On Dec. 22, the government shut down because President Trump wants a wall. The longest shutdown in U.S. history is the apex of partisanship and the culmination of Trump’s number one presidential campaign promise. But while we keep telling ourselves that this is not a normal time in our history, it becomes increasingly difficult to continue having the same visceral reactions of anger or sadness to each calamity that appears in the news. They happen so often.
Strangely enough, this is the first time we have chosen to editorialize directly about the president this year. What took us so long? One reason is that it feels impossible to choose between the different disasters. Is this shutdown any more or less outrageous than family separation at the border, or the government’s failure to adequately respond to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico — neither of which we have addressed as a board?
It would be impractical for us to write about these outrages each week. Doing so would force us to ignore the on-campus issues that often feel even more immediate than what is happening in Washington. But it would be irresponsible to ignore them altogether. For several reasons, we find this shutdown too shameful to go un-covered, even by a student newspaper.
President Trump seems either ignorant or apathetic, or both, of U.S. interference in many of the South American countries that are currently sending many people to the U.S., including Honduras and Nicaragua. Trump is quick to take responsibility for creating the shutdown but not for the actions that created the crisis in the first place.
Despite Trump’s “America First” rhetoric, the shutdown has furloughed 800,000 workers and caused government agencies and services that help his own supporters to stop operations.
The Environmental Protection Agency has furloughed 95 percent of its workforce, the Treasury department 85 percent, and even the Department of Homeland Security has furloughed over 30,000 workers. According to the U.S. Border Patrol, the number of border apprehensions is at its lowest rate since 1971, and despite Trump’s claims, most people living in the U.S. illegally have simply overstayed visas, not crossed over the Southern border.
A few years ago we might have thought that statistics like these would convince the public that the answer to any border security issues we might have is not a $5 billion wall; now we fear that facts are no longer persuasive. Trump has moved away from facts and into pure rhetoric. This rhetoric encourages Americans to distrust the media and further harms the very Americans the President claims to support.
TSA employees are not getting paid, resulting in longer airport lines and less thorough security; the FDA is not inspecting food as it comes into the country; national parks have been unable to collect crucial park fees. Though on the surface things seem to be business-as-usual here in Middlebury, people here and around the country are affected every day by Trump’s recklessness.
Two years into his presidency, Trump’s influence over his strongest supporters is as clear as ever. His capacity to make people believe things that are plainly not true makes it even more important to reaffirm the truth — even when doing so feels tiresome, or like shouting into the void.
Even on a small scale, the choice to give up and cede the debate to those who traffic in falsehoods would be disastrous, once that apathy spreads throughout the electorate. As student journalists, we certainly work on a small scale. But at the very least, we hope that our choice to pay attention and stay vigilant comes from the same truth-seeking impulse that motivates the reporters who scrutinize Trump’s finances, or debunk his toxic myths about immigration.
As Middlebury students, it’s essential that we think and read critically to work toward the future that we want. This style of governing is inefficient and dangerous, and young people need to decide if this is the way we want our government to function. We believe that a president should not be able to hamstring the government and the public because he could not achieve what he wanted in the two years his party controlled both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.
There is no end on the horizon for this shutdown. Democrats are happy to continue to refuse funding the wall and many Republican senators feel their political fortunes are tied to Trump and therefore continue to support him. Trump has rejected and refused to consider reasonable proposals to re-open the government and separate the border security issue.
But we are reassured by the recent polls showing that a majority of Americans agree that the President is at fault for the shutdown.
Truth is not dead, but it has taken work to keep it alive.