Shifting Shutdown Stakes

Liberal talking heads are chortling about the latest polls setting forth Americans’ views regarding responsibility for the government shutdown [approximately 50% blame President Trump, 35% blame Congressional Democrats and 5% (from a certain perspective, perhaps the most discerning) blame Senate Republicans], and suggesting that the two sides are now so deeply entrenched that only an occurrence such as a general travel shutdown or air disaster – perhaps due to the absence of sufficient air traffic controllers or TSA officials – will bring it to an end.  These same liberal pundits clearly believe that if such an event occurs, it will be predominantly blamed on the President.  I’m not so sure.  One could pose that as things stand today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats have more at risk than Mr. Trump if there is a calamity or dramatic disruption in our people’s lives attributable to the shutdown.

First, Mr. Trump:  he has nothing to lose by holding out.  The 35% of our people that currently blame Democrats for the shutdown are his core base, and no disruptive or tragic circumstance is going to alter their opinion that the shutdown was caused by the Democrats.  The only thing that could damage his standing with his supporters would be his abandonment of his position; if he does so, he’ll be assailed as a weak capitulator by the alt-right and scorned as an impotent loser by the avid left.  (It is no small irony that alt-right commentators, and not his detractors, goaded him into the contest that now threatens the viability of his presidency.)  He does, moreover, have a unique advantage:  he cares only about himself.  What the shutdown is doing to others is of interest to him only insofar as it reflects on him.

Ms. Pelosi and Democrats face a different challenge:  while a portion of the liberal base (the alt-left, if you will) may be so interested in defeating Mr. Trump that they have lost perspective as to where the goal posts are, the real public relations battle here is over the impressions of independents and moderates of both parties.  Currently, these remain with the Democrats, undoubtedly due in significant measure to the President’s tactically idiotic public assumption of responsibility for the shutdown.  However, none of the reporting I’ve seen has shown the Democrats to have effectively articulated the moral case against the wall arising from Mr. Trump’s many bigoted pronouncements, nor have they made any meaningful effort to increase pressure on Senate Republicans by repeatedly informing the public that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is refusing to take up measures that Senate Republicans approved before the shutdown began.

Which causes me to suggest:  if Democrats sit on their hands and rely on current polls, and there is a tragedy or widespread disturbance in Americans’ lives arising from the shutdown, many of our citizens – already possessed of deep reservations about whether our government works any more – will blame both sides.  Confidence in our system will be yet further degraded.  It would call into further question Democrats’ premise that we are best served by a strong governmental presence.  Any outcome which further erodes our people’s already terribly-frayed trust may initially inure to the benefit of Republicans – who have little use for government – but, I would submit, ultimately benefits no American, because there have been few points in our history when we have been more in need of sound governance.

Although I’m obviously not shy about adding my two cents regarding what might be done to address a difficult situation, I have relatively little of a practical nature to offer here.  I would recommend that Ms. Pelosi do a much more aggressive job of articulating the moral case against the wall, and putting some fire under Senate Republicans; but additionally, I would have the staff come up with an aggressive set of demands that would resoundingly affirm a national welcoming stance toward immigrants in return for perhaps $1 Billion in wall funding:  not only a path to citizenship for DACA “children” and what the Republicans have already agreed to, but perhaps a legislatively-mandated doubling (from Obama Era levels) of the number of immigrants – both family- and commercially-related – annually allowed to legally enter the country, a path to legal status (if not citizenship) for illegal immigrants (not guilty of any other crimes) already in the country, etc., etc.  (Such proposals might garner support from some Republican donors in the commercial and agricultural sectors whose businesses depend on immigrants; the way to a reluctant politician’s heart is through his/her donor base.)  While Mr. Trump and his advisers would almost certainly reject such proposals, these overtures might persuade party moderates and independents that Democrats were indeed willing to compromise — to work for us – which will, hopefully, help shore up our people’s faith in the ultimate ability of our leaders to govern if there is a major disruption – or worse, a tragedy – that arises as a result of the shutdown.

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