Liberty is closed. Air and Space is closed. The beautiful places of our nation are closed. Federal workers will not receive paychecks today. Government contractors are in financial distress. Retailers who depend on federal workers are facing fiscal disaster. The food truck workers, the custodians, the ticket takers, the park rangers, the tour guides, the tech guys, the cafeteria cooks, the administrative assistants, the truck drivers, the research assistants, the laboratory directors, the analysts, the security guards, the photocopier repair technicians, the mail clerks, the receptionists, the help line specialists, the HR staffs, the payroll processors, the facilities crews, the wildlife experts — the real people who make our government work every day are out of work, or being forced to work without getting paid.
The REAL “national emergency” is a political leader who is using people as pawns, playing games with the livelihoods of federal workers held hostage to a demand that has nothing to do with them, blatantly breaching the responsibilities of the president of the United States to lead a functional, effective government and to care for ALL citizens, not just those who happen to agree with him. Holding federal workers hostage for a corrupt political purpose is unjust and immoral.
The government shutdown is shameful, and the reason for the shutdown is simply appalling. If the issue were simply coming to agreement on the best tactics for border security, we would not be at this impasse, the legislation would have been crafted with reasonable compromises, and the president would have long ago signed the bill. But we are witnessing an extraordinary act of selfish political extortion by one man and those who are egging him on — the relentless demand for “Wall” is not a quest for better border security, which certainly can be negotiated, but a ransom note to construct a symbol of power, a monument to fearmongering, to racism and ethnic hatred, to political pandering at its most obscene baseness.
The solution to the current morass is obvious, but it requires moral courage in the Senate, which seems to be in very short supply. The Founders of this nation envisioned a government of checks and balances, three co-equal branches of government so that one branch does not become too powerful. If the president vetoes legislation that the two houses of Congress agree upon, then the Congress can vote to over-ride the veto and the bill becomes law. That seems so very obvious in a case such as we have at present, in which the life of the nation is grinding to a halt because of one man’s insistence on spending $5 Billion for something that is of dubious effect. Before Christmas, the House and Senate did agree on legislation and they thought the president was on board with it; but suddenly, because a television talking head said something negative about him, he withdrew from the agreement. Congress should have proceeded, but the leadership in the Senate has now demurred; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stepped back, saying he cannot do anything about the impasse, which is not true. A real leader would tell the president he’s wrong; a real leader would pave the way for a Congressional over-ride of the president’s veto. McConnell could be a hero, but he chooses to be an accomplice in allowing innocent people — the federal workers and all affected by the shutdown — to suffer grievous harm and undue stress.
Trinity students who are federal workers and contractors, or who depend on retail services to them, are among those deeply affected by the government shutdown. Some students have already written to me to say that they might not be able to enroll this semester because they are worried about not getting paid, or that they’re not sure if their agencies will provide the usual tuition remission, or that if they have to dig into savings or retirement funds for living expenses they will not be able to buy books or afford transportation here. The consequences of missing a semester are also large: delayed graduation by a semester or two means ongoing college expenses and even more important, the lost salary increases that they could obtain once they receive their degrees. The economic consequences of political folly are enormous, rippling well beyond this moment.
Trinity will do everything we can to help our federal workers and those affected by the shutdown. But our resources are also limited, and like many institutions in Washington trying to help close the gap, we know that we cannot possibly be a suitable substitute for a functioning federal government. We all must ratchet-up our advocacy and insist that the government reopen immediately, that negotiations about border security ensue as a separate matter that does not hold innocent people hostage to political ambition.
To our political leaders we must fairly shout: open the government NOW!