From December 22, 2018, all executive departments and federal agencies in the United States are shut for 26 days. The last time they were closed for nearly so long, 21 days, was between December 16, 1995, and January 5, 1996, when President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was fighting the Republican-controlled Congress to keep up the finance for his social programs. President Donald Trump, who is fighting a Congress controlled by the Democrats for funding the construction of a US-Mexico border wall, has broken Clinton’s record. Clinton won the battle 23 years ago. Trump’s prospects are not so obvious.
Some 800,000 federal employees have been sent home or are working without pay. Many of them are lining up at the food distribution centers organized for them by the Washington DC based charity, Capital Area Food Bank, which dedicates its work to food banks, food pantries, and food distribution.1 According to recent polls, 83 percent of the respondents believe that the gap in federal funding caused by the shutdown has unfairly impacted federal workers, who should get back pay for the time they worked.2
Three out of four Americans (74 percent) feel “frustrated” or “angry”. They say that apart from hurting the economy the government shutdown is also embarrassing for the country. Although the number of angry Americans is greater among the Democrats rather than among the Republicans (86 percent vs. 56 percent, respectively),3 the public outcry can be described as bipartisan: 71 percent of the respondents believe that Congress should pass a bill to reopen the government now while budget talks continue.4
But the conflicting parties are not ready to back down, despite the negative public sentiments their fighting has provoked. The thing is that the allocation of $5 billion for a US-Mexico wall, which President Trump demands and which the Democrats in the House of Representatives have refused to release, is nothing more than a pretext for the conflict.
For those who are directly involved in the confrontation over the wall, it is also the first round of the election race, which is why its outcome is so important for both sides. They are fighting tooth and nail, not for the wall but for their electorates and thus for their putative victory in 2020. Worse still, each conflicting side is working only for its electorate, with both camps keeping to diametrically opposite views on the participants in the battle and its subject.
In other words, the stakes in this conflict are so high that the public sentiment can hardly influence its outcome. The American society is both a hostage and the audience that can influence the conflicting sides’ political future.
1 As Shutdown Continues, Thousands Of Federal Workers Visit D.C.-Area Pop-Up Food Banks//National Public Radio. January, 13. 2019. https://www.npr.org/2019/01/13/684824384/as-shutdown-continues-thousands-of-federal-workers-visit-d-...
2 Ipsos poll on behalf of NPR. January, 10. 2019. https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/ct/news/documents/2019-01/ipsos-npr_shutdown_topline_01101...
4 Ipsos poll on behalf of NPR. January, 10. 2019. https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/ct/news/documents/2019-01/ipsos-npr_shutdown_topline_01101...