The longest government shutdown in American history finally came to an end when, on Jan. 25, President Donald Trump agreed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s terms and signed a continuing resolution that would fund the government for three weeks with the same budget as before the shutdown. During the shutdown, 800,000 federal workers went without pay for 35 days, many of them still expected to work during this time. In addition to the strife and suffering inflicted upon these hardworking public servants, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the economy to have permanently lost $3 million worth of growth and many important government services were unavailable for more than a month.
Having briefly reviewed the damage it caused, it might be worth remembering what this shutdown was all about. It started back in December 2018, when Congress was preparing to pass a continuing resolution which would fund the government at current levels up until Feb.15. After making some noise about not signing unless Congress added funding for his proposed border wall, and even declaring on national TV that he’d take responsibility for the shutdown that would result, it looked like the president was going to sign the bill right up until the last minute, when a wave of criticism from far right commentators spurred him to suddenly refuse to sign the bill that the Senate had already passed by unanimous voice vote. Even though Americans overwhelmingly disapproved of the president, his wall and the shutdown that they rightly blamed him for, it seemed like there was no end in sight; the president didn’t care about the suffering he was causing and Democrats could not give in or else the president would shut down the government whenever he didn’t get what he wanted. Nonetheless, Pelosi, further proving just how qualified for her job she is, adeptly lead her new majority without a sign of wavering and eventually, with his approval rating plummeting and pressure mounting, Trump was forced to concede to her. The government is only funded until Feb. 15, with negotiations about border security ongoing, so with one shutdown just behind us and the spectre of another one looming before, there are many lessons to be learned, but one in particular stands out.
The first and most important lesson is that we must not allow the government to be shutdown simply to accomplish a policy goal. The idea that wages and vital government services can be held hostage to accomplish a policy that can’t find support in Congress is absurd. The continued operation of our government is not a bargaining chip, it is a necessity. People who want to serve their country have faith that they would reliably be paid for doing so, and for 35 days they were not. During this time food and airplanes were not properly inspected, national parks were not maintained or cleaned, important data wasn’t collected, scientific progress was hampered, museums were closed, law enforcement was less effective, federal courts were strained and food stamps nearly ran out; this is only a partial list of the numerous short term and long term problems caused by this shutdown. All because the president threw a temper tantrum when Congress wouldn’t give him what he wanted; that is unacceptable.
At this point no one can say for certain whether the government will shut down again on Feb. 15, but, if it does, Democrats must beat Trump the same way they did last time. If anyone gives in to this abominable tactic, it would only legitimize it and make it more common. If the president tries shutting down the government again, there can be no negotiation about policy until the government is reopened and federal workers have received backpay. This most recent shutdown in particular belies the cynical and selfish attitude Trump has towards the people and government he is charged with serving, and it should prove to anyone who didn’t already realize it that this president does not care about anyone but himself. Americans deserve a better leader, especially those who have chosen to dedicate their lives to serving the public interest, so all of us must demand better.