You open your cupboard doors, and the shelves are bare. The chilly air settles around you as you turn to face your children and tell them that there’s not going to be that much food for dinner. The dimly lit room, covered in ominous shadows, and cool atmosphere serve as reminders of bills left unpaid. This is no fantasy but rather the life for many of the 800,000 federal employees furloughed by the longest government shutdown in history. The financial burden extends beyond immediate federal employees as federal contractors too missed 2 paychecks, yet, unlike the workers, they will not receive any back pay. In addition to government workers, the hundreds of millions of citizens dependent on federal assistance and safety nets felt their future fall into jeopardy as well.
In a historic moment, January 25th marked the end of the 35-day government shutdown, surpassing the 1996-96 shutdown for the title of longest closure. The dispute was caused by budding tensions between the divided Congress and the President; endeavoring to fulfill his campaign promise, Trump demanded 5.7 billion dollars to fund a border wall between Mexico and the United States, but House Democrats staunchly refused, causing Trump to declare a shutdown until funding was met for the wall. Over the course of the shutdown, Congress offered up many compromises, none of which included a wall, but they were continually rejected until the effects of the shutdown became too great even for the President to shift blame.
The shutdown was much more than just a political standoff; millions of people, not just federal employees, have suffered from the stagnation of federal programs. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the shutdown cost the economy 11 billion dollars, 3 billion of which are a dead loss.
The TSA was markedly affected as some high-traffic airports ground to a halt as increasing numbers of employees quit or refused to show up without pay. National parks filled with trash and human waste as traditional cleaning services were disbanded, and a reported 7 people died in the parks due to the minimal maintenance and scant staff. Institutions built to increase security and protect citizens, like the FBI, found their operations limited and insufficient, posing a serious threat risk. The FDA was forced to stop nonessential operations, whittling down the inspection process to bare minimums and further endangering the populace. However, besides the federal employees, it was those who relied on governmental safety nets that suffered the most. Native American tribes were cut off from funding for schools and hospitals, forcing them to draw from their own reserves in order to keep the reservations functioning. Farmers dependent on government subsidies and loans were left without support, threatening their livelihoods as well as the crop yield. Millions of people were gravely affected by the shutdown, held hostage by political bickering and excessive posturing. Among those hurt by Trump’s demands was a large portion of his constituents: the rural poor he claimed to advocate for. Trump’s grand posturing was more a symbolic pursual of a campaign promise rather than an actual attempt to employ a true policy decision, and it actually led to more harm to the people he pledged himself to protect.
What is the wall that Trump finds himself endlessly devoted to truly about? A wall, yes, is a reasonably efficient way of blocking the border between two countries as a way to stem the flow of immigration although its institution would set a poor precedent as we literally block our allies from view. However, this wall is not just a wall; there is a fundamental difference between the wall that Trump heralds and just a simple border wall. A wall along a country’s border is no original position, nor is it in itself so controversial as about 40% of Americans support it and 58% oppose it. It is what Trump has made the wall stand for: a monument to racism, intolerance, and nativism. A literal and symbolic closing of doors to acceptance of people of all ideologies and ethnicities. If this debate were truly about border security, cheaper and more effective technologies such as the use of cameras, screening technologies, and increased personnel, amongst other additions, would have been considered as viable compromises, yet several compromises proposed by Congress excluding the wall were rejected. Despite whatever Trump may claim about keeping people safe, the government shutdown was truly just about the wall.
The wall. A campaign promise made long ago to keep immigrants out and to be funded solely by Mexico. The dubious idea of foreign funding was dropped long ago, but Trump still held steadfast to his promise of an impenetrable wall to the American people. Nevermind that since 2007, the majority of undocumented immigrants are those overstaying their visas not illicitly crossing the border. The Wall is not just a border security measure. It is a symbol of all the hate and intolerance held against Mexican people and people of color in general. Trump claimed in 2015 that “the US has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems…When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He explicitly encouraged racial stereotypes as the precipitator for his wall, playing upon the tensions and hate of the American populace and forever sealing the link between racism and a border wall.
When we allow such racially-charged and violent rhetoric to influence, even drive, potential policy decisions, we risk setting an extremely dangerous precedent where fear-mongering becomes the norm. Race accounts for 58% of hate crimes, and about ⅕ of all hate crimes victimize Latinos. These numbers continue to rise as people already harboring racial biases are encouraged by hearing their thoughts reflected from a position of power. From 2016 to 2017, hate crimes increased by 17 percent, affecting thousands of people. When we endorse policies such as the wall, whatever our personal motivations may be, we are endorsing the hate the wall now stands for, courtesy of our president and therefore perpetuating this behavior.
Racism is something that is learned and cultivated through time, brought on by our societal models and influences. The more hateful epithets we hear, the more ingrained they become into our psyche. Being white is treated as the status quo within our country, therefore leading to feelings of alienation amongst people of color as they are repeatedly told that they are not the same. It is not enough to silently reject these views; we must instead speak up and open discourse among ourselves. The political bickering and policy decisions may beyond every citizen’s reach, but there is nothing preventing us from tackling prejudice and discrimination from the bottom up. When we support people, especially public figures, we also tacitly support their ideology and behavior. It is therefore warranted to think twice before you rush to support the wall and the man behind it, forever a testament to the ill will towards others festering in our nation. Don’t let yourself get trapped behind a wall of hate.