As of Monday 14 January, the US federal government has been partly closed for 24 days — the longest shutdown in the nation’s history. Federal agencies that provide services deemed essential are still running, but “nonessential” services, including those relating to scientific research, food inspection, and the maintenance of national parks, have stopped completely.
At the heart of this institutional deadlock is the infamous wall President Trump seeks to build along the US¬Mexico border. Despite his promises to make Mexico pay for the wall, Trump has demanded $5.7 billion from Congress. The Democrats have refusing to vote that through. Republicans in Congress are backing Trump by refusing to pass legislation proposed by Democrats in the House of Representatives to reopen the government without funding for the wall.
On 19 January, Trump threatened to bypass Congress by declaring a national emergency. He has since backed away from that, for now.
Approximately 800,000 federal employees are going without pay and many of those whose jobs have been deemed essential are being made to work without wages. Many federal workers have opted to file for unemployment benefits amidst fears of missing credit card and mortgage payments. Vital welfare programmes for low-income households are grinding to halt, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the funding for which has only been guaranteed until the end of February.
Despite the very weakened state of organised labour in the US, unions are providing assistance. For instance, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has started an interest¬free loan programme for workers affected by the shutdown.
There has been a long and bloody reality of violent border controls under Republican and Democrat Presidencies alike. Under the Obama Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) performed 409,849 deportations in 2012 alone. Nonetheless, Trump’s border wall project shows a new pitch of nationalist sentiment and anti-migrant animosity in mainstream US politics. A recent national opinion poll by Reuters-Ipsos found that 41% of the American public favours additional fencing at the border. 54% of Republicans saying they support shutting down the government until Congress approves the wall funding. There was even a #GoFundMe campaign launched online to raise $1 billion for the wall through private donations. It reached only 2% of its target, but even $20.3 million, from nearly 340,000 donors, showed how strongly Trump’s calls for tighter borders are resonating with many Americans.
Trump’s disapproval rating remains high at 54%, but not as high as its peak of 57% in December 2017. Despite Trump’s zig¬zag bluster, the many departures from his administration, and the conviction in December of his former national security adviser Michael Flynn on charges of lying to federal investigators, despite that the Republican Party and his core electorate are sticking with Trump. The class-struggle left has a big job on our hands to rally active oppsition which will stem the tide of nationalism across the globe.