The wall, the shutdown, and Trump’s irrationality
The current government shutdown is the longest in United States history. Pay is being withheld from 800,000 federal workers, many of whom live paycheck-to-paycheck. Of these workers, 420,000 are still required to show up to work, according to. The FDA has stopped inspections of certain food groups, over 40,000 immigration court hearings have been cancelled and Native American tribes that rely on federal funding are struggling to provide healthcare, road maintenance, law enforcement and other basic amenities, . The shutdown has also resulted a hefty economic cost. Standard & Poor’s Global Ratings estimate that if the shutdown lasts one more week, .
All this chaos is the result of the Trump administration’s conflict with Congress over securing funding for a border wall. Given the brinkmanship on display, it would be reasonable to assume that building a wall along the Southern border is a popular idea — that Trump’s political viability relies on securing funding for it. This, however, is not true., 57 percent of Americans think Trump should compromise on the wall to avoid a shutdown, while just 36% supported his current path of using a government shutdown as a way to secure funding. Support for the wall in general has been quite paltry; 60 percent of Americans oppose it and 38 percent support it, with these numbers holding steady over time, . In this environment, Trump has chosen not only to shut down the government in order to fund a relatively unpopular idea, but to take responsibility for the shutdown; he told Democratic leaders, ”
In short, Trump is not working off the basic, unspoken blueprint of politicians everywhere — that is, to try to appeal to as many voters as possible in order to win reelection. Instead, by showing such remarkable stubbornness over his wall, he is deepening support among his base, and alienating the rest of America. While it is possible that compromising on the wall might lose him the support of a small fraction of his base, is retaining that slice of the electorate really worth an unpopular — and historically long — shutdown? His already-low approval rating has been steadily declining in direct correlation with the shutdown, now hovering at 40 percent, .
Given the above, it seems fair to say that Trump’s motivation behind going to such lengths for the wall are not purely electoral; there’s more going on here than simple political calculations. Ego is probably a large factor — after the wall was such a symbolic part of his campaign, compromising on it could seem humiliating, especially to a man who markets himself as an expert dealmaker.
The weight Trump places on the opinions of right-wing media pundits is another likely factor. Trump’s devotion to figures like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter has been well documented — he’s much . The current shutdown seems to have been highly influenced by right wing media rhetoric, per . In late December, the Trump administration wavered, and seemed open to signing a stopgap funding measure to keep the government running until Feb. 8. In reaction to this, everyone from Fox news hosts to conservative talk radio stars bashed Trump; in a particularly forceful example, Coulter authored a piece titled Immediately afterwards, the administration changed courses once again, and the shutdown began. This sequence of events shows the sheer unpredictability of Trump; it is difficult to imagine negotiating with someone so malleable to pundits’ opinions.
There is a reasonable argument that voters have short memories, and that the negative electoral effects of the shutdown will have faded by the time the 2020 election rolls around. However, the irrationality currently on display is part of a larger pattern in how Trump governs. Whether it manifests itself in hosting post-election rallies or retweeting white supremacists, Trump’s entire mode of operation is geared toward pleasing his most fervent supporters, appeasing his own ego, and ignoring the rest of America. While this behavior might provide positive feedback from the people he interacts with on a daily basis, it is not a recipe for electoral success.