A way out of the shut­down

Albany Times Union (Sunday) - - PERSPECTIVE -

Amer­i­cans hop­ing that their lead­ers would find a way out of what is now the long­est gov­ern­ment shut­down in the na­tion’s his­tory should chew a bit on the word salad Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tossed out on Thurs­day:

“When dur­ing the cam­paign, I would say ‘Mex­ico is go­ing to pay for it,’ ob­vi­ously, I never said this, and I never meant they’re gonna write out a check, I said they’re go­ing to pay for it. They are.”

Of course Mr. Trump did say Mex­ico would pay for the wall, and that it would do so in the form of “a one time pay­ment,” as he put it in writ­ing in a 2016 memo. And, yes, he has also thrown a bunch of other more ab­stract pay­ment pos­si­bil­i­ties at the wall, so to speak, per­haps in the hope that one might stick and give him a face-sav­ing way out of an ab­surd prom­ise that was the cen­ter­piece of his cam­paign.

The larger point is this: A pres­i­dent who can’t own up to the fact that he said what ev­ery­one heard him say, who changes his mind from day to day and who storms out of “ne­go­ti­a­tions” in which he doesn’t ne­go­ti­ate is not try­ing to gov­ern in good faith. He con­cocted a na­tional cri­sis and is treat­ing it like a plot on re­al­ity TV: The au­di­ence is watch­ing, and that’s what re­ally mat­ters.

This isn’t TV though. It’s a real-life drama that’s hurt­ing more than 800,000 fed­eral work­ers who as of last week are no longer re­ceiv­ing the pay­checks they need to cover their mort­gages or rent, their gro­cery and day care bills, and all the other costs many Amer­i­cans jug­gle pay­check to pay­check just to get by. It’s af­fected count­less other peo­ple who work un­der con­tract with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, and all the peo­ple and busi­nesses that all those work­ers and con­trac­tors do busi­ness with. The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s an­swer? Have a garage sale or take up dog walk­ing, ac­tual sug­ges­tions of­fered to Coast Guard em­ploy­ees.

Con­gress, of course, could end this, if only Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mccon­nell would re­mem­ber that he is a leader of a co-equal branch of gov­ern­ment, not a min­ion of the pres­i­dent, and al­low the Se­nate to vote on bud­get bills it had al­ready ap­proved last year — and over­ride a veto if nec­es­sary.

Flail­ing for a face-sav­ing way out of this, Mr. Trump threat­ens to de­clare a na­tional emer­gency and di­vert dis­as­ter aid from Puerto Rico, Flor­ida and Texas — all still re­cov­er­ing from dev­as­tat­ing hur­ri­canes — and from Cal­i­for­nia — still reel­ing from the dead­li­est, most de­struc­tive wild­fire sea­son on record — to fund his fan­tas­ti­cal, un­nec­es­sary, in­ef­fec­tive wall. He threat­ens, that is, to take money from real emer­gen­cies and spend it on a fake one. And to have Amer­i­cans, not Mex­ico, pay for the wall.

Whether he’ll fol­low through on that threat, whether this is a ne­go­ti­at­ing ploy or just his re­al­ity TV way of keep­ing the au­di­ence won­der­ing, who knows? The one bright spot is that it might of­fer a way out of the shut­down — the gov­ern­ment could fully re­open on Con­gress’ terms, and Mr. Trump and Democrats could go to court over whether he over­stepped his pow­ers. Win or lose, he can tell his fans he tried. And gov­ern­ment goes back to nor­mal, or what Mr. Trump would have us be­lieve is nor­mal these days.

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