Unpaid TSA screeners at St. Louis Lambert International Airport (whose original purpose was to screen for radical Islamic terrorists) were fed free lunches by the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis. In Texas, unpaid federal prosecutors were in court, telling the judge they were only allowed to work on one thing – filing paperwork to seize land for a border wall.
In California, the 170 unpaid crew members of the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf set sail for a 90-day “national security mission” in the Pacific as their families missed a second paycheck and depended on food donations from strangers. In New York, the FBI Agents Association released a 72-page report detailing how the shutdown has hurt counter-terrorism, gang, and child abuse investigations. In Ohio, a cargo plane crashed, killing two people, and neither the National Transportation Safety Board nor the Federal Aviation Administration sent any investigators to the scene due to the shutdown.
Pundits who cluck their tongues about how Trump has “stumbled” or “bungled” his way into a government shutdown where 800,000 workers aren’t being paid and vital services are being endangered miss the point. The chaos and cruelty are not accidental byproducts of the shutdown. They were its central reason.
Trump exists in a world of rich white men where government is the enemy. The IRS wants them to pay taxes. The EPA wants them to stop polluting. The EEOC wants them not to discriminate. To Trump and his fellow wealthy conservatives, government is just something that gets in their way and keeps them from becoming even richer.
Trump’s voters have been conditioned for years to think that the government is the enemy, snatching money and opportunity away from virtuous white people and turning it over to undeserving minorities through Affirmative Action and welfare.
Trump’s online supporters think the government is the Deep State, storm troopers with black helicopters and secret internment camps. And Trump’s Kremlin backers are delighted with a government in disarray.
So when they see FBI and Department of Justice investigations and prosecutions stopped, they smile. They think government workers are leeches, and non-white government workers are even worse, so not paying them is delightful. When they hear that money for food stamps and school meals for poor kids will run out of cash in March, they nod and wish they could starve out the parasites even sooner.
And the right-wing Washington establishment, from the Heritage Foundation to Americans for Tax Reform, have wanted to slash the size of government for years, so employees working for free make them chortle, hoping that “unneeded” government services will collapse and that federal workers will simply quit and their jobs will never be filled.
The damage the shutdown is doing is what they’ve wanted all along. Money for IRS investigations of rich tax cheats, FBI probes of Russian influence in the elections, and Justice Department deep dives into Trump’s shady business dealings has run out. Kleptocrats like Trump who are using your tax dollars like the proceeds from a giant ATM are scurrying among the chaos like ants on picnic leftovers, grabbing whatever contracts, perks, payoffs, and freebies they can.
This is why Republicans, from establishment types like Missouri Senator Roy Blunt to anti-government extremists like Missouri’s other Senator Josh Hawley, are in no hurry to end the shutdown. Anything that cripples or shrinks the government is fine with them, especially when it comes in racist gift wrapping like the argument over the mythical, unneeded, and ineffective, wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
The U.S. Senate votes on ending the shutdown Thursday, considering two separate proposals. Neither will pass.
The first proposal, from Trump, would re-open the government in exchange for $5.7 billion in your tax dollars for the wall, a project that’s become less a real barrier and more a symbol of fighting America’s demographic change by keeping brown people out.
Even putting that aside, the Trump proposal is loaded with poison pills guaranteeing it won’t pass. It has new rules keeping poor people from applying for political asylum. It puts caps on the number of children who can ask for asylum. It demands a 20 percent increase in the budget for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement—ICE—the agency that’s in charge of separating children from their parents at the border. Pass all that, Trump says, plus give me almost $6 billion for the wall, and I’ll re-open the government.
The other measure is a streamlined Democratic proposal. It would re-open the government, with no money for the border or the wall, and then mandate the two sides sit down to hammer out a deal on border security. If it passed, it would sail through the House of Representatives and, if Trump signed it, the government could re-open immediately. But Trump won’t sign it.
So 800,000 families will continue to go without paychecks. Airport security will be endangered. Flights will become more dangerous, as air traffic controllers continue to work without pay. The FBI will grind to a halt. Loans for farmers won’t be processed. Cash for Section 8 housing and food stamps and school lunches will run out.
Trump and his Republican allies don’t care. They think government only exists to funnel money to welfare queens and lazy minorities.
If you think that’s hyperbole, consider the White House meeting between Trump and members of the Congressional Black Caucus on March 22, 2017. During the meeting, Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) told Trump that proposed cuts in welfare and public assistance would hurt many of her constituents, not all of whom are black.
Trump then sneered, “Oh, really? Who are they then?” because of his belief, said meeting participants, that all welfare recipients are black.
And that’s why the government shutdown will continue: white nationalists want to choke off benefits for non-whites while keeping brown people out of the country. And they’ll gladly destroy the U.S. government to do it.
Charles Jaco is a journalist, author, and activist. Follow him on Twitter at @charlesjaco1.