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Trump's shutdown aims to weaken the American political system Open in fullscreen

Imad K. Harb

Trump's shutdown aims to weaken the American political system

Trump's partial shutdown of the American federal government continues in its third week [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 January, 2019

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Comment: Trump's recent actions are proof that he is determined to set the American house ablaze without regard to the interests of those residing within, writes Imad K. Harb.
As the partial shutdown of the American federal government continues in its third week, US institutions are showing the dangerous impact of President Donald Trump's reckless governing style.

In fact, almost two years after his entry into the White House, Trump appears to have run institutional norms and rules into the ground. What counts is only satisfying his narcissistic impulses and personal preferences, reason and efficaciousness be damned.

And more than two years after ordering his intelligence services to help Trump win the presidential election, Russian President Vladimir Putin must be ecstatic that his ruse has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. The American political system is simply paralysed.  

The unneeded shutdown

Trump is presiding over a deep chasm in official Washington caused by his insistence on funding a $5 billion border wall with Mexico that supposedly will stop migrants from entering the country.

As an example of bravado that only his ardent supporters believed, he 
promised during the presidential campaign that he will force Mexico to pay for the wall he wanted to build.

The Democrats, now in control of the House of Representatives, have rejected any talk of paying for the barrier. The impasse has led to a partial federal government shutdown – so far the second longest in American history – that affects some 800,000 unpaid workers and deprives everyone of their services.

Trump will use the augustness of the Oval Office to convince Americans on national television that there is a humanitarian and national emergency on the southern border. Many see this as another effort to ascertain falsehoods he and his lieutenants have spread over the last few weeks.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that 4,000 people suspected of terrorism were apprehended on the southern border. But NBC News found that the number was actually only six individuals in the first six months of 2018.

Trump's own State Department also reported that there was no "credible evidence" that terrorists are crossing the border. 
The public sentiment is not on the side of Trump and administration officials. A recent CBS poll found that an aggregate 59 percent of Americans do not support a border wall. Fifty-five percent of them blame Republicans (president and congress members) for the shutdown, while only 35 percent blame Democrats.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that 4,000 people suspected of terrorism were apprehended on the southern border. But NBC News found that the number was actually only six individuals in the first six months of 2018

Damage beyond the shutdown

While the shutdown has affected the delivery of services by all federal departments and associated agencies, the damage of the impasse is foremost at the macro level of the American political system.

As the president digs in his heels on the border wall, it has become evident that his undeclared intention is to weaken the fabric of constitutional imperatives and civilised political discourse.

In fact, the border wall dispute that he created is merely an element in his overall strategy to alter the norms of governance that all previous occupants of the White House have striven to uphold.

What makes this even more nefarious is the nature of the American body politic where the leader's whims are broadcast by an open society and a vibrant press, whatever his intentions and falsehoods.

Trump's war against the system depends at its core on the ability to spout lies and untruths in front of journalists and photographers with the assurance that they will reach hundreds of millions instantly.

As he openly declares that he set fire to the barn, he simultaneously claims that no one is helping him extinguish it. He promised a border wall despite widespread opposition, and now he accuses others, specifically Democrats, of not helping him build it.

In the meantime, Washington is paralysed and, with it, America's weakened institutions wait for an impossible compromise.

He promised a border wall despite widespread opposition, and now he accuses others, specifically Democrats, of not helping him build it

What is more alarming is the obvious inability of Congressional Republicans to steer an independent path from the president and his administration.

Their intervention as interlocutors to compromise with Democrats is now needed more than ever as the shutdown has also affected their standing among the public.

In fact, the Democratic-controlled House has passed stopgap legislation to re-open the government as the 116th Congress began on January 3.

Although it was similar to a version passed previously by the Republican-led Senate, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to consider it in his chamber. President Trump had also threatened to veto any legislation that did not include a $5 billion item for the wall.

The president's work to undermine institutional strength and purpose to serve his short-sighted policies has also reached some important matters of American foreign policy.

He suddenly declared a withdrawal from Syria without proper consultations with his cabinet, forcing the resignation of Defence Secretary James Mattis and of envoy to the anti-terror coalition Brett McGurk.

On a trip to Iraq, he trampled all diplomatic protocol and announced that American troops there can be used for cross-border operations in Syria. This is likely to jeopardise American-Iraqi relations because it violates Iraqi sovereignty.

He pointedly repeated a falsehood currently propagated by the Russian government that terrorism was the trigger for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, helping to spread a revisionist history advocated by the Kremlin.

It is hard to believe that a president would choose to undermine his own government and its institutional history and effectiveness.

But the way Trump has gone about governing cannot be understood but as proof that he is determined to set the American house ablaze without regard to the interests of those residing within.


Imad K. Harb is the Director of Research and Analysis at Arab Center Washington DC.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.

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