At a time when hypocrisy and illogical reasoning seem to reign supreme within a government torn in two over what is ultimately a really expensive construction/vanity project, it would seem as though we’ve already maxed out our tolerance for the inane. But the recent government shutdown—which earned the dubious honor of being the longest shutdown in U.S. history at a whopping 35 days—proved to be fertile ground for sprouting even more frustration, with 800,000 federal workers waiting on suspended paychecks, caught in limbo as the Washington elite bickered amongst themselves.
Last week, said Washington elite made a show of feigned progress by voting on two separate proposals that were essentially dead on arrival: one, backed by Trump, included $5.7 billion for his beloved wall while extending protections to some undocumented immigrants; the other, backed by Democrats, would reopen the government for two weeks in hopes of reaching a compromise within that time frame. The latter proposal would, naturally, not offer any money toward Trump’s wall. Thankfully, by Friday, Trump felt enough of the heat to agree to reopen the government for at least three weeks, knowing full well that another government shutdown is “certainly an option.” His voter base—and the vast majority of Americans—are less than impressed.
Meanwhile, Trump’s mercurial decision-making cost the U.S. government an estimated $3 million, according to Reuters. And those 800,000 federal workers who were scraping to get by, turning to the gig economy to make ends meet—driving for Lyft or Uber and listing their homes on AirBnB—won’t soon forget the hardships that Trump and the shutdown put them through. (One unsubstantiated rumor on Reddit even claimed that federal employees were turning to Silicon Valley sludge Soylent as a way to get nutrients on a budget). Many who were furloughed were looking into other permanent or temporary jobs, and those who were still working without pay grew increasingly angry as they were expected to operate as though things were business as usual, but with even fewer resources, support, and motivation. The pains were felt across all industries.
“It feels like we’re on the front lines trying to fight a battle while our own forces are shooting us in the back,” Chief Judge Ruben Castillo of Illinois told NPR. With the government shutdown, courts were short-staffed and were therefore contemplating drastic measures just to continue operating, like halting all civil cases, including civil rights cases against police and work discrimination/sexual harassment cases. “That’s basically the sad story,” Castillo said. “There is a price that this country is going to pay that far surpasses anything anyone realizes.”
Workers who punch the clock for the FDA, the EPA, the TSA, and even the U.S. Border Patrol and Customs felt the strains as well. “The prospect that for no reason at all, I may have to find another permanent job is very frustrating, and it speaks to a kind of waste,” one worker said in a New York Times-produced video highlighting the hardships workers were going through during the shutdown. “You know, the taxpayers are going to have to fund the whole hiring process for my replacement.”
The U.S. Coast Guard, too, was hit by the shutdown, with more than 40,000 active duty members and 8,000 civilian employees going without their paychecks for upwards of a month. If the government hadn’t re-opened before Feb. 1, approximately 50,000 retirees, survivors and other beneficiaries would have also gone without the benefits that they depend upon for medication and services. It would have been the first time this happened in the history of the Coast Guard’s existence, dating back to its founding in 1790.
“I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely on food pantries and donations to get through day-to-day life as service members,” head of the Guard, Adm. Karl Schultz, said in a message to Coast Guard members via Twitter last Tuesday. “You, as members of the armed services, should not be expected to shoulder this burden.”
Suffice it to say that the government’s remarkable ineptitude—helmed by a Commander in Chief who has often been likened to a child throwing a tantrum—wasn’t exactly ingratiating itself to its workers, who have by and large committed themselves to the safety, productivity, and excellence of the country over their own profit. It’s no secret that government jobs, while steady, aren’t exactly the highest-paying. Many workers are living paycheck to paycheck, and even the slightest lag in payment delivery could impact their ability to supply both themselves and their families with basic needs: food, shelter, and healthcare.
And if this is how Trump is willing to treat those who have proven to be his most reliable voting bloc—veterans, border patrol officers, and other civil servants—it’ll be interesting to see how their frustrations manifest themselves come 2020. In a very real sense, the government shutdown punished employees who were already working for less than they could be making in the private sector, and punished those whose daily work keeps the nation afloat despite their president’s best efforts to sink it into the hellfire he himself ignited.
Already, some of Trump’s base supporters are beginning to question his tactics, as well as their faith in his ability to look out for their best interests. “It’s silly. It’s destructive,” retired Navy reservist and Trump supporter Jeff Daudert told the Washington Post asked about his thoughts on the shutdown. A recent CBS poll found that seven in 10 Americans don’t think debate over a border wall was worth a government shutdown. And a recent NPR/ PBS NewsHour/Marist survey conducted between Jan. 10 and Jan. 13 found that Trump’s net approval rating among his base has dropped seven points since December, with the biggest declines coming from suburban men (here, the approval rating fell a net 18 percentage points). Men without a college degree dropped in their approval ratings of the president as well, a notable seven points.
Perhaps just as significantly, Trump’s own pride and joy—law enforcement leaders—came forward to express their disdain for the shutdown, with the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force penning a letter to the president and Congress last week asking them to “reopen the federal government without delay and work together on bipartisan solutions to improve our immigration system.” At the time, 44 police chiefs and sheriffs from across the country, including border states like Texas, Arizona, and Florida, had signed off on the letter.
What all this points to is a mounting resentment toward the government, and specifically Trump, whom even his supporters admit was responsible for the shutdown. His campaign promises are unraveling with each passing day. Hundreds of out-of-work federal workers already demonstrated in Washington, D.C. last week. One-time Trump supporter Ann Coulter called Trump a “wimp” and a “liar” for failing to secure money for the wall. What of bringing jobs back to the USA? During the shutdown, border patrol agents were under immense strain of resources, as were TSA agents, many of whom stopped going into work entirely. What of strengthening borders? And who will man the wall even if it were to be built?
Perhaps the most telling of all the broken campaign promises, however, is this: Trump’s own daughter-in-law, herself one of the proud members of the 1 percent, told Bold TV last Monday that federal employees caught in a rough spot shouldn’t be so shortsighted.
“It is a little bit of pain, but it’s going to be for the future of our country, and their children and their grandchildren and generations after them will thank them for their sacrifice,” Lara Trump said. A recent Mercury News article points out that she and husband Eric split their time between two luxury properties; she frequently posts about workouts with her elite personal trainer; and she isn’t shy about sharing photos from her getaways to Aspen, Dubai, and, of course, Mar-a-lago. What of draining the swamp? Seems like these days, Trump and his team are swimming the backstroke in it.
It’s also important to remember, amid this doom and gloom, that in spite of all the suffering that Trump has already inflicted on his would-be supporters, this is just the beginning. Even though the government is temporarily re-opened, his contingency plan is focused on the wall, and federal workers will continue to be the collateral damage necessary for him to get what he wants. Just last week, White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney requested a list of highest-impact programs that will be hurt most by the shutdown if it continues into March and April. Trump himself has said that he personally thinks there’s less than a 50 percent chance the newly formed group of lawmakers can strike a deal before their Feb. 15 deadline. The only upside to this whole debacle? The effects of the shutdown will likely be fresh in federal workers’ minds when they step, ever confidently, into the voting booth come 2020.