Donald Trump is a president who breaks a lot of norms. In this long, ever-growing list of broken norms, lies the government shutdown, which ended Jan. 25. The shutdown, which dragged on for thirty-five days, became the longest shutdown in our history. To put this into perspective, the previous placeholder was under the Clinton administration over a debate on budget cuts, and it lasted twenty one days. For the over 800,000 furloughed, or even forced to work without pay, in government jobs, the “safety net” for not receiving income does not extend to cover five weeks of food, rent, children and all other expenses. Even now, the federal employees who were without pay cannot rest comfortably, since the government is only opened tentatively until February 15.
The issue with the shutdown is not that Trump was the first one to do this, but the reasoning and negotiations behind the shutdown were flawed. Just as in the detainment of undocumented immigrants, and even in the separation of children from their parents, Trump simply followed trends that had been in place for more than one administration. However, unlike the Obama and Bush administrations, who both detained immigrants and separated children on certain occasions, the Trump administration ramped up this practice as a central part of their immigration policy and strategy implemented along the border. This pillar was a fundamentally misguided effort that produced lackluster approval ratings and political headaches for Trump. The case is similar with this shutdown, under the Obama and Clinton administrations alike, the broken political system and divisionary partisanship made shutdowns inevitable and longer than ever before in our history, at sixteen days and twenty-one days respectively. However, the Trump administration’s problems go beyond partisanship. When the spending bill started navigating through Capitol Hill on Dec. 22, there was both a Republican Senate and Republican House. The President, after his own party was not able to support allocating 5.7 billion to a border in its final weeks in the House, continued to hold the belief that if he pushed long enough, the incoming Democratic House would bend to his desire for a border wall. In this sense, the Trump administration knew what they were getting into, and Trump even admitted to it, saying he “would be proud to shutdown the government” in a meeting with then House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
The executive branch’s unwillingness to compromise with the legislative branch’s desires and its incompetency in political reality, which was demonstrated in the shutdown, has become a major theme in the current administration past two years. However, it is on the path to become worse than before.
This struggle was more nuanced in the first two years of its presidency, as there was no Democrat-controlled House. The lack of meaningful political opposition allowed Trump, and more so the Republican Party, to complete its agenda without too much trouble. Now, after losing the House, the Republican Party is in damage control mode to recover what is left of its political capital. Without boundaries, Trump was often able to make coherent policy decisions that were enactable. Now, with boundaries, the Trump administration is unable to enact the basic funding for our government.
The most concerning problem that stems from the shutdown is that issues like it are likely to occur again. Seasoned politicians, like Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are able to use their power effectively and can define clear goals for both their houses. The Trump administration, on the other end of the talent spectrum, lacks effective people in powerful positions. The experience vacuum has created a drift between the legislative branch and executive branch. With partisan divide and a stark difference between the goals between the Senate and the House, it becomes the President’s duty to forge a compromise. As demonstrated with the shutdown, he is incapable of doing so.