We all know and love… well, most of us hate it, but some people love it.
Thusly, the reasons for the drama and government shutdown in the United States. The rumble-bumble as the president and the Congress square off.
Fortunately, the situation has been temporarily resolved, with the wall idea itself almost shut down.
The shutdown, and the potential new one in February, has of course been a personal tragedy for some government employees who were forced back to work without pay, leading them to the hilariously American situation of not being able to afford to work.
It’s been viewed as an embarrassment. But as foolish as it seems, the system is working as intended. Separation of powers makes it nearly impossible for the Congress to utterly override the president, and vice versa. As long as the president and Congress can’t compromise, no budget gets passed.
President Trump wants funding for a border wall included in the federal budget. The majority in the House of Representatives wants President Trump to build a wall around Trump Tower and sequester himself there, accessible only by Twitter.
If Congress wants a budget without wall money, Trump vetoes it. But the majority of the House of Representatives have zero desire to include it. Thus, the standoff. With no budget approved, Congress can’t pay its employees, but essential services are yoked to their jobs, so off to work they go, with the occasional former president swinging by with a pizza. Congress, of course, still gets paid, as does the president.
Is this a good thing? At face value, it’s not. The border wall is a waste of money, peoples’ lives are being damaged by the prolonged shutdown, and the situation only becomes aggravated whenever President Trump tries to negotiate. His offer of a deal for the Dreamers, children of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., was flatly rejected.
But the principle at work here is a good one. Built into the system was the separation of powers. Neither the executive branch nor the legislative branch get final say here. They have to resolve competing interests.
The alternatives would be a system that allows the president to bulldoze forward with the wall, or gives the Congress — legislators — the power to make policy without the signature of the executive branch. In the first case, the obvious problem is a single elected official making major policy decisions for an entire country. In the second, the actual head of state becomes a functionary.
Separation of powers gives ordinary citizens a powerful voice in the executive, gives the majority of powers to a broad base of elected representatives, and uses the two to check each other. It prevents both totalitarianism and unchecked legislative power.
The fact of the matter is a lot of Americans support the wall. We got a concrete example of that with the fundraiser to pay for it. It never could’ve worked; Congress isn’t allowed to take donations directly. But it raised $20 million in a month. Almost 350,000 people donated.
Hilariously, there is also a fundraiser to dig tunnels under the wall. But I digress.
Let me be clear. A border wall would be a gigantic waste of money and a middle-finger to the idea of America’s melting pot and the sonnet inside the Statue of Liberty.
But people are allowed to have stupid ideas. The border wall in and of itself would not be a violation of any immigrant’s rights per se, and Trump, while pandering to fear and paranoia, is not violating any American’s rights by supporting the wall. The uncharitable interpretation is he’s simply playing to his base.
That base is American voters who, whatever their reasons, genuinely support the wall.
The president is doing at least some of what his people want. What he likely perceives most “true Americans” want.
Many in Congress are doing the same. They’re in fact doing it better because they’re not only standing up for the beliefs and desires of their constituents, but for their pocketbooks, and for what is right in general.
Nobody, especially the people being forced to work for free, is happy about the shutdown.
But nobody should be unhappy that it can happen.
The conflict is built into the system. This is the paralysis the founding principles of America intended. By dividing powers, they created the potential for gridlock by design. If the government as a whole wants to get things done on a controversial issue, people will have to talk and sort it out. President Trump’s desires are being checked by Congress, but not annihilated — and vice versa.
Annihilation is a right reserved for the voting booth.