of sorts, from the daily Trumpisms that were plaguing my news feed. Besides the political climate, I have always enjoyed moving to other countries and this was my main motivation for moving, but every day the news made my stomach twist and every twitter ping gave me migraines. The stress of my nation crumbling into the global laughing stock, among other things, was another push to leave America for a while. Being away from all of that has been a reprieve, but I realized as the shutdown grew longer, that this was a pretty big deal and it was foolish of people to think otherwise. I wanted to understand how this could happen and why- from the outside, it looked like Trump was holding his own people hostage, throwing the world’s largest temper tantrum to get his beloved racist lego wall monumented across the North American continent. It seems like an oversimplification but is not untrue.
This shutdown occurred when the Senate passed an appropriations bill in December that did not include funds for the wall, which conflicted with Trump’s plan to spend billions of federal dollars on a border wall between the United States and Mexico. He thus decided to veto all future bills that did not include border funds. The stalemate was set to rage on as a stopgap bill (which included the wall) could not get Senate support, but the bill without a wall would only get vetoed. Neither bill (with or without wall) could go through with this impasse. The Antideficiency Act is the legislation in play that keeps the government from using non-essential functions without funds allocated. As the stalemate caused the incompletion of the appropriations bills, this meant that the government had to ‘shutdown’. According to NPR, about a quarter of government employees had to work without pay, with 800,000 people in nine shutdown departments unable to work, subsequently halting their services. Estimates range that this shutdown has cost the American economy at least $11 million dollars.
Though Trump was not the only one involved in this appropriations bill and disagreement, he executively made the decision to take civil servants and their livelihoods hostage to get what he wanted when he continued to veto bills that otherwise would have passed without the wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also played his part as he blocked the Republican controlled senate from voting on a bill not approved by Trump; he chose not to override him when it was possible. This is disturbing and dastardly, as polls continue to show most citizens not wanting to waste billions of dollars on a wall at all. This shutdown is just another example of the way citizens have been at the mercy of the whims of an egotistical and erratic man. On February 15, if Donald Trump is still not satisfied, another shutdown or even a declaration of a national emergency will begin- if his threats hold any weight.
In political moments like this, I think it is important to acknowledge the other side of the concrete border wall, but this time I have had a hard time finding it. Trump deliberately fought an appropriations bill over a $5.7 billion dollar wall that is currently not in favor with his constituents. He knew every time he vetoed and raged on twitter, “BUILD THE WALL”, that neither the House or the Senate could possibly agree to lightly tack on a massive financial blunder like that; an impasse was impossible to avoid. A Reuters poll confirmed that 54% of Americans found Trump to blame for the shutdown, with 31% saying Democrats were to blame. Only 5% blamed Republicans, while 10% said they had no idea what caused the shutdown or could not place blame.
Whoever you want to blame, it is certain that shutdowns of this magnitude are not acceptable or normal. Unfortunately, this will not be the craziest scenario of 2019. More plans and radical ideas will be thrust down America’s throat and the global audience will continue to sigh and gawk. With appropriations bills and government shutdowns, the American citizens have very little to no control over what happens at this point. There will always continue to be another hostage crisis- until Trump is out of office.
Ivy Wade is a Masters’ Student in Literary Studies at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.