Jan. 25 marked the end of the longest government shutdown in our nation’s history, at 35 days. The cause? President Donald Trump refused to approve government funding until Congress agreed to the funding of his famed U.S.-Mexico border wall, priced at $5.7 billion.
The present agreement for keeping the government open is only temporary.
There were some serious effects of the shutdown that were shunted aside in favor of the wall narrative. It cost the economy $11 billion, $3 billion of which is irretrievable. Food went uninspected, national parks were trashed, travel security was compromised and federal courts were delayed.
However, the most visible effect of the shutdown was that it put 800,000 federal employees out of work for over a month, when a large fraction of them already live paycheck-to-paycheck.
Government workers have come forward with their personal stories of coping during the shutdown: employees headed to work over the holidays without payment. People were unable to pay rent or medical bills. Coast Guard members resorted to food pantries.
Higher level officials haven’t seemed particularly receptive to the struggles that their lower level workers have faced. Workers were told to take out loans rather than utilize food stamps. Trump implied that local businesses would help unpaid federal workers get groceries and other basic necessities by giving them away.
The latter isn’t a totally untrue sentiment. Stories of businesses offering federal workers special deals and discounts have popped up online—cheaper meals and free entertainment passes, to ease the financial burden and to help workers take their mind off of things. But these are the exception rather than the norm, and the president shouldn’t carry out a shutdown under the assumption that private businesses will take the fall for his stubbornness. If anything, the statement was indicative of how casually Trump treated the entire ordeal.
But why the panic over the government shutdown in the first place? America has survived a couple of them in recent memory. We’ve increased the frequency of our government shutdowns over the years, as it has become a stalemate for policy. Over the course of their presidencies, Jimmy Carter had five and Ronald Reagan had eight.
Duration is what makes Trump’s shutdown different. Carter’s longest shutdown was 18 days, and Reagan’s was four days. Former President Barack Obama’s singular shutdown lasted 16 days. The previous longest shutdown of 21 days still pales in comparison to the most recent one.
Federal workers missed two much needed paychecks, and for what? According to Trump, the shutdown was for the “benefit and for the safety of our country.” Because a wall is the only way to enforce national security, right? Because the “danger” of illegal immigrants to our citizens outweighs the danger of losing your home and being unable to put food on the table?
Halting paychecks for thousands and denying services to millions for the sake of a $5.7 billion campaign-promised wall that was supposed to be “paid for by Mexico” is stubborn at best and delusional at worst. Especially when the opposition isn’t even against border security but would rather put funding into measures like target ports, vehicle scanning for drugs and more immigration judges—measures that are more easily implemented and cost less than a wall.
Thus, the shutdown turns away from a standoff for national security and turns into Trump trying to live up to an already half-failed campaign promise. It’s a matter of one man saving face, and it just cost the country $3 billion.
The backlash over the shutdown hasn’t weakened his resolve either. He’s threatened to continue the shutdown when the temporary measure wears off on Feb. 15—that “we really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier.”
But he’s not pushing for that wall to protect the public. If he actually cared about the people’s safety, he wouldn’t be snatching paychecks from his workers. He would understand that policy works gradually, and maybe slow work on fortifying border security is better than a $3 billion standoff that risks thousands of people’s wellbeing while yielding no progress.
Trump has decided that his ego is worth more than the financial security of his lower level government workers. That no matter what he does, people will find ways to clean up after him.
Here’s to hoping he doesn’t try to further up the price tag.