On Jan. 8, 2019, at 9 p.m. EST, President Donald Trump delivered a primetime national address from the Oval Office, his first since the third year of his term began and his first official public address since the government shut down just before Christmas 2018. Since the Democrats gained control of the House and assumed power on Jan. 3, 2019, a spending bill has yet to be agreed upon between the dueling branches of government. Presidential candidate Trump campaigned on border security, and it appears, at least at this point in the game, that he is not backing down. Unless a budget presented to him from Congress includes funding for the controversial border wall, President Trump maintains that he will not sign. In fact, he has doubled down on his stance. According to Vice President Mike Pence, the White House is looking at all angles, including declaring a state of emergency. If declared, a state of emergency might allow Trump to sidestep a bullheaded Congress and use military funds to build a wall. Similar declarations have been used by previous administrations, although those incidents typically occurred in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
But before we get lost in the addicting reality show that Washington, D.C., is quickly becoming, let's take a look at the American political and social climate more generally. We are living in some very interesting times, politically speaking. It is amazing to see, more clearly than ever before, that in the evolutionary state of the Age of Information, the actions of government figures are so inextricably linked with markets, economies, production and an individual or a group's actions (e.g., caravan). Regardless of how far we might live from a city center, we are no longer isolated in pockets where little to no spillover from our behaviors used to reverberate throughout the world. Thanks to technology, we now have access to information with the touch of a button, wherever we may dwell.
Now more than ever, leaders must have their finger on the pulse of those who elected them, in order to derive their power and wield it effectively. This is especially true in a democracy and one facet that reminds me how proud I am to be an American.
Yet, in the wake of the most recent government taking stock over the past few weeks, leading up to threat and then the actual follow-through of a government shutdown, it is quickly becoming evident how and where these episodes matter. To me, the sting of the words "government shutdown" doesn't quite impact the average American the way that it once did, thankfully. I can recall conversations with my family back in South Carolina of the American flag not being raised because National Park Service staff could not work due to shutdown. Let us also not forget the infamous closing of the Washington Monument; those were the halcyon days of a looming threat. But lately, Americans have grown numb to the rants of seemingly petulant politicians. It no longer seems to matter as much as it once did.
Where it does matter, however, is in future negotiations with political opponents who may be in control of different branches of government. The ramifications of such brinksmanship are huge -- and, let's not forget, cost-inducing. In this most-recent incident of government shutdown, neither side seems willing to back down -- at least, not yet.
Bear in mind a few things: First, President Trump is wildly unpopular to many, save his base. And the wall, if successful, will certainly reignite this base's dedication to him and the #MakeAmericaGreatAgain cause. He's unpredictable and willing to double down on any policy issues just to prove a point. While his favorability ratings aren't high nationwide, they are extremely high among his Republican supporters. To say his "base" is overwhelmingly behind him is a gross understatement of the depth of his support. Keep in mind these are the same Americans -- the silent ones -- who turned out by the tens of thousands to vote for him in November 2016. This is the same "silent majority" that may not have said as much on a randomized phone survey conducted one Wednesday evening during supper.
Democrats also have their own baggage to grapple with. I've written numerous times on the sheer old-age attitude of the party -- particularly in the House -- and what tone that sets for the rising voting bloc who are definitely looking for another party beyond Trump's.
In President Trump, Democrats have finally met their match. To many, his position may seem nonsensical, but to those who voted for him, he is a man who has thus far kept his word. More than 80 percent of Republicans approve of the President's job performance. As a result, he has the necessary cover to stand his ground. While most pundits and opponents may focus on his overall approval ratings, Trump has never really cared about those ratings because they have always been low. However, the support from within his party (and his base) has remained significantly high, outpacing many -- if not most -- of his predecessors. One thing is for certain: Democrats are going to have to make some concessions to reopen the government.
Right now, the party of Roosevelt just doesn't see it that way. Pelosi and company believe that they are in the driver's seat when it comes to stopping the White House. While "majority rules" in the House, and they do wield considerable power, they hold that power tenuously at best.
The President still controls the bully pulpit, and, as such, he can drive the Democrats crazy by frustrating their moves administratively, e.g., through the declaration of a state of emergency. And let's not forget there is a very real likelihood that we could see yet another Supreme Court nominee before 2020, which would catapult the President high above any naysayers in a fight that we know he will relish.
The politics of a government shutdown are simply not what they used to be. The fallout is different, yet equally as dangerous for the country. Both parties must take these next few days seriously. They could be a telling bellwether for future spending fights that are already looming in March and later in 2019. The world is watching.