Op-Ed

Government shutdown another level of White House chaos

A sign announcing closure of the National Archives due to a partial government shutdown was displayed in Washington on Dec. 22.
A sign announcing closure of the National Archives due to a partial government shutdown was displayed in Washington on Dec. 22. Bloomberg

President Donald Trump has gotten himself and our country into a funk on several levels, which is slowly bringing the country (and perhaps the world) into crisis mode.

This is especially acute for the approximately 800,000 families who are not receiving paychecks because of the government shutdown, ordered by Trump.

The president is behaving like a toddler who has been deprived of his toys. His White House staff is full of confusion, and the firing of Defense Secretary James Mattis has shaken that department severely.

Disapproval of the president’s performance is at 49 percent and as several writers have suggested, there are far fewer adults in the room when the White House tries to function.

The biggest and most immediate deadlock is on funding for a Southern border wall. Trump has asked for $5 billion for the wall; the Democrats have offered $1.3 billion for border security only.

Our border management has almost fallen apart, and two recent deaths of child migrants in U.S. custody have reopened questions about whether the Border Security forces are adequately run and staffed.

As all this unfolds, Russian President Vladimir Putin gets more ambitious and grasping, while special counsel Robert Mueller is closing in on the president and his associates who have been in cahoots with the Soviet Union.

We have not yet seen, but may soon see, evidence of collusion with the Russians and other indictable offenses. Such events would be explosive, and provoke a new crisis in government which is likely to lead directly to the president himself.

All of my former colleagues in the U.S. Foreign Service with whom I communicate suggest that this far exceeds any of the numerous crises they have been involved in over 50 years.

Yet, we never seem to learn: Harming people never works. Millions of Americans are affected by the lack of services from the closure of nine departments and government agencies. The president needs to remember that the more you blame others, the more they blame you.

And it is never wise to negotiate in public, such as those carried on before the press with Democratic leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer. They produce hardened positions and make deals nearly impossible.

If the president is unwilling to move forward, then Congress must lead. And in this case, it is the House Democrats who take over leadership in the new year. On the Senate side, Kentucky senator and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been curiously silent and AWOL in this crisis,

Leon Panetta, who was budget director and White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, and defense secretary and CIA director under President Barack Obama, suggests that when the House reconvenes Thursday, its new majority will likely pass a short-term extension to fund the government.

The Senate should agree on a bipartisan extension of funding. The president may veto it, but it will damage him and the country. Those who fail the nation will not only lose the trust of the people, but they will likely lose the next election, and deservedly so.

John D. Stempel of Lexington is a 25-year veteran of the US Foreign Service and was director and the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce.

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