The US government shutdown this year has been short-lived. For now.
In the UK, such a shutdown is unthinkable. A government that cannot get its budget through falls and an election is called. In the US, the budget is a battle of wills – and a battle for political advantage. An email I recently received from an American friend pointed out that, for the average person, life goes on unchanged during a shutdown. Very few even notice it. Shutdowns are about Washington not about America.
It may be that a compromise can be reached before the next deadline. Or maybe not, and another shutdown is in the works on February 8. In spite of the mud being thrown around by both parties, it is highly likely that, in the end, it will be Donald Trump who gains most from the bickering and, if it happens, from another shutdown.
First of all, the key debate is about immigration. An issue that facilitated Brexit, that is putting a strain on the European Union and that contributed significantly to Trump’s election. Those on the liberal left understand perfectly well that immigration is an issue that is now on voters’ minds. But they are unable to provide any coherent policy responses.
Trump will present his position as one that honours his campaign pledges on immigration and the building of a wall along the Mexican border. His opponents (and some in his own party) have urged him to compromise in order to reach a deal. For them, compromise is the way to do politics, even if it means quietly abandoning campaign pledges. But Trump has more political nous than that. For him, this is an opportunity to play to his base in a highly public and dramatised way.
Another shutdown, especially if prolonged, will help Trump in another way. ‘Draining the swamp’ of Washington politics was another of his campaign slogans. More shutdowns will be seen by many as evidence that Washington is indeed a rat-infested swamp that needs draining. And what greater proof do people need than the fact that, with the government in supposed shutdown, by and large, life goes on as normal. “Why do we need all these government people anyway?” is likely to be a common reaction in a country that has never been enamoured with the idea of central government.
Trump has been condemned as incompetent from the day he announced his candidacy. He has persisted in going against the grain and rejecting all advice from the political mainstream. It won him the Presidency against all odds. Many of us have ideological differences with the President. Many of us abhor his style. But it’s a mistake to label him electorally stupid or naive.
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