It was probably too much to hope that Donald Trump would do anything to make our government work better, but who could have predicted how ably he could make it work worse? As his unprecedented shutdown of much our federal government extends into its fourth week, the consequences are bad for him and far worse for the nation.
In spite of the president’s incessant stream of deceptions, twisted facts, and inflammatory rhetoric, he’s failed to persuade Americans that building more border wall isn’t a waste of money. As I wrote last year in Sierra magazine, building more barriers on our southern border would not only fail to stop illegal border crossings but also devastate the unique landscapes it crossed. Unless there’s a legitimate national emergency, the Constitution stipulates that Congress controls the national purse strings, and Congress has quite rightly refused to waste $5.7 billion on what amounts to a presidential vanity project. Little wonder that Americans place the blame for this mess squarely on the president and his Republican enablers in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the consequences of the shutdown are horrible and growing worse daily. National parks have been permanently damaged and transformed into dirty, dangerous, and even deadly destinations. Approximately 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or required to work without pay. Each day, the ripples spread further as essential services — from pollution monitoring to transportation security to issuing food stamps — run out of funding.
And yet, the Trump administration still manages to find time and money to pursue its true agenda: selling out our public lands, whether by pushing ahead with oil development in the Arctic or ordering the wholesale logging of our national forests. Give them credit: They have the singular focus of arsonists looting a burning building.
What Donald Trump will never grasp is that governance is not a license to plunder but a responsibility. By instigating and perpetuating this senseless shutdown, he has callously betrayed that responsibility — not only to the hundreds of thousands of hard-working women and men in the federal government (and their families) but also to the millions of Americans that his administration is supposed to serve.