Trump Is Right About the Shutdown

President Trump once again did something very few thought he would or should do. He hosted a meeting in a camera-filled Oval Office with Vice President Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), during which he brazenly and passionately said:

If we don’t get what we want . . . I will shut down the government, absolutely; and I am proud to shut down the government for border security . . . I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. … I will take the mantle of shutting down, and I’m going to shut it down for border security.

If the government does partially shut down on Friday, President Trump just handed the Democratic Party a ready-made, 30-second attack ad. Tactically, it seems foolish to have played into their hands the way Trump did. That may be the case. But, as is so often the case with Trump’s tactical “failures,” this one also could end up being a strategic victory.

Regardless, as a nation we need to start thinking more rigorously about government shutdowns, events we have been scaremongered into believing are the end of the republic, if not the whole world.

I submit that we—Republicans, conservatives, those on the political Right—should be happy to shut down the government in service of attaining political must-haves, like control of our porous southern border. Without a strong border, sovereignty is a farce: “A country without borders is not a country at all,” as President Trump is fond of saying.

The U.S. government exists at our sufferance to secure our rights. You can read all about it in the Declaration of Independence. When it fails to do so or actively undermines the will of the sovereign American people, then it deserves to be shut down.

The government “derives its just powers from the consent of the governed” and exists to serve us, not the other way around. It’s really that simple.

If Republicans truly believe their copious rhetoric about federalism and how America is not synonymous with Washington, D.C., then a partial shutdown of the federal government is not “Apocalypse Now.” It’s just a way for We the People to reassert our sovereign prerogative to have a government that looks out for our interests and gives us what we overwhelmingly support: a strong border and sensible immigration system that benefits us as a polity.

When did it become taboo to use a government shutdown as leverage in a legislative negotiation? And when did that result—a shutdown—become the political equivalent of gleefully killing a puppy? Once again, President Trump’s plain-spokenness is shattering congealed illusions and faux norms—constructed over many decades by those who despised the original Constitution bequeathed to us by the Founders. He is saying what everyone knows at a gut level to be true but, for whatever reason, refuses to acknowledge in public as the truth.

Some things merit shutting down the government. Things like a just immigration system that advances America’s interests in our fast-paced, ever-more-dependent-on-technology world.

Even so, when did keeping the federal Leviathan happy, well-fed, purring, and chugging along become a conservative priority? I must have missed the memo.

As anyone with eyes and a bit of common sense knows, the bureaucracy is dead-set against the GOP as a matter of course and in a manner wholly consistent with its nature; it cannot be otherwise. The administrative state was a progressive creation, and, fundamentally, it serves only its progressive masters’ progressive ends, ratcheting one way—to the left—in perpetuity. Anyone who tries to tame it or even just redirect its energies becomes its sworn enemy, and it reacts savagely when threatened by those even remotely hostile to its power and prestige, let alone its existence.

Lawless as it often is and as alien as it is to the tripartite federal structure of our constitutional republic, it nonetheless remains formally under the president’s control since it is housed in the executive branch, of which the president, per Article II, is the sole head: “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America” (emphasis added). Not “some” or “most” of that power. Not whatever power career bureaucrats with their own agendas—which are often adverse to the desires of the American people—“allow” him to exercise. And not whatever power happens to accord with the tastes of an intelligentsia which too-often disdains American citizens.

No, the office of the president has all of the executive power. Period.

So, if the American people don’t get what they want—if the country’s immigration policy doesn’t advance the national interest—from a federal government completely controlled by Republicans until January 3, 2019, then why shouldn’t some basically unfireable federal employees with plum jobs feel the heat?

When did “career federal bureaucrat” become a religious position: sacred and untouchable? I must have missed that memo, too.

President Trump was elected in an historic upset in 2016 on the strength of few vital promises. One of those promises was to build a wall to secure our border with Mexico. This really isn’t difficult. Democrats, when they have power, constantly make good on promises to their voters. For example, from 2008 through 2010, they labored unceasingly to overhaul the healthcare system, knowing that the bureaucracy, again, always has their back, and they were punished, cycle after cycle, for their steely resolve. But behold what still lives (at least for now): Obamacare. Republicans need to charge through the fire in like manner.

Sure, they’ll be smeared as “racists” and tarred as “xenophobes” and other such nonsense. But they will have delivered on a big promise. That’s what elections and politics are supposed to accomplish.

But a betrayal of that promise while it easily can be delivered would be a political disaster, a disaster worse than serving up an attack ad on a silver platter to the Democrats by explicitly owning a government shutdown. It would unleash a 2020 backlash that would make the 2010 Tea Party wave elections look like gentle ocean tides. And it would be deserved.

Republicans, Mr. President: We sent you to Washington, D.C. to build the wall, government shutdown be damned. So do it.

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About Deion A. Kathawa

Deion A. Kathawa is an attorney who hails from America’s heartland. He holds a J.D. from the University of Notre Dame and a B.A. from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. He is a 2021 alumnus of the Claremont Institute’s John Marshall Fellowship. Subscribe to his “Sed Kontra” newsletter.

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