The U.S. government has been shut down for over a month. It is the longest government shutdown in the history of this country, with more than 800,000 government workers furloughed and impending threats of a strike by the Association of Flight Attendants and Transportation Security Administration workers growing by the day. This is no longer just an impasse. This shutdown is now bordering on a catastrophic national emergency.
With January 20 marking the halfway point of this disastrous administration, the reality TV president, who has shown little interest in running the country beyond appealing to his base, has now shuttered the government’s doors completely without a thought to what damage this is causing. The danger goes beyond the individuals and families not getting paid, which is bad enough—it also involves the utter disruption to our national security.
On Wednesday, five former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretaries—including ex-White House chief of staff John Kelly—penned a letter to the president and congressional leaders asking them to reopen the department. In the letter, they stated, “DHS employees who protect the traveling public, investigate and counter terrorism, and protect critical infrastructure should not have to rely on the charitable generosity of others for assistance in feeding their families and paying their bills while they steadfastly focus on the mission at hand.” The longer the shutdown persists, the more difficult it will be to retain the federal workforce—placing our safety in even greater jeopardy.
Unfortunately, it isn’t just the shutdown that the country is reeling from. Aside from the hundreds of thousands of federal workers this president is holding for ransom, there is also the continued decaying of our democratic values with each passing headline linking the president and his family to criminal behavior that has gone unchecked.
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As if this real-life soap opera weren’t bad enough, the continued media swirl has continued around the Covington Catholic High School students who saw fit to taunt and mock a Native American veteran and elder of the Omaha tribe. And once again, conservatives find themselves defending racism and hatred—with the president all too willing to stir the pot by extending an invitation to the White House to the students caught on video. Remember, this is the same person who identifies as a “nationalist” and believed that there were “good people on both sides” of a white supremacist rally turned riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer and injuries to a number of counter-protesters.
The United States is in the middle of a perfect storm without a captain steering the ship. We are, in fact, a leaderless nation.
MSNBC’s Ari Melber reported that the president isn’t even showing up to work on time. According to Melber, he arrives to his office around 11:30 AM, overtwo hours after most Americans have arrived at their jobs. And when he does show up, the president spends a large amount of his time watching cable news and tweeting. The White House has referred to this as “executive time.” Well, with roughly 166 trips to the golf course in his first two years and critical posts left unfilled in his government, the president doesn’t seem to be “executing” much outside of chaos and instability.
It seems only fitting that the man whose name resides on casinos around the world seems totally OK with gambling on the future of the United States. But to what end? Nothing that this president has done is really what it seems on its face. This standoff has never really been about the wall—it has been about slowing down the wheels of justice that are rolling their way toward his door. You see, if we’re too busy dealing with the fallout of the government shutdown, exacerbated by the continued celebration of white supremacy, then we aren’t paying attention to the mounting evidence and investigations against him. This president is a showman above all else. His main goal seems to be to gaslight the U.S. public about his wrongdoings so he can use the presidency like a bargaining chip to assure he walks away from his administration unassailed.
What is imperative for us all to remember amidst this manufactured crisis is that the Constitution of the United States begins with the simple phrase “We the People,” not “I the president.” We have the power to take back our country, which is what the midterm elections in many ways proved to us. In these dark and trying times, we must be the necessary check on this president’s stranglehold over our democracy.
In the film The American President, Michael J. Fox’s character Lewis Rothschild says this: “People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.”
We have spent the last two years in a moral desert searching desperately for a reprieve from the continued assault on our values. In the absence of leadership, we mustn’t fall for the illusion. We must become the leaders we are waiting for—by any means necessary. Continuing to bury our heads in the sand is no longer an option.