So, our “non-essential” federal workers get the chance to go back to work for three weeks. There will be back pay, of course, and, for 21 days, the nation can collectively savor the relief from what seemed to be an unending stare-down in Washington.
Everything’s good, right? Sure, this relief is short term, but we should be able to rest easy, right?
I don’t think I’m alone in finding this resolution unhelpful. I also doubt that I’m alone in thinking that we might just be worse off than before. I hate to say it, but this partial re-opening of the government is a means to appease an increasingly restless country. This is a calculated salvaging of approval numbers. This is a quick water-break from all the shouting. This is a front so obvious that even seasoned Washingtonians are surprised by its lack of opacity.
Unfortunately, this is no longer about the wall. That is evident in the ever-evolving rhetoric which seems to describe some type of sturdy fortification. Barriers aside, this is about the “negotiator-in-chief” and his ability to command what he wants. The optics are changing and Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Ca.) seems to be delivering on Trump’s promise of intimidation more than himself.
This is a fight for “Lame Duck” status. Will this be what remains of Trump’s final two years? What else can Pelosi take?
So, let’s talk strategy, or, at least, language. Whatever the final draft of this deal is, the language of it will have to appease two sides who couldn’t be more polarized. The Democrats would be remiss to offer any money for a “wall” and, likewise, the Republicans would be rash to accept anything less.
Where these two spheres overlap is in their support of some sort of increased security at the border. Fortunately for the Democrats, they’ve entered the second-round of negotiations with the upperhand. Arranging to postpone the State of The Union was nothing short of political brilliance. In what seems an added bonus for the Democrats, we already know that Americans don’t care enough about the southern border “crisis” to warrant their government shutdown for days on end. If anything, they could simply recycle their message if no agreement is reached. Advocating for an open government has no credible counter.
The Republican Party’s strengths going into this negotiation are very limited. Trump’s approval ratings during the shutdown were at an abysmal 37 percent. Additionally, it seems that border-wall funding is strongest only within Trump’s base, which dwindles when faced with the alternative of a shutdown. Trump and the Republicans don’t have many plays left, but their strongest move might be to declare a state of emergency to build the wall. Of course, a legal challenge would come to question the validity of a “crisis” so threatening it would need to appropriate military funds, but it seems that Trump has stacked a court system in his favor.
If the appeals mount all the way to the Supreme Court, there is a possibility that the decision would be upheld. In this case, Trump would be able to fulfill his campaign promise, but he would be testing the country’s conscience. A move like that would widely be viewed as political posturing rather than a necessary sacrifice.
It is no surprise that Trump still has a substantial following and enough people who will vote for representatives based on their backing of the president. Trump could concede this loss and rally it for 2020, blaming the Democrats for his failure. He has already begun raising massive amounts of money for his re-election campaign. Several figures put his fundraising totals well above $100 million, an unprecedented re-election machine not seen in history.
If there is one thing that’s for certain, it’s that shutting down the government for this cause is so wildly unpopular that even alluding to doing it again is a risk. It would be best to keep this political fight contained within these 21 days. Repeating what we’ve seen will make everyone look bad, but Trump stands to lose the most should he demand, above all else, his border wall.
Josiah Smith is a fourth-year English and business management double major.