The Senseless Shutdown

We all know that Donald Trump’s presidency is one long series of unfortunate events that’s making living in the United States a dystopian nightmare. As we all know, Trump managed to win over his supporters by promising a big, beautiful wall that Mexico will pay for. Despite that Mexico sure isn’t, especially since Trump called them rapists and criminals in a campaign speech. Now that Trump is president, he wants $5 billion to fund his wall at the US-Mexico border, which Congress doesn’t want to give him. Because it’s a stupid waste of money, which is plain to see if you just look at a map of North America. Or a history book on the Great Wall of China, which has benefitted the country more as a tourist attraction than protecting against Mongol invaders. Honestly, even Republicans wouldn’t give Trump any wall money when they were in charge of the legislative branch. As a result, the federal government has shut down in December and now we’re deep into its third week. While at least 800,000 federal workers are now struggling to keep it together along with the countless subcontractors and citizens who depend on them.

For the legions of government employees and contractors, the holidays was hell as they agonized over how to cover their electric bill, mortgage payment, or trip to the grocery store. And God only knows whether 2018 would be the worst Christmas of their lives that Donald Trump’s latest temper tantrum has upended. Some 420,000 of these are “essential personnel” and working without pay. This comprises of 41,000 law enforcement officials, 54,000 Border Patrol agents, and 53,000 Transportation Security Administration workers. 380,000 of these employees have been furloughed, including 28,000 Forest Service staff, 16,000 in the National Park Service, and 16,7000 at NASA. The longer the stoppage goes on, the more people will feel the squeeze. Already, the Small Business Administration has been shut down, delaying loan processing. A growing number of national parks, museums, and historic sites will need to close, disrupting tourism and for surrounding businesses. At some parks during the holidays, there were as many rangers and other support staff furloughed. While trash piled up, toilets overflowed, and facilities were vandalized. FDA routine screenings have been put on hold. The Federal Communications Commission is set to halt most of its operations as far as I know. The Indian land situation is about to get dire. Not to mention, the food stamp program is almost out of cash. The list goes on and on.

Sure federal employees will receive back pay, but only retroactively through a Congressional act after the government reopens. Yet, in the interim we must understand that their suffering will not influence Donald Trump to cave. Because Trump doesn’t care who gets hurt when it comes to getting what he wants. As of January 5, 2018, the GoFundMe website has 1,000 results for pages regarding the government shutdown. Most of the federal workers who’ve posted pages on the site ask for amounts ranging from $1000-$5000. While most pages have yet to receive any donations.

For the workers affected, those facing the greatest economic uncertainty are contractors who make up more than 40% of the government workforce. These not only comprise of white-collar workers, but also thousands of blue-collar jobs like janitors and security guards. Unlike the regular government employees, many contractors won’t be compensated for lost time. For these Americans, the shutdown’s effects can be potentially devastating even after the government reopens.

Apparently, Donald Trump’s supporters elected him because they saw him as a wily tycoon and deft dealmaker who could shake up Washington and bring decades of big-business knowhow to the Oval Office. In reality, Trump was never a peerless or even particularly skillful dealmaker. In fact, many of the most significant business transactions he engineered imploded. But because he was born into wealth, he could make his way in the world as a shameless self-promoter, a marketing confection, and billboard who frequently licensed his name on buildings others had paid for. In Trump’s professional life, his inept deal making often resulted in unmanageable debt and multiple bankruptcies. While his presidency has saw bungled, hapless efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act, forge a nuke agreement with North Korea, wage trade wars with China, Mexico, and Canada, retain Republican control of the House, turn military and diplomatic strategy on its head, lay siege on any sensible immigration policy, and force a government shutdown to secure funding for a stupid border wall along the US-Mexico border.

Striking deals must have intimacy with the finer points of what every party wants out of a negotiation like realistic goals, maturity, patience, flexibility, and enough leverage so the other side can’t stall or walk away from the table. Of course, in his repeated efforts to build the wall to satisfy the white supremacists in his base, Donald Trump hasn’t met any of those perquisites. Nor has he addressed any of the real shortcomings or necessary enhancements of federal immigration policy. Obviously, Trump lacks the sophistication or interest to steep himself into policy details. So he already enters the immigration debate and deal making on his dumb wall at a distinct disadvantage. While Democrat and Republican politicians on Capitol Hill have immersed themselves in immigration discussions for years.

However, Donald Trump is perfectly willing to burn things down and ruin people’s lives just to get his own way. After all, look what he did in Atlantic City and tried to do to tenants at 100 Central Park South during the 1980s and 1990s. And he needlessly publicized himself as the shutdown’s author. Politicians in Washington DC should know that voters get sick of government shutdowns and don’t like those responsible for them. Of course, you can count on Trump trying to blame the Democrats for it or try to spin it as a positive thing once people get fed up with it. Still, if people know you as the guy who likes blowing things up, you’ll have a difficult time making deals. Besides, Trump had plenty of chances to avoid it and might’ve gotten the wall he wanted. In fact, one generous bipartisan Senate proposal offered $25 billion for a wall as long as the government opened a path to citizenship for 1.7 million young, undocumented immigrants in the US. Trump would’ve been wise to accept this deal. But no.

Good dealmakers prepare their teams to get the support they need to see the negotiation through. Donald Trump has overlooked the fact that more capable Republican dealmakers have initiated and guided his signature accomplishments of putting 2 conservative justices on the Supreme Court, pushing through an ill-advised tax overhaul nobody but Corporate America wanted, and passing criminal justice reform. On the other hand, building a wall has been Trump’s signature publicity stunt and has invoked fantasies to promote it like promising that Mexico would pay for it. Also, he’s become so emotionally invested in to the fruitless effort that he’s put himself at a strategic disadvantage. And Trump is now so consumed with appearing to win that he may not win at all. Left reeling and desperate, Trump has recently hinted that he may declare a national emergency on the southern border so he could simply appropriate the taxpayer funds he wants. This move may not even be legal and may compel Democrats to file a lawsuit to stop him regardless, and will likely further alienate some Republicans already fed up by his antics.

However, this is who Donald Trump is. All he cares about is fostering his own carnivalesque image. While has very little real interest in policy outcomes or other consequences unless they affect him personally. And he’s been there before. In 1988, he overpaid in a Plaza Hotel deal because he was so irrationally enamored by the property. He lost it in a bankruptcy a few years later. At the same time, he screwed up negotiations for another project that would’ve made him a transformative figure in New York real estate. Because Trump can’t exercise restraint, foresight, and financial discipline necessary to complete the deal. In 1996, he passed on a selling stake in one of his casinos that would’ve netted him $180 million and helped prop up his struggling Atlantic City operation because he didn’t want his name removed from the property. As you can see reading my blog post on Trump’s Atlantic City casino woes, countless people suffered from his actions. While he has still not learned his lesson and most likely never will.

But we must understand this isn’t a fight over border security. Despite Donald Trump’s wild claims, there’s no flood of savage foreigners pouring across the border. Even so, reasonable Democrats and Republicans recognize the need for bigger staff, better technology, and better fencing. Not to mention, both sides acknowledge the need for a sensible and more humane immigration and asylum policies. Even for competent administration, achieving all of this has proven to be a tall order. But already, Congress has already been allocating more money for border security. Despite that the Trump administration has spent less than 10% of what Congress had allocated this past year. Thus, to avoid the complex hard work that has traditionally gone with his job, Trump has instead created a political impasse over a symbol, a wall. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney derided this wall as “an easy thing to sell politically” that “doesn’t really solve the problem.” While former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told the Los Angeles Times that the administration had long ago abandoned the idea of a concrete wall as irrelevant to border security’s real needs.

Not that Donald Trump seems much interested in either the public will or the public good. Because Trump never has. For him, this shutdown is a self-declared point of pride like a gaudy display of his boldness, his manliness, and his political steadfastness. But in reality, it reveals his selfishness and his apathy. Nonetheless, this political charade is mostly about Donald Trump taking it out on everyone over not getting his own way. So he’s making it miserable for everyone and doesn’t care who gets hurt. Is making all these people go without pay worth it? For God’s sake, no way in hell. These people have work for the benefit of the people each and every day. They deserve better than be furloughed or work without pay over a budget dispute on a stupid wall that our country doesn’t even need. Many of these workers have suffered already with making rent, paying bills, or getting groceries. As of now federal workers and contractors reckon with the possibility that the shutdown will drag on for months, leaving them with no steady income to pay mounting bills. Even for regular non-contract employees who’ll eventually receive back pay after the shutdown is over, the grinding anxiety and financial costs of scraping by in the meantime will mount with each passing day. Many of these workers live paycheck to paycheck, with very little wiggle room. Some of their creditors are more understanding than others. But even one missed payment can carry heavy consequences.

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