Alan Zendell, February 12, 2019
Throughout his presidency Donald Trump has displayed a disturbing combination of ignorance and narcissism, which was never more apparent than during the January government shutdown and the successive three weeks of bipartisan budget negotiations. Back in elementary school, I had a comic book version of the Constitution that explained how the government was supposed to function in simple terms that any second grader could understand. I wish I still had it – I’d gladly relinquish it and send it to the president.
Between his indomitable ego and his unwillingness and inability to absorb detailed information, he seems unable to include the U. S. Constitution in his world view. He thinks that because he’s the president, everyone in the country works for him and must follow his orders. Anyone who disagrees with him is either an enemy or an incompetent, or both.
With virtually the entire country sick of the stupid debate over the wall, and even sicker over Congressional gridlock, seventeen representatives and senators have spent the last two weeks doing the jobs we elected them to do, the jobs prescribed for them by the Constitution. Trump has done everything short of blowing up the Capitol to sabotage the bipartisan negotiations. At the outset, he mocked them, telling the nation that they were a complete waste of time, and spent the entire period of negotiation baiting Democrats and spreading lies, made up facts, and distortions. That is not the way either the founders or the 2016 voters intended for the government to be run.
The media characterized the shutdown impasse as a personal battle between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the president. Pelosi was accused by many of pettiness, of being motivated solely by a desire to defeat and humiliate the man in the White House. Moreover, she was set up for the one-on-one confrontation with Trump by none other than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who announced that he would block any attempt at a compromise that didn’t have Trump’s prior approval.
McConnell claimed he took that position because pursuing things the president wouldn’t sign would waste the Senate’s time. What he actually did was abrogate his constitutional responsibility to act independently of the Executive Branch, to serve as a check on presidential power and edicts. The Congress’ most important function is allocating the funds needed to implement federal statutes and regulations. To allow Trump to usurp that responsibility would be to concede king-like powers to a president who believes they are his right as the holder of the office.
So you see, when Pelosi pulled off said defeat and humiliation, while I’m sure she savored the taste of it, she had a far higher purpose in mind. When she decided to stare Trump down until he blinked, she was addressing the millions of Americans who have been watching this president attempt to trash our values and institutions. They wondered when it would stop and whether the damage he caused would be repairable. Pelosi was fighting for the integrity of our political process as it is particularized by the Constitution. If the awful trend of Trumpism was to be stopped and reversed, he had to be made to understand that he is neither king nor dictator, that the power held by the autocrats he worships is not and never will be his.
The shutdown and the weeks of negotiation since also demonstrated once again that our brilliant negotiator and deal-maker president is actually neither. The only negotiation style he knows is demand, intimidation, and punishment. That’s why Pelosi’s act of defiance was so important. It was the only way to stop him.
The bipartisan budget negotiations handed Trump an even more devastating defeat. He would have us believe that the Democrats are to blame for the deal he must swallow to avert another shutdown. That’s the most outrageous lie he’s told since all this started. For two years, his Republican controlled Congress was unwilling to fund his wall, and the current Congress won’t either. They’ve all heard from border patrol agents and security experts, and they’ve seen the falsified crime statistics for border cities like El Paso. The whole country has been listening to border Congressmen and local residents, who are nearly unanimous in their disdain for a wall along the entire southern border.
This is a complete repudiation of Trump’s attempts to soothe his base. He won’t learn anything from it, but it’s a message to the rest of us that the Trump nightmare will soon be over. We can’t be complacent, though. It’s going to be a struggle, and we can’t ever take our eyes off the ball.