Roundtable – Shutdown Blues

The Roundtable is a weekly discussion of news and events by Torchlight staff. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity, and happened on January 13, 2019.

Tom Rich, Editor-in-Chief

Welcome to the Roundtable, Torchlight’s discussion of news and events. We’re joined this week by our founder Josh Kyu Saiewitz, editors David Schmitz and Christo Dahlin, and contributing writer Ann Anderson. The big news, of course, is that the government remains shut down over President Trump’s insistence on funding for a border wall. With employees furloughed, paychecks not going out, and government projects on standstill, the situation is embarrassing and damaging. First question for the committee: what’s the damage, here? What impact of the shutdown is most concerning to you?

Christopher Dahlin, Politics Editor (aka Christo)

The basic running of the Federal Government has now become an explicit policy position, instead of an implicit one (see Norquist, Grover and bathtubs). It’s hard to believe that the hegemony is just… done. Oh, our military dominance isn’t going away. And our economic power will return, unless we kill ourselves with Climate Change and the whole point is moot.  But as a Touchstone; as a force of constance and reassurance that no matter what, America will at least fight for America? That’s done, I think. And McConnell killed it.

Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Senior Managing Editor

Sometimes it’s the small things that strike hardest. I was pretty upset that some asshole campers cut down Joshua trees in a national park.

Christo

I missed that!

Josh

Which is awful, and just goes to show that the natural state of man is chaos and destruction, which is why we need government in the first place.

Ann Anderson

Among the many things that concern me are the long term effects.  For example, there is a farm report that comes out from the federal government at this time of year.  Those all across the agricultural sector rely on that report to make plans for the coming year. They don’t have it, they’re not going to get it any time soon, and they need to make plans soon.

There are other things folks don’t talk about much. The federal courts may not have money past this last Friday to keep functioning. The SEC and the CFTC both of which help regulate the securities industry and abuses therein, are both minimally staffed.  The FAA and the FDA aren’t on tap to do much by way of inspection. Planes? Food? We need those to be safe. Then there’s the potential impact on travel. Not just TSA and air traffic controllers, but customs agents. The Canadian border and our trade across it faces the consequences too.

Another thing is that if people walk away from their jobs, we need to train all new folks. The damage goes beyond just delayed paychecks and halted services for the moment.  As if those aren’t already bad enough.

Another factor is border security. The Coast Guard faces furloughs. They do a huge bulk of our actual border security. If the president was serious about border security he could do something about that. The Coast Guard can be put under Navy control by the president, since the Navy faces no consequences from the shutdown. But he has completely ignored the possibility because this is all a narcissist power game, and nothing to do with real issues facing the U.S.  

Josh

The president doesn’t care about border security and neither should you; our border is more secure now than it’s ever been, there’s money that hasn’t been spent yet, and there’s bipartisan support for more money if we needed it, which we don’t. Illegal immigration is down and most illegal immigrants fly here legally rather than crossing the border illegally. Meanwhile, romaine lettuce killed more people last year than illegal immigrants, so naturally we’re shutting down food inspections to build a wall. Right.

Christo

I think the biggest problem here is that Trump doesn’t care about anything besides himself, McConnell doesn’t care about anything besides power, and the Republican Party today are the people raised by parents listening to morons who think that the US Government is useless and awful because it actually helps people they don’t want to see helped (Poor people and nonwhites). The Democrats actually have opinions on policy and have goals to achieve desired outcomes. It seems that, more and more, the Republican Party’s goal is based on preventing the Democrats from getting what they want, and the most basic foundational precept of the Democratic Party is that the Government should be there to help people.

Tom

That ties into my worry, Christo: that the shutdown lends credence to the “government can’t do anything!” crowd. Even if you answer with an explanation of why certain factions and ideologies being in government led to the shutdown, there’s an easy response of “well, those factions will always wind up in government, so it’ll never be able to do anything.” It’s a point in favor of a second layer to an already tedious argument, and I’m really not looking forward to that.

So. This is a mess, and a significant one. How, then, should our representatives get us out of it? Where are the hard lines, where can we compromise, what are our priorities here?

Josh

So my reading of the shutdown is that the reason it hasn’t ended yet and the reason it probably won’t end for a while is that Trump has made the shutdown issue one where neither side can safely back down. It’s not about Trump wants $5 billion and Democrats want $2 billion and they can just meet in the middle. The Wall is such an important symbol for Trump—his most prominent campaign promise, the center of his white supremacist policy—and also an important symbol for Democrats (who see any money for the wall as support Trump and his white supremacist etc)—that neither side can afford to compromise. Trump’s base will never desert him, sure, but his ego wouldn’t like losing; Democrats will be pissed if dollar 1 goes to the wall. Both sides are also wrestling to see who gets power over the next 2 years—Trump, because he can hurt federal workers, or Democrats, because they can use the House to deny him legislative victories. Whoever loses this is probably down for the count until 2020. There’s so much riding on the line and no way for either side to fold while saving face that I don’t know how this will end at all, unless it’s through some Kobiyashi Maru move like Trump’s bullshit national emergency. Or the crumpling of one of the two parties in this country.

Christo

We cannot compromise on the wall, now. Back when we were offering DACA for whatever fevered idiocy Trump wanted, it may have been worth it. But we cannot compromise on the basic matter of the government being open for business.  Either that happens, or the two-party system is done. The only possible backdown I see is that if we get offered basically every policy position possible so that Alexandria Occasio-Cortez would not have any platform to run as president, because we achieved it all.  And then we immediately defund it when we get back into power.

David Schmitz

I’ll add that if the Democrats back down and allow any sort of funding of the wall in exchange for opening the government, then opposition power in this country is forever destroyed. There will be no budget item in the future that can’t be used to hold the country hostage again and whoever the President is, as long as they hold one side of Congress in their sway, will just be able to again shut everything down until they get their way.

Josh

It’s worse than that, David, because Democrats still respect norms. We’ll just have a situation where if Republicans control either the White House or any house of Congress, they’ll use shutdowns to get policy, whereas Democrats will be reluctant to do the same (witness the previous shutdown fight that lasted, what, a long weekend?). So giving into this is de facto one party rule.

Ann

To those of you worried about the literal failure of our republic, I agree with the concern.  For years, I have talked about the GOP trying to make a de facto one party state. Now we are at threat of full on authoritarian state.

As for the rest–No to the wall. It’s a waste of money and time for no benefit, and serves GOP purposes of later cutting social programs to the expense of the entire nation, i.e.,that $5 billion has to be cut from somewhere else. For those not aware, we have tried “starve the beast” in this country, and it ultimately leads to more spending to make up for lost ground, not less.

That said, the Democrats could put forward specific plans on how other border security technologies could be used and deployed. The GOP has the wall, but no plan on how it will be actually built, maintained, etc.  They just say “wall” and that’s it. So contrast that with something that is detailed and will work. Give the public specific, practical answers, so they can pressure the GOP into getting specific or adopting some other plan for border security. I agree that we don’t need more security, compared to many other things this country needs to address. We have some of the most secure borders we have ever had already. But the impasse is on border security according to the GOP. Call them on it.

Another thing is to emphasize that McConnell does actually have a way out of the impasse, but he is not doing his job, the one he was elected to do.  He can get the votes now to agree to end the shutdown, especially if he makes clear he doesn’t care about Trump’s veto. If Trump vetoes, the Senate can override; government opens; done deal.  But McConnell doesn’t want to even try. Every time the GOP says “Nothing we can do; I guess emergency powers is the only way out”, the Democrats need to answer that the there is a way out, but the McConnell won’t do his job, and the GOP won’t do its job.  Letting this stuff stand unanswered serves to give approval to the behavior, when instead it needs to be corrected.

Christo

The other biggest problem here (there are lots of biggest problems) is that McConnell has ceded power to the executive because he fears the base lashing out for not doing what Trump wants. The problem being that Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about, what he wants is ephemeral and always shifting, and also he’s a lying liar that lies. So McConnell is waiting for Trump’s signal to proceed, but needs something iron-clad that he can trust (because he’s craven), and Trump is ultimately untrustworthy, and will change his mind when Fox News yells at him about not being racist enough anyways.

Of course, what makes this a further surrealist hellscape is that it is 2019. The 2020 election season technically started before the year began (Trump technically began campaigning January 21 2017 or whatever, but ugh). So Democrats know they need an energized electorate for the polls next year, and this is going to be a big one. Yes, there is that old saw about voters forgetting stuff that happened 3 months ago, but I don’t think that’s the case here. This is going to be an election issue, on whether Democrats stood against the wall or not. And I don’t see any of them backing down, because there is no reason to.

And Josh is correct about one party rule He put what I meant much more clearly.

Josh

Yeah, it does seem like Democrats will bear the results of losing longer than Trump will—although I think 2020 is less likely to be impacted by the shutdown so much as the two years of state of play as tableset by the shutdown. If Dems win this and go on to use that power and momentum to play hardball on policy the rest of Trump’s term, they’ll have a good chance of doing what they need to do in the election.

Christo

Well, I hope the shutdown itself doesn’t have that long of an effect

Josh

As for Ann’s point about a counter-proposal, I think that’s what Trump wants, as indicated by his deranged comments about steel slats. He wants us to argue over what color the wall should be, not whether there should be a wall. But the wall is a non-solution to a non-issue. Climate change, income inequality, and health care are what a sane country would be talking about right now, and the sane party needs to be doing that. Until the government re-opens, we tell Trump we’re willing to negotiate on the wall, but we won’t do so while federal workers aren’t getting paid. And after the government is open, we tell him to go fuck himself.

Ann

To clarify, I did not mean that anything should be proposed for a wall. Drones, sure.  Blimp drones, working like the blimp service we used in WWII for actual border security at sea.  But not one thing should be offered up for a barrier, fence, wall or anything fixed in any way, shape or form.  I agree that would be playing Trump’s game.

As to the long term consequences of the shutdown, unfortunately, the longer this goes, the likelier that long term impact is.  And we have signs that parts of Trump’s administration are prepared to hunker down until at least the end of February.

Josh

The border is fine, we don’t need a proposal on how to solve the border. Winning the argument on immigration means changing the terms of the fight from “How do we best keep out the brown people” to “Give us your huddled masses is on the damn statue”.

Christo

That’s not to say we shouldn’t say we would negotiate on those things. But only after the government is open. Also, I think drones are the new blimps.

Tom

So the whole thing is a big mess, without an obvious road out, and I can’t say I envy whoever in Washington is making a good-faith effort to find a solution. We’re just about out of time for this afternoon; final thoughts on the shutdown?

David

I still think it is rather telling that Mitch McConnell has been virtually silent this whole time. He obviously would prefer the Democrats to take the blame, but with his silence through the first part of the shutdown he sent a clear message that he wouldn’t mind Trump taking the blame. And Trump should get the blame. He even said so!

Democrats need to not budge even through the pain that is being caused for fear of the pain that will come if they do fail to hold this line. I’ve already written to party leaders letting them know my position of not being willing to vote for a party that allows a racist wall to be constructed. I hope to not have to make true on that threat, but I’m quite serious about it because I don’t think it will matter much once the one-party rule comes into effect if Democrats cave.

Christo

This is just an incredibly awful moment for American government. It’s hard to put into words how far we’ve dropped. We’ve been running on CRs for forever, and thatt became fine, and then we shut down for a little while, and that became fine. Is this the tipping point? Does it get better from here? Or is this only the beginning of the end? This last year, which lasted approximately 8 and a half decades, was just… exhausting.  But we must fight on, because otherwise, what else is there?

Ann

Most of this is out of the American public’s hands, yet that’s who will suffer most no matter how this is resolved.  The GOP is ignoring that; Trump is ignoring that. This government shutdown is the direct result of Trump acting like a bully. This kind of behavior risks poisoning our politics and society in addition to the damage the shutdown does.  Right now, most of us have limited power to do much about this. We can, as others said, make it known that this will affect how we vote in the future, and we can call out this behavior now. But I am at a loss as to how to actually fix things more constructively right now.

Josh

The good news is that public opinion is not on Trump’s side. He and the GOP are taking a hefty majority of the blame for this shutdown, and eventually that will get Republican senators to crack and pressure McConnell and/or Trump to fold. Contacting your representatives, telling Dems to hold the line and Reps to make like a house of cards, can help bring this to an end. Trump and his party are all about cruelty, but I think this time they attacked too broad a target. The longer this shutdown goes on, the greater the number of people who are affected, and the greater the pressure to end the situation. We just had a massive Blue Wave election and the people we elected are using their power to do what we elected them to use it for. I think Democrats will win in the end. The era of Trump getting anything he wants out of Congress is over.

Tom

And so begins the third year of the Trump Presidency, or near enough to it: with the government shut down, Congress and the Executive at loggerheads, and the rest of us SO VERY ready to be done with it. That’s all the time we have for the Roundtable this week. Thanks as always, everyone, for a lively conversation.

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