For over 35 days, the state of the United States was in limbo. From December 22nd until January 25th, the longest government shutdown was a stand-off between Congress and President Trump, mainly regarding the funding of Trump’s desired border wall. It started when Congress unanimously passed an appropriations bill for the upcoming fiscal year that did not include funding for the border wall. After initially having a passive reaction to this bill, Trump eventually hit back due to criticisms from conservative supporters. Trump, a staunch advocate for stronger immigration laws, has used the “build the wall” tactic to gain supporters since his 2016 presidential campaign. However, this is the first time that he has taken direct action to actually make the wall happen.
Even so, some may argue that a shutdown of the government — which put over 800,000 federal employees out of work or required to work without pay and the economy out of about $11 billion dollars — was too drastic of a measure, even for Trump. His refusal to sign any appropriations bill unless the wall was funded was essentially overexertion of his executive power. Though technically legal, this action is a clear demonstration of the president using his position to satisfy his own interests. In fact, if the House of Representatives did not gain a Democratic majority after the November 2018 elections, both Senate and House would be in Republican control. That, combined with the more conservative Supreme Court after the induction of Brett Kavanaugh, would have put in place complete domination of the Republican Party in each aspect of the government. Because the conservative government would not oppose the president, the shutdown could have ended much earlier and the country may have been building a wall by now.
In addition to that, we can now see that the shutdown was dragged out because of the deep divide within our government. As of now, the government is held together not by formal laws of the constitution or other institutions, but by unsaid norms that reinforce democracy. The two most significant norms are mutual tolerance and forbearance. The former stresses that political rivals still accept each other as long as they follow constitutional rules. However, it also says that these acceptances can easily break down if one party sees the other as a real potential threat. In this case, the shutdown has caused a greater disparity between Democrats and Republicans than ever before. This situation can trigger the breakdown of the mutual tolerance the parties have for each other. In turn, this would cause a lack of forbearance, which is restraint in the exercise of power. Drastic usage of institutional power for the president in order for him to support the Republican agenda is likely given his track record.
Many Americans are also falling into this black and white thought process regarding politics like either party is right or wrong, good or bad. The bipartisanship of the country, as shown by the government shutdown, could very well be our downfall.
*Photo by Joshua Roberts, “These are the states…”, CNBC