President Donald Trump knows that his fiercest supporters, and pretty much only his fiercest supporters, are clamoring for a wall.
After two years of cutting his own taxes, trying to uninsure cancer patients and putting lobbyists in charge of almost everything, he’s finally ready to fight for his big beautiful wall or slats or barriers or fences or whatever you’ll give him that will make a good background for a campaign rally. Obviously, he’s doing this so his fierce wall/slat/barrier/fence/whatever-loving supporters will be there for him should his presidency begin to collapse, even more.
But why now?
Why pick this fight when you’ve just lost control of one half of Congress and in the other half your party will have to defend 22 seats — 10 more than the Democrats’ dozen — in the next election? Why make yourself more unpopular when polls show your approval rating is about the same as the percentage of Americans who want you removed from office?
“I will never, ever back down,” Trump said Monday, though most Americans would really rather he admit that he has lost this fight and go back to doing their favorite thing he does — not tweeting.
Clearly, Trump must enjoy having a big chunk of our government closed. Maybe it gives him fewer names to remember. Maybe he heard a shutdown is when President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky began. Maybe it gives him an excuse to eat more hamburgers.
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While 800,000 federal workers and millions of contractors are being starved of paychecks, Trump is having a great time bragging about doing things presidents are expected to do, like being at the White House rather than collecting initiation fees at a golf course.
But to understand why we now have the longest partial government shutdown in American history, we have to think about what else Trump and his allies are getting out of this mess:
►Conservatives get to pretend smaller government works.
Republicans have artisanally crafted this shutdown so that the things Americans love most about our government — Social Security, Medicare, drone strikes — won’t be affected by Trump’s tantrum. This is giving people who don’t like government a chance to cheer for ridiculous Transportation Security Administration lines or federal workers showing up at food banks.
It’s easy to pretend government doesn’t have much of an effect on your life when hundreds of thousands of Americans are continuing to do their government jobs, just without pay. But when the most qualified of these workers are chased out of government and essential research is sabotaged, all Americans will suffer. Well, except those Americans whose politics require them to pretend government doesn’t work.
►More quo for Putin’s quid.
When Russian-backed groups first started interfering in the 2016 election, one of their goals was to stir up distrust at our “political system in general.” Electing Trump gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a chance to sow distrust beyond his wildest KGB fantasies. But who would have expected he’d be able to put a giant cherry on it by watching his Frankenstein monster maim the U.S. government in a way no foreign government would ever dare without fears of massive reprisal?
Sure, it’s not as big a gift to Putin as leaving NATO, but it definitely has to make Putin happy to watch America in a record-setting flail. And given the lengths Trump has gone to keep the content of his talks with Putin secret, pleasing Putin is obviously a crucial goal.
►Running the government like a failing Trump casino.
Getting rich while other people lose everything is Trump’s art form. Shutting down the government, like bankrupting a business, creates desperation around him and makes him even more important to everyone in need. Trump obviously loves the attention and figures he’ll personally come out ahead, since he always has so far. The only problem is that Trump’s daddy isn’t around to bail him out anymore
►He gets to prove how smart Mexico is.
The constant subtext of Trump’s whining about immigration and trade is that other countries are smart to be taking advantage of how brainless America is. Trump has given up pretending that Mexicans will buy us a wall, and now is focusing his energy on arguing why we should buy them a wall. If he pulls this off, Trump will have proved that — just like he often says — America truly is a nation of fools.
►He gets someone to blame for his tax cuts not working.
Coming off the worst December for the stock market since 1931, Trump isn’t nearly as proud of the economy as he was when it was still Barack Obama’s economy. The largest noncrisis deficit and massive tax cuts for the rich and their corporations haven’t produced anything like the boom Trump promised. With Trump’s trade policies and the Fed tightening also complicating the economic picture, a “good shutdown” that Trump can try to blame on Democrats gives him an excuse for the end of the longest sustained period of private sector growth in American history.
Rarely, if ever, have the desires of the American people been so out of line with their president. So while most Americans want this shutdown to end, it’s likely to continue until the exact moment Mitch McConnell recognizes that it could cost him his Senate majority.
It’s times like these when it would be nice to have a president who actually works for the United States of America.
Jason Sattler, a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and host of “The GOTMFV Show” podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @LOLGOP