The Trump Shakedown

More than a month ago, President Trump stated on national TV that to achieve his border-wall-funding goal, he would be “proud to shut down the government.” Not many days later, he did just that. And now his “proud” quote insures that this painful (and completely unnecessary) episode in our history will forever be known as “the Trump Shutdown.”

However, after a month of watching the President’s political posturing and his refusal to consider moderating his demands, it’s become clear that this mess should really be called “the Trump Shakedown.”  

You know what a “shakedown” is, right? You’ve watched The Sopranos. It’s another word for extortion. And one of the favorite tactics extortionists use is hostage taking. This is basically what our President is doing right now, holding 800,000 federal employees hostage until he gets his way. 

It shouldn’t be a big surprise that something like this is finally occurring in Trump’s presidency. Until this month the President hasn’t had to face a branch of Congress that will stand up to him. But now the newly elected House of Representatives is not afraid to question his demands. So the President, having exactly zero experience in government prior to his 2016 election, has turned to the tactics that worked for him in his former business life – bullying, threatening, creating pain until his adversary cries “uncle.” 

In his business years when he confronted opponents with limited power, like angry tenants or unpaid contractors, his extortionist-style threats were effective weapons. But this time he’s locking horns with an entire legislative branch of the U.S. government – an equal branch of the government, by the way.

You would think the President (or experienced White House staff members – if any are left) would have searched for language to present Trump’s demands in words that could give both sides room to bargain.

But as I said earlier, that isn’t Trump’s style. In fact, I think Trump’s “style” is more closely aligned with the behavior of a sociopath. I know that sounds hyperbolic…but really? The dictionary says a sociopath is “a person interested only in their personal needs and desires, without concern for the effects of their behavior on others.” 

Years ago I heard a real life example of such sociopathy on a radio interview. An imprisoned murderer was asked to explain why he shot of an innocent bystander during a bank robbery. The sociopath said, “Of course I shot him. I told him to put his hands up or I’d shoot. He didn’t do it. It was his choice. He chose to get shot.”  

Compare that craziness with: “Sure the shutdown put 800,000 federal workers in financial distress. But I told the Democrats if they didn’t give me exactly what I wanted I’d shut things down. They didn’t give me what I wanted. Those Democrats chose to cut off pay to 800,000 workers.” 
For the past month, Mitch McConnell has been in a position to end Trump’s extortion. But so far, it seems he’s preferred to be more of a bystander instead of the Senate’s leader. He’s always depended on the public’s lack of understanding of his complex maneuvering as Senate Majority Leader. 

However, the denial of pay to 800,000 Americans is a situation everyone understands. Mitch can’t cloud that over with mumbled excuses and weak defenses of Trump’s imperious behavior. Maybe Senate Republicans can come up with some sort of position that succeeds in passing the blame over to the House Democratic majority. But I believe as long as the Republican Senate refuses to stand up to the President and push for an end to the Trump Shakedown, the public’s opinion of Mitch McConnell’s Senate will deteriorate. (And Senator McConnell is running for reelection in 2020.) If nothing else will get him to do the right thing, that reality should.

Nels Howard, NTDO Member since 1973

PS:I want to end this commentary on a more upbeat note by mentioning two events that I attended on the past two weekends. I’m sure many of you reading this were also at one or both of the gatherings. 

The first was a reunion of people, who worked on one or more of Dan Seals’ Congressional campaigns. (Of course Dan was there.) The second was a gathering of folks who wanted to join in a “group thank you” to our now retired State Senator Daniel Biss

What was so strongly apparent at both events was how many people attending were first drawn into grass roots political activism by those candidates’ campaigns. There were anecdotes about first experiences ringing doorbells, phone banking or joining in a “post card party.” And those first volunteer experiences, inspired by those two unselfish candidates, resulted in dozens and dozens of local Democrats who have stayed politically engaged ever since. In fact, some of those people went on to run for offices themselves.

Those gatherings with Dan Seals and Daniel Biss reminded me of why I have so much respect for so many of the people who run for office. Not just the winners, all candidates. And I’m talking about every office from Congress or the State Legislature to the contests to be elected to the boards of our libraries, park districts, villages, schools or our township. Every one of those candidates has decided to give of their time and energy to serve their community in some way. And what they may not realize, win or lose, is that just by running they are attracting volunteers and adding an energy to the democratic process that will continue long into the future.