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January 16, 2019

More turmoil


January 16, 2019

The federal government in the US has now been partially shut down for over three weeks due to lack of approved funding. This is affecting about a quarter of all government departments. As a result, almost one million employees have either been laid off or are working without pay.

It is quite a spectacle and the economic effects are growing across many parts of the country. Airport security workers are working without pay and many are simply not coming in to work by calling in sick. In Washington DC, marriage licences aren’t being issued. US President Donald Trump has brought about the shutdown, insisting that he will not sign any appropriations bill that doesn’t include funds worth $5.7 billion for a wall or barrier to be built across the US-Mexican Border.

The House of Representatives, now controlled by the Democratic Party, refuses to accept this. After all, only a few weeks ago candidates from their party were overwhelmingly elected to Congress on a promise to not build this wall. Both sides are stuck in their positions while almost one million employees and their livelihoods hang in the balance.

Trump has now taken a new tack. He has announced that illegal immigrants who are trying to enter the country through the southern border represent a national security threat to the US. Therefore, once he formally makes such a declaration, he can take funds from elsewhere in the defence budget and use them to build the wall without seeking approval from Congress. Such a step, if taken, will be challenged in courts, with an uncertain outcome.

All of this could be seen as just a political tug-of-war, except that the livelihood of millions is affected. Recent research data shows that half of all households in the country can’t afford to miss one paycheck and still make ends meet. This is the tough reality in the world’s wealthiest nation.

Trump had made building the wall a cornerstone of his presidential campaign. However, he always promised his supporters that “Mexico will pay for the wall”. He knew then, and he knows now, that such an outcome is all but impossible. Like many of his campaign promises, this is another one that cannot be fulfilled, to no one’s surprise.

Before entering politics, Trump was known as a real-estate developer. However, what had made him a household name was his role in a reality TV show ‘The Apprentice’. He is, indeed, a master reality-show artist. Many in the US fear that the country now has a reality-show presidency.

The way Trump had launched his campaign – with a hateful tirade against all Mexican immigrants, calling them “rapists” – complicated matters further. This view was soon expanded to include other minority groups and immigrants. These are the groups that form the backbone of the Democratic Party’s support. Approving funds for a wall, in the eyes of the Democrats, is equivalent to caving in to a bigoted, even racist policy. In addition to combating illegal immigration, the Trump administration has even made clear its desire to slow down legal immigration into the US, at least of non-white people.

The battle for the soul of the country is underway. And, as the president tries to push through his agenda of “making America great again”, interpreted by some as making America white again, he is running into a strong coalition of minorities and progressive whites. Trump’s support ranges between 35 percent and 40 percent of the country. Everyone else would like to see an end to the reality-TV presidency as soon as possible.

The writer is a Pakistani-American based in

Washington DC.

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