Opportunity amid US shutdown tragedy



The US government is in the midst of its longest shutdown ever. The phrase 'longest ever' might indicate these shutdowns occur with more frequency than they actually do. In fact, there have only ever been four where agency operations were affected or halted for more than one business day, the first only coming in the mid-90s under the Clinton administration.

President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media as (L-R) Senator John Barrasso, Senator John Thune, Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Roy Blunt and Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell listen after the weekly Republican Senate policy luncheon on 9 January 2019 in Washington, DC. Trump met with GOP lawmakers to shore up their resolve and support for his proposed border wall with Mexico as the partial federal government shutdown continues. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)The shutdowns ought to be rare because they can be catastrophic in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. In a country where nearly half of residents 'if faced with an unexpected expense of $400, would either not be able to cover it or would cover it by selling something or borrowing money', a shutdown where 800,000 federal workers are missing paychecks is a nightmare.

The shutdown is the result of President Donald J. Trump demanding $5.7 billion for a 'wall' to be constructed along the US-Mexico southern border. (Readers might recall that Democrats pledged nearly five times that amount in a deal to protect 'Dreamers', in February, when Republicans were in legislative majority.)

The president is demanding the wall in face of facts that stand against its necessity: most drugs enter the United States through legal ports of entry, visa overstays far outpace border crossings, and apprehensions at the southern border have reached their lowest levels since 1971.

Yet listing all of these facts is an exercise akin to explaining anatomy and nutrition to a three year old who wonders why they can't eat an entire tub of ice cream for dinner every day.

Herein lies the biggest tragedy in a government shutdown that contains multitudes: The US does have a deeply broken, inhumane immigration system to which no one (at least none of the voices with the largest megaphones) is offering real solutions. Instead, we're all debating the necessity and effectiveness of a giant wall, which leads to listening to arguments like Trump's now-notorious line about wheels being older than walls.

Contrast this to the approach the new Congress has taken with fighting the environmental degradation brought on by the Trump administration. The Green New Deal that's being proposed and debated is not simply a refutation of Trumpism, but a robust, imaginative and ambitious alternative to it.


"Democrats — and Republicans who are invested in comprehensive immigration reform — have an enormous opportunity before them."


We should be giving a bold answer to the wall, and not just a rejection of it. Every time an opponent of the wall defensively backpedals with statements like, 'Of course I/We believe in border security,' they are ceding ground and letting nativism and racism frame the immigration debate.

Last week, after the President 'slammed' the negotiating table and stormed out of the room (the President denied this account in a Tweet), Vice President Mike Pence reportedly asked Democratic leaders Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer for a counteroffer.

They would do well to offer one. A counteroffer that would lead to real, comprehensive immigration reform. That would keep families together. That would expand refugee resettlement programs and protect residents with Temporary Protected Status.

A proposal that would point lawyers and caseworkers at migrant caravans, and not rubber bullets and tear gas. That would abolish ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement). That would streamline and shorten immigration channels. An answer that would call America to live up to ideals never realised.

Democrats — and Republicans who are invested in comprehensive immigration reform — have an enormous opportunity before them. Bold policy ideas should be at the heart of the 2020 primary debates, though they could squander their chance if they continue to let the president control the narrative.

Schumer accused Trump of governing via temper tantrum. He's right. The wall is an ineffective and immoral solution to a deeply complicated problem. It should be rejected at every turn. Moreover, there should be no trust in an administration that claims to be concerned with illegal immigration that at the same time does everything in its power to sabotage pathways of legal immigration.

And yet there's a peculiar quality to temper tantrums that enough toddlers figure out: in the absence of good parenting, and if you keep them up long enough, you get your way.



Zac_DavisZac Davis is writer and an associate editor for digital strategy at America magazine and a host of Jesuitical, a podcast for young Catholics. He was named the 2017 Multimedia Journalist of the Year by the Catholic Press Association. In addition to America, his writing on religion and culture has appeared in the Washington Post, Catholic News Service and other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @zacdayvis.

Main image: President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media as (L-R) Senator John Barrasso, Senator John Thune, Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Roy Blunt and Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell listen after the weekly Republican Senate policy luncheon on 9 January 2019 in Washington, DC. Trump met with GOP lawmakers to shore up their resolve and support for his proposed border wall with Mexico as the partial federal government shutdown continues. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Zac Davis, Donald Trump, wall, immigration



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Zac, an interesting analysis. Trump would lose face if the wall doesnt get built as it was a major plank in his election win. But it has isolated him and if it goes on, then he'll go down like Whitlam over the Khemlani affair. You are right about the cartels methods of entry. Mules, trains, containers, submarines, fast speed boats picking up submerged drugs by GPS, light planes coming in under the radar, parachute drops, trucks, cars, drugs suspended in paint, clever suspensions in liquids as disparate as eye drop solution to liquid glue, drugs welded behind the inner hulls of steel ships, concreted under ballast and a myriad of other methods. It must be a nightmare to detect. Would a wall stop that? I doubt it. They'd simply tunnel under it like El Chapo's breakout from Altiplano. And you are correct, Trump has sabotaged the legitimate migrant entry process and he does epitomise the characteristics of most narcissistic leaders. Bullying, tirades, refusal to debate on the merits, playing the blame game. Always, always blame someone else. Bluster, bravado, bullying, blaming, backstabbing and bitching are his stock in trade.
Francis Armstrong | 14 January 2019

Trump is missing many opportunities, including those resulting from his denial of climate change and the people it is already displacing. “Displacement linked to climate change is not a future hypothetical – it’s a current reality. An annual average of 21.5 million people have been forcibly displaced by weather-related sudden onset hazards – such as floods, storms, wildfires, extreme temperature – each year since 2008. Thousands of others flee their homes in the context of slow-onset hazards, such as droughts or coastal erosion linked to sea level rise. There is high agreement among scientists that climate change, in combination with other drivers, is projected to increase displacement of people in the future. Climate change is also a “threat multiplier” in many of today’s conflicts, from Darfur to Somalia to Iraq and Syria. The Arab Spring is commonly seen as leading to Syria’s conflict, but people tend to forget the five-year drought in Syria’s northeast that preceded the war and the displacement of some 1.5 million people. Climate change sows seeds for conflict, but it also makes displacement much worse when it happens.” https://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2016/11/581f52dc4/frequently-asked-questions-climate-change-disaster-displacement.html Trump is an isolationist president, when the world needs international co-operation, and leaders building bridges not walls!
Grant Allen | 14 January 2019

The fact that the American people elected this immature, brazen brat as their leader beggars belief. Perhaps theirs is a very flawed form of democracy and not the type that they should endeavour to force onto other countries that they choose to invade militarily in its name.
john frawley | 14 January 2019

Be very interested to read what are the policy solutions for the USA. Most commentators seem to know what they are against but apart from generalities, not a lot of details about policy proposals that are sustainable. The current Trump policy on refugees does not reflect the broad trend of USA history, with over 3,000,000 refugees resettled since 1975 in the USA. No other country has done more for resettlement in countries of second asylum. Hopefully, Trump is a blimp in the trend. Trump has decreased funding to UNHCR, hampering their work. Cut refugee visa numbers to 45,000 [Obama was at 85,000 per annum in 2016] terminated temporary protection status for some groups and is bringing in a third country agreement- barring migrants to apply for asylum who have crossed a safe country. Is the USA and central America in need of a regional solution? What role for internal relocation? Most refugees, globally, are internally displaced. It allows quick return if circumstances change. Most just want to return to a safe home. Many are finding work and solutions in Mexico. A wall is a failure, no doubt. Draws resources away from the real need.
John Kilner | 14 January 2019

$5.7 billion in the context of US federal spending is peanuts. In the absence of a claim that the wall is so overwhelmingly offensive to morality that it simply cannot be countenanced, it is the Democrats who must be taken, by digging in their heels over relative pennies, to be playing games with the lives of the innocent unpaid government employees.
roy chen yee | 14 January 2019

Zac Davis's positive perspective on the US shut down tragedy is interesting. The tragedy for me is that in the theatre that is US politics the United States Constitutiont was meant primarily to protect the individual citizen (no matter how narrowly interpreted ) against internal potentates & external predators. In very general terms this ideal soon led to a bi-furcation into those who emphasised the rights/needs of the individual (35%) & those who emphasised the supremacy of a united nation (35%). A political voting system emerged that was voluntary. The two main tasks of the party machines were to corral their membership & cajole support from the 30% neutrals. The emergence of mass media especially in the recent IT decades has resulted in elections being run as product selling campaigns. Both sides had as little respect for the truth (Whatever that is!) as a snake oil salesman. Perhaps the triumph of Trump & his unabashed mendacity is an opportunity for the American people to have a good hard look at themselves. Sad to say, I don't share Zac's optimism but he is Johnny on the spot & my information is very much filtered or distorted by Main Stream Media.
Uncle Pat | 19 January 2019

Judge Jeanine Pirro said that enough fentanyl had come across the southern border, one way or another, to kill every American citizen. My other comment is that both Clintons, Schumer and Pelosi, as well as Obama, have voiced their support for a wall in the past.
Dr Erin Neill | 19 January 2019


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