Though the US government shutdown is now over, there is still the threat that later in 2019 we could be back to square one with regards to the funding of the federal government. This is, in part, due to the fact that US president Donald Trump has used appropriations bills as a way to drive his personal favoured policies into the mainstream in order to get them funded. The most recent government shutdown, the longest in US history, ran from December 22nd 2018 through to January 25th 2019. The shutdown was the second of the Trump administration; showing that his ideas were not welcomed by the House of Representatives on both occasions. Estimated to have cost the US economy at least $11bn, the second shutdown finally ended when the president caved in on his assertions that he would not let a bill pass without funding for his pet project: The southern border wall.
Though he was thoroughly defeated by the House of Representatives, Trump has managed to release the funds required in order to start to build a wall on the southern border of the US with Mexico. By declaring a state of emergency, the president has put to work billions that have been taken from other projects in order to get his pet project started.
Even though Trump has managed to release in excess of $5bn for the project, it is clear that this will be nowhere near enough to pay for a wall that spans the entirety of the US border with Mexico. At 1,954 miles, the US border with Mexico is one of the world’s largest. At $23m per mile, the project would cost at least $44bn to complete - this means Trump’s $5bn is little more than 10% of the predicted cost of the project.
Crossing often difficult terrain, the southern border wall will be a very tricky infrastructure project to complete. This and the finances are not the project’s only problems; there is significant opposition from many in the US political system to such a wall being erected and the way that the funds have been appropriated. There is also the idea that the declaration of a state of emergency is some sort of tyrannical power grab that may need to be stopped. Whatever happens it is clear that Trump’s much vaunted border wall faces significant issues before ever nearing completion.
One of the questions on many people’s lips is that if Trump was always going to declare a state of emergency to get the funds that he needs for his wall, why shut the federal government down? This is a good question and not an easy one to answer. What is clear is that on this occasion, the House of Representatives was dominated by Democrats. One of the reasons for Trump’s idea of using a shutdown is to try and make it a Democrat issue. This is very much a Trump way of working: in order to convince people that he is trying to do the best for the American people, he needs a straw man to defeat in order to keep his fans happy. In this instance Trump has used the Democrats as the enemy and put innocent workers in the middle of his power games. Unfortunately on this occasion Trump came up against determined resistance and was forced to yield.
In the Democrat leadership he has found a new nemesis: Nancy Pelosi. The veteran speaker managed to outmanoeuvre the president in order to dress the shutdown as what it really was: a Trump shutdown. Pelosi managed to force the president into yielding as he knew he had been defeated by a smarter and more focused opponent.
With the special investigation about to finish Trump desperately needed a win. The last few months have been brutal as several of his associates and those involved in his unlikely 2016 election victory have faced legal troubles. Trump, in fairness to him, has come out thus far unscathed, but many will wonder what, if anything, Robert Mueller has managed to uncover on the president himself. With so many of his associates facing jail time, it seems unlikely that the president has managed to keep his distance from any wrongdoing whatsoever.
As far as the southern border wall is concerned, not all is rosy there either. A combination of significant opposition to not only the ideology, but also the appropriation of funds for the project mean that Trump faces an uncertain future as far as his much vaunted wall is concerned. There is also the fact that next year brings another election. With the Democratic field starting to warm up it is conceivable, almost likely, that Trump’s reign as president will soon come to an end. This will almost certainly ensure the death of the southern border wall. A Democratic president taking over and a Democratic House of Representatives mean that all of Trump’s legacy could be wiped out as quickly as it was put into place.
While there is every chance that Donald Trump gains a second term in office next year, what will be his legacy if he doesn’t? What is clear is that American politics will never quite be the same. Trump’s brand of hyperbole and confrontation is likely to leave a mark. Whether that is a good thing or not remains to be seen, but what is clear is that America wanted a change. Was Trump a change for the better? Who knows. Certainly the country has not been so divided in recent memory. Trump has used division to his advantage and it will not be easy to neatly pack that back in the box. If he has opened the field to more alternative candidates and engaged a new generation then perhaps he will not be looked back on with fondness, but he may be seen as the inflection point in US politics that was desperately needed. Whatever the case, it is unlikely that the chaotic and divisive presidency of Trump will be forgotten any time soon.
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