10 January 2019


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Trump Boxed in on Shutdown, Border Wall


For a man who prides himself on being a great deal-maker and negotiator, Donald Trump has put himself in a no-win position over the government shutdown and the construction of a wall along America's southern border. He has genuine opposition in the House of Representatives, and he has no idea how to address it. He has rejected funding the closed government agencies without funding for the wall, but has no sweetener to offer those who oppose it. He is simply holding the agencies hostage hoping the other side will yield. In order to climb down from this ridiculous position, he will have to declare a national emergency, undermining further the rule of law.

Yesterday was an illuminating episode. The president met with Congressional leaders at the White House, and after fourteen minutes, the president stormed out. To listen to the parties afterwards, one experiences the Rashomon effect. According to the Republicans, the president even brought candy for everyone. According to the Democrats, the president slammed his hand on the table and marched out of the room. Both could be true. The GOP maintains that the president wanted funding for "border security" while the Democrats said he asked for money for his Maginot Line. The Republicans are trying to cast the Democrats as opposing anything that improves security.

What is most telling, though, is the president's own tweet. "Just left a meeting with [Senator] Chuck [Schumer] and [Speaker of the House] Nancy [Pelosi], a total waste of time. I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!" According to the president, he asked for his wall and was refused. So, he left.

Now, in a real estate negotiation, it might be useful to storm out in order to get the other side's attention or to get them to bend on a certain point. In politics, walking out of negotiations has ramifications far beyond the deal at hand. The difference is that real estate is transactional. One makes a deal and may never see the other party every again. This is how Mr. Trump has been able to skip out on bills he owes contractors and professional consultants. Politics is relational; he will have to work with "Chuck and Nancy" for the next two years on a number of issues whether he likes it or not. He has not pressured them by walking out, but instead, he has made them less likely to take him seriously in future.

Meanwhile, tomorrow is payday for federal employees, but for over 800,000 of them, there will be no pay. For the numerous subcontractors who support them (the cafeteria workers at the Smithsonian for instance), there will not only be no pay but also there will be no back-pay when all of this is finally resolved. This is going to weigh on employment figures and GDP, figures Mr. Trump takes so seriously when they are positive.

Mr. Trump has claimed the workers affected are all Democrats who live in DC, as if that meant cheating them out of their paychecks was acceptable. In fact, there are a sizable number of Republicans and independents in the federal workforce, and fewer than 20% of them live in the DC area. In short, this is hurting a lot of people regardless of politics all across the country.

There is one way out now for Mr. Trump. He can declare a national emergency, shift funds from existing Pentagon programs to his wall, and begin construction. The Democrats will file suit and get an immediate stay from the court halting the move. This will go to the Supreme Court, where one would expect the abuse of power to be overturned, but one isn't very confident that the rightist court will see it that way.

If the court says the move was illegal, Mr. Trump can say to his base that he tried and was thwarted by corrupt, activist judges. If the court rules the other way, future presidents will have powers far beyond their predecessors. As Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) suggested, climate change could be declared an emergency and all fossil fuels facilities could be seized by the government.

This is a great deal of needless fuss over a useless wall that the president said Mexico would fund.

© Copyright 2018 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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