President Trump's government shutdown just keeps getting worse for him and the rest of the country. His popularity is falling fast even among Republicans — to its lowest level of his presidency in some polls. The economy may not grow at all in the first quarter of this year, a White House economic adviser admitted Wednesday. Furloughed federal employees are suffering horribly; absenteeism is skyrocketing among critical workers forced to perform their jobs without pay — meaning jammed-up airports, delayed tax returns, food going un-inspected, and worse to come. And yet, Trump refuses to back down.
There must only be one conclusion to this incredibly idiotic standoff: Trump must be crushed.
For starters, Democrats are correct on the merits. The way the American constitutional system is supposed to work is that when government is divided, the parties have to come together and work out some kind of compromise on daily governance matters. Trump is doing something different: shutting down the government to coerce House Democrats into making policy concessions they would not otherwise make. It's government by hostage-taking — immediately after Trump and his party got stomped into the dirt in the 2018 midterms.
Second, if Trump gets his way on this he will almost certainly do it again. Longtime Trump watchers testify that this kind of high-pressure coercive tactic is a classic move he pulled on construction and supply companies many times. Opening up the government by giving in would only buy some time before he demanded even more — better to have the confrontation now and establish the principle that there will be no negotiation over ransoming the government, as Barack Obama learned to his chagrin.
Finally, it's not even clear that Trump would actually accept full Democratic capitulation. The policy stakes here are small ($5 billion is not remotely enough to build The Wall) and make no sense in any case. The actual driver of the confrontation is rabid right-wing media — recall that Trump in December backed out of a compromise passed by both the House and the Senate after Ann Coulter and Fox News got mad. If Democrats give him the $5 billion, it's quite likely Coulter and company will instantly demand more, and Trump will do as they ask.
On the other hand, Trump appears to believe that an open government is somehow a capitulation to Democrats. At the risk of stating the obvious, this is preposterous — agreeing to re-open the government would not mean he actually surrendered anything, only that he decided not to ransom the hostage. An actual compromise on immigration would be something like "border wall funding plus permanent protection for DREAMers" — both sides would get something they want and accept something they don't in return. But because his brain is clearly little more than lukewarm cheese at this point, Trump floated the idea of getting his wall appropriation through an emergency declaration — but then leaving the government shut down so he didn't "hand Democrats a 'win.'"
In other words, it's an open question whether Trump is mentally sharp enough to be able to meaningfully negotiate in the first place.
America is not at all used to being a country in the throes of serious political breakdown, but that is plainly where we are. Simply preserving constitutional democracy might take coordinated protest unseen in decades. And yet, many are rapidly approaching that point.
Federal employees and other professional employees harmed by the shutdown are not the most radical bunch, but they are clearly reaching the end of their rope. People are being forced to go to food kitchens and ration their insulin. Some federal workers were arrested Wednesday picketing the Senate demanding their paychecks. The head of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (a flight attendants union), Sara Nelson, recently gave a speech advocating for a general strike to force Trump to stop the shutdown. It is "likely days — no more than a week — until the aviation system begins to unravel and massive flight cancellations ensue," she said.
The only way out of this crisis I can see — and future ones over the next two years — is something similar to what Nelson suggests, with the objective of bringing Trump to heel. Democrats must give him no concessions whatsoever (unless they are matched by equally big giveaways from the right), and political pressure must be continually ratcheted up, in the form of protests, sick-outs, work stoppages, and strikes involving as many people as possible (particularly in key sectors like air travel). In concrete terms it will mean nothing more than requiring him to operate within constitutional norms, but the effort will be no less difficult for that.
It's as if we had an elderly, nearsighted water buffalo in the White House — something that, far from being logically reasoned with, should instead be tied down with many heavy ropes, to keep it from destroying the furniture. Until it can be removed entirely.