As the shutdown becomes the longest in US history, Sean Ledwith reports on the consequences of Trump's racist antics
The American federal government has entered 2019 in a state of paralysis, thanks to Trump’s unhinged obsession with building a wall on the southern border with Mexico. Starting on December 22nd, the current shutdown of key facilities and services is already the longest on record. Thanks to the President’s intransigence, 800,000 federal employees face an uncertain future, with half of those furloughed without pay and the rest being told to stay at home. Millions of working class Americans have being forced into financial hardship as vital food stamp and rent entitlements are suspended. Prestigious cultural institutions such as the Smithsonian Museum and many national parks are closed. There are even grim reports that in some of the latter that have managed to stay open, visitors are resorting to defecating in the woods, as the public toilets have not been cleaned. There is now talk that Trump will be obliged to postpone the annual State of the Union address to Congress at the end of this month, as federal security operatives will not be available to supervise the event. There could be no greater symbol of the dysfunctional and degraded quality of leadership that he has brought to the US system that the derailing of its most high-profile political showpiece.
Hostage of the right
The crisis developed in the aftermath of a farcical meeting in the Oval Office between Trump and the two most senior Democrat congressional figures on December 11th. With his usual tactical acumen, the President publicly wrangled with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and then insisted that in the event of a shutdown he would accept full responsibility. Oblivious to the massive inconvenience he was about to inflict on millions of citizens, Trump stated:
'I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. … I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.'
As seasoned Washington power brokers. Pelosi and Schumer could barely conceal their delight at the President’s ineptitude at taking ownership of an impending disaster. Ten days later, Trump’s refusal to authorise a continuity resolution to fund federal services meant that the shutdown was underway. The point of contention is his insistence that Congress release $5 billion to spend on his delusional southern border project of a wall stretching from coast to coast. Up to this point, Democrat leaders have said they are prepared to offer $1.6 billion not nothing beyond that. Trump is hostage to both his own electoral rhetoric of 2016 in which he incited fanatical elements of his support to moronically chant ‘Build the Wall’ at mass rallies, and the right-wing Freedom Caucus in Congress, which has previously lobbied for his extravagant tax cuts for high earners and attempts to undermine the framework of Obamacare. He has also been egged on by the shock-jocks of the alt-right such as Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter who have used their media profile to spout anti-immigration poison. Even centrist Republicans have expressed embarrassment at the influence of the radical right on White House decision-making. Senator Bob Corker has commented:
'You have two talk-radio hosts who completely flipped the president… And so, do we succumb to tyranny of talk-radio hosts? '
Trump’s assertion in the presidential campaign that Mexico would fund the wall has also been exposed as arrant nonsense by his attempt to extract the money from US taxpayers.
Not for the first time, Trump has not demonstrated that his blustering egocentrism makes him a nightmare even for his own inner circle. Kellyanne ‘Alternative Facts’ Conway at first tried to imply the Wall would not be a physical entity and would only require ‘technological enhancements’; only for her boss to shoot her down hours later, tweeting that it would most definitely be an actual wall! Likewise, Trump’s outgoing Chief of Staff, John Kelly, suggested the President had abandoned the notion months ago. Trump’s flat contradiction of Kelly shortly afterwards was an indication of why the latter was quitting the White House. The Liar-In-Chief has inevitably ended up contradicting himself, as the President recently rowed back on his claim to supporters in 2016 that Mexico would pay (despite being filmed saying it). He told reporters on January 10th:
'When during the campaign, I would say ‘Mexico is going to pay for it,’ obviously, I never said this, and I never meant they’re gonna write out a check.'
So apparently, we only need to pay attention to politicians when they mean what they say! His other comments during this mess have become increasingly bizarre and unpleasant even by his standards. This is his description of how so-called illegal immigration operates:
'They drive. They just go where there’s no security, where you don’t even know the difference between Mexico and the United States. There’s no line of demarcation. They just go out and where there’s no fencing, or walls or any kind, they just make a left into the United States and they come in and they have women tied up. They have tape over their mouths, electrical tape, usually blue tape, as they call it. It’s powerful stuff. Not good'
During this surreal live press conference from the Mexican border earlier this month, even Fox News cut its coverage when producers realised Trump was making himself look ridiculous. However, viewers were still able to hear his pointless (and inaccurate) remark that ‘A wheel is older than a wall’.
Hamberders to go
Perhaps the President’s absurdity truly hit the bottom when the absence of the White House catering team due to the shutdown on January 15th forced him to order a McDonalds fast food meal for a visiting sports team. Trump proudly tweeted:
'Great being with the national champion Clemson Tigers last night at the White House. Because of the shutdown I served them massive amounts of fast food (I paid), over 1000 hamberders etc. Within one hour, it was all gone. Great guys and big eaters!'
Millions of Americans must now scratching their heads, wondering what ‘hamberders’ taste like! Sections of the US ruling class, however, are starting to run out of patience with Trump’s antics. As the shutdown turns into the longest in American history, the boss of JP Morgan has warned it threatens to reduce economic growth in the US to zero in this quarter of the financial year unless there is a resolution. Jamie Dimon and his ilk will not be encouraged by Trump’s riposte that the shutdown could last months or even years. Of course, for millions of ordinary Americans the pain is already being experienced in their everyday lives as queues lengthen at airports, litter remains uncollected and social security entitlements run out. The consequences of racism at the highest level are even worse for those stranded outside the US desperately trying to escape poverty and oppression. Tragically, two children have died in custody on the southern border, victims of Trump’s ignorance and inhumanity.
AOC and co
Fortunately, the lurch to the right in the White House has sparked a powerful radicalisation of US politics on the left. The Democratic Socialists of America-a left faction within the Democrats- are experiencing a stunning surge of support, from just over 5000 at the beginning of last year to almost 60 000 at the end of it. Remarkably, the incoming Congress this month now includes two elected members of the DSA, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib. The former now has almost 2 million followers on twitter and has been lauded for her masterful use of social media. AOC has powerfully rejected Trump’s anti-immigration agenda and called him out unambiguously as a racist: Drawing on her previous job, she has tweeted:
'I bartended for *years* in New York City. I understand guys like this like the back of my hand. We got under his skin.'
Occasio-Cortez has also sent shivers down the collective spine of the US ruling class with her call for a 70% tax rate on multi-millionaires as part of her Green New Deal. The growing popularity of AOC and other elected members of the DSA at local and state level are indicators that resistance to Trump’s politics of hate may yet mean his time in the White House ends sooner rather than later.