Donna Rogers helps get the crops planted and keeps the money flowing in rural Missouri. The 51-year-old North County single mother of two processes loans from the federal government to farmers, loans used to buy everything from seed for spring planting to new tractors to irrigation systems. Farmers and their nearby communities use those loans to survive, just like Rogers uses her paycheck.
But thanks to Donald Trump’s creation of a phony crisis on the southern border and his insistence that the only solution to a problem that doesn’t exist is a wall that’ll never be built, 450,000 federal workers are working without pay, another 350,000 aren’t working at all, and both the loans Donna Rogers processes and her paycheck have stopped.
“I just wish our country’s leadership would stop holding us hostage. It’s like they don’t care,” said Rogers, who normally works out of the federal Department of Agriculture office at 4300 Goodfellow. “I don’t like what I’m hearing from them, telling federal workers to hold a garage sale to make money. They’re getting paid, and we aren’t.”
Memos from Trump-appointed executives at the agencies affected have sent out tone-deaf memos telling employees whose paychecks have stopped to hold garage sales, sell their possessions, or hire themselves out to walk pets to make ends meet.
“You’re dealing with low-income families, both federal workers and the people we serve,” Rogers said. “I’m going to have to decide what to do if they can’t decide on that wall thing. Right now, the government I took an oath to is causing me hardship.”
Rogers is one of over 14,000 federal employees in Missouri whose paychecks have stopped because Trump refuses to sign any spending bill that doesn’t include $5 billion for his unicorn barrier. She’s not being paid. TSA agents at Lambert International aren’t getting paid. Neither are the air traffic controllers in the tower, the U.S. attorneys in the Eagleton Federal Building, FBI agents, the Coast Guardsmen who patrol the Mississippi, nor the IRS employees who process tax forms and refunds.
Food stamp recipients got double the usual amount on their EBT cards in January, because they won’t be receiving any money in February. Section 8 housing landlords have been getting letters from HUD asking them not to evict low-income tenants if the federal subsidy payments stop. Cleanup of toxic waste at EPA Superfund sites has stopped. The Gateway Arch is closed.
And if the shutdown, already the longest in history, drags on, the pain will get worse. School breakfast and lunch programs for low-income kids run out of money in February. Farmers whose loans are delayed won’t be able to plant crops on time. After January 18, federal courts will be able to hear only the most urgent criminal cases.
But to Trump and the wealthy right-wing extremists he’s appointed to head many federal agencies, none of that matters. To them, government is the problem, and shutting down big chunks of the federal government gets part of the problem out of the way.
The Environmental Protection Agency is closed. The head of the EPA is a former coal industry lobbyist. The Interior Department is closed. Its former director had to quit in December over shady land deals that he still might be prosecuted over. The new head of Interior is an oil drilling lobbyist. The Food and Drug Administration is shut down. The FDA’s head once wrote that Medicaid is worse than having no insurance at all. The Agriculture Department, where Donna Rogers works, is closed. The Secretary of Agriculture is an ex-Georgia governor who’s praised the Confederacy and has spent his career raking in donations from agribusiness.
The pattern’s pretty clear: find a government agency, then find a white guy who hates everything that agency does to run it. Trump and his rich minions are contemptuous of government because government gets in the way of business doing whatever it wants. Government takes money from the virtuous rich and gives it to those they deem to be moral failures, like kids whose only get hot meals at school. Government supports the takers, like single moms trying to make ends meet, by taking from the makers, like CEOs. Shut it down? Why the hell not?
Contempt for government, the work it does, and the people it serves is a pretty standard part of right-wing discourse. But in this case, the reason the government is partly closed also fits their ideology like a glove.
Trump’s mythical wall isn’t about immigration, or security, or any border crisis, since there isn’t any. The wall is all about the biggest single thing that put Trump in the White House—fear. The same bug-eyed fear of an America growing browner every year that led Trump to claim Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States is what the wall is all about. Trump’s wall is a metaphor made flesh, the desire for America as a white walled-off ethnostate cast in concrete, racism made of barbed wire.
Trump isn’t fighting for a real wall. He’s fighting for an idea, the “blood and soil” ideal of the Charlottesville thugs, the white nationalism of the Republican Party, the use of his regime’s power to slow the demographic math that will make white Americans less than 50 percent of the population within two decades.
And that’s why he and his Fox News and talk radio blowhards are so dug in. It’s why they’re indifferent to 800,000 Americans going without paychecks, and to millions of Americans cut off from the services they provide. They want the wall less than they want the idea of the wall. The mortar holding that idea together is white supremacy.
That’s why this shutdown could drag on. And hard-working federal employees are just so much collateral damage.
Donna Rogers pledged an oath to the United States. So did Donald Trump. But only one of them meant it.
Charles Jaco is a journalist, author, and activist. Follow him on Twitter at @charlesjaco1.