With partisan bias running high and political messaging pushing us left and right, how can independent minded citizens fairly assess responsibility for today’s government shutdown? Let’s try looking through the lens of good democratic governance.
Republicans say Dems don’t care about border security and are ignoring a national crisis. The facts are that Dems offered $1.3 Billion and numerous suggestions for border security in a bi-partisan funding bill recently passed by the House and approved by the Senate but blocked by the President. I think it’s fair to regard those accusations as exaggerations at best and divisive rhetoric at worst.
Repubs also accuse Dems of being “stubborn” and “obstructionist.” These are legitimate criticisms if Dems are refusing to consider meaningful suggestions to compromise policy differences, and are motivated not by the merits of a wall but simply to deny the President his signature objective. This is power politics run amuck and should be condemned by citizens. Notwithstanding that Repubs did exactly that for 8 years of the Obama Administration, refusing to work for meaningful solutions to important policy issues is not good governance. Unfortunately, with Republican messaging on this issue led by an Administration that routinely propagandizes without facts or regard for truth, it’s nearly impossible to judge the accuracy of those charges.
On the other side….
* Democrats profess substantive objections to the Administration’s border policies, and challenge with evidence the effectiveness of a wall to solve the problems of border security. Right or wrong, their refusal to vote for wall funding is a perfectly proper exercise of legislative authority and democratic process.
* In a normal political climate, Dems could and should be willing to negotiate. In this situation they have good reasons not to. Donald Trump’s negotiation pattern is to make extreme demands, then hint at compromise, then “move the goal posts” as negotiation partners approach his position. Thus, from a negotiation standpoint, it would be foolish for Dems to make the first moves. They have little practical choice but to only respond to clear firm offers from him.
* I say from “him” because Mitch McConnell, by refusing to ask the Senate to vote on bills to reopen the Government unless the President says in advance he’ll sign them, has ceded all the legislative authority and responsibility in this matter to Trump. By removing the issue from the normal give and take of legislating and giving all the power to the President, Republicans have changed the rules and left Democratic lawmakers without a functioning legislative forum or process. Hints at compromise and back channel offers from Republican Congressional leaders are meaningless since Trump can, and does, deny and reject them without consultation.
* Based on his last minute rejection of a bi-partisan solution after Fox News criticism, the President made clear his negotiation goal is personal and political—to “win” in the eyes of his base. Dems owe little if any governing duty to compromise their policy concerns over Donald Trump’s personal image issue. The mere fact that he is President, and wants something, does not automatically mean what he wants deserves Presidential deference.
* But what about all the suffering and harm the shutdown is causing? If Democrats stand firm and let the country collapse, are they not equally responsible for the damage? I think not. Dems are not responsible for the fact that the President is a narcissistic bully who will inflict harm to win, harm that most healthy, responsible people would do almost anything to avoid. He typically knows where his power is and maximizes it by doubling down on threats that coerce rational people to yield. Giving in now might end this particular confrontation, prevent this particular damage, but it’s ultimately a no win, and arguably an irresponsible response. It’s well known that yielding to bullies emboldens them. It’s nearly certain that if Dems give in here, Trump will leverage his increased power and use the same tactics the next time he feels a narcissistic need to win.
The problem here is pretty clearly Donald Trump the person. Senate Republicans hold the key to overcoming that problem by joining Democrats to pass spending bills to fund the government. Meanwhile, Dems have no good option but to stand firm, and do all they can to make clear the reasons: Trump has no principled right to hold the country hostage for a single policy objective, especially one the majority of the country doesn’t support. That’s not how democracy and good government work. Immigration is not a crisis being ignored by Democrats, it’s a complex issue that needs thoughtfully developed bi-partisan solutions. Threatening destruction is not an acceptable way for a president to get what he wants. Democrats are right to refuse to engage. They should tell the President to win the votes he needs legitimately or move on to the next issue.