By Caleb Talley
As I began the ancient practice of putting pen to paper to draft this column, I wasn’t yet sure in which direction I should take it. I weighed the merits of each topic swirling around inside my head. Horse race election coverage. The border wall debate. The government shutdown. Honoring the will of the people.
But then, I thought: Aren’t they all a part of the same conversation? If not, they should be.
A pair of Senate bills to reopen the government just failed, all but guaranteeing the partial government shutdown – the longest in our nation’s history – will enter its fifth week. And while our lawmakers and president continue to squabble, approximately 800,000 federal workers and more than a million contract workers will remain furloughed or will continue to work without pay, many of whom just missed their second paycheck.
Here in Arkansas, many work without pay at the federal prison in Forrest City. TSA officers and air traffic controllers at our airports do, too. And thousands of parents whose children participate in the Children’s Health Insurance Program worry about the future of their health care.
How did we get here?
If you were to ask a card-carrying Republican, the blame for our government shutdown belongs to the Democrats, primarily party leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer. They haven’t budged in the battle on funding a border wall. “Not one penny,” said Pelosi.
Democrats see it differently. For them, it’s the Trump Shutdown, and they’d likely refer you to a mid-December meeting in which President Trump told Pelosi and Schumer, “I’m not going to blame you for it. I will take the mantle of shutting down.” That didn’t last long.
While one side may own a little more share for the blame than the other, they’re both to blame. In a damaging display of governmental brinkmanship, Trump-led Republicans and Pelosi-led Democrats are working overtime. Not for the good of the American people, but to serve their own political interests. They’re playing a game in which nobody really wins. But we’re the losers.
It’s hard to warm up to that level of self-indulgent political narcissism.
Let’s first examine the border wall for what it really is: a campaign slogan. After all, it’s hard to purport an actual crisis at our southern border when crossings and apprehensions have declined by more than 80 percent since 2000. The overwhelming majority of drugs are smuggled through ports of entry and 35 of the 41 suspected terrorists apprehended at the border last year were American citizens.
Had Trump truly cared about his border wall beyond what it provided him in campaign trail pay dirt, he would have demanded it before his third year in office. He would have considered the deal offered to him last year – a wall for DACA amnesty. He would have come up with his own. A serious one. One that Democrats would consider. We’re talking about the man who (sort of) wrote The Art of the Deal.
It’s not hard for someone without innate partisan bias to see why Democrats have no interest in giving Trump the funds he needs to build a wall, despite being a drop in the budget when compared to the depth of the entire federal budget. But they’ve gone well beyond that. The wall isn’t just Trump’s campaign slogan. Democrats have long since translated it to nativism. An anti-immigrant sentiment. A symbol of hate. And they’re digging in their heels and smugly using it as a progressive rallying cry.
When asked by reporters, some congressional Democrats have expressed a willingness to cut a deal. But not their party’s leader. Before Trump could even deliver his Saturday afternoon speech to offer a deal, Pelosi was dismissing it as a non-starter.
Our president and our lawmakers aren’t acting like children because they really care about public safety or because they really care about thwarting racism. They’re acting like children because they really care about themselves. Because of the horse race nature of the political media coverage, everyone is in a constant state of running. And not for the hills, but for re-election.
Trump cares about his wall now, so much so that he’s willing to hold Americans hostage because the race is already on for 2020. It’s a political victory he so desperately needs, as more and more Democrats throw their hats into the ring.
For Pelosi and congressional Democrats, obstruction is a political victory, even if it means hundreds of thousands of federal workers are forced to rely on food pantries or high-interest loans to survive.
The interest of the American people is the last thing on their minds. The majority of voters polled don’t care about a wall. The majority of voters don’t want to be used as leverage in a political debate. The majority of voters want their government to work for them, as it was intended to be.
And we deserve better.