Trump backs down on government shutdown

Protest on the US-Mexico border in solidarity with the migrant caravan, November 2018

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 268 February/March 2019

On 25 January President Trump agreed to reopen the US government after its partial shutdown which had lasted over a month, the longest in US history. Some 800,000 US government employees have gone without pay. Government workers were queuing at food banks. President Trump would not agree to a budget to fund government departments because Congress has not approved $5.7bn for building a wall along the US border with Mexico. Trump retreated, but said that if the US Congress does not agree to build the wall the government will be shut down again on 15 February and he threatened to declare a national state of emergency, bypassing Congress, and have the US military build the wall. While the US President, mimicking the Emperor Nero, stakes his reputation on this folly, the World Bank warned: ‘storm clouds are brewing for the global economy’.

In the November mid-term elections President Trump’s Republican Party lost its majority in the House of Representatives to the Democrats. The House and the Senate constitute the US Congress. Under the US Constitution only Congress has the power to appropriate funds and the House of Representatives refuses to give them for the wall. 

President Trump said that he was ‘proud to shut down the government’. 500,000 US federal employees were forced to work without pay and another 300,000 were furloughed (on unpaid leave). Additionally, 500,000 workers are employed by firms contracted by the federal government but were not paid due to the shutdown. The shutdown is estimated to have stopped $85.8bn in federal money for state programmes for transport, housing, the judiciary, agriculture and public lands. It has halted $12bn to bail out those affected by losses caused by trade disputes between the US and China, Mexico and other countries. Delivery of food stamps, which help 40 million US citizens, is under threat, as are housing benefits, health and safety inspections, job training, social services, tax services and scientific research. Increasing numbers of airport security workers called in sick rather than show up for work without pay – queues lengthened at airports; parks and museums are shut, damaging tourism. Cabs and cafes that served government workers went empty. The shutdown reverberated throughout the economy.

The border and the wall

On hearing that another caravan of families with children was heading out of Honduras, Trump tweeted ‘Only a wall will work. Only a wall, or steel barrier, will keep our country safe’ (see FRFI 267). He depicts people trying to escape violence and hunger as murderers, rapists and drug pushers. The US Vice President and the Homeland Security Secretary claimed that thousands of terrorists have been apprehended attempting to illegally enter the US from Mexico. Trump claims that 90% of the heroin in the US comes across the border from Mexico. These are lies. The US State Department itself said that there is ‘no credible evidence’ that terrorist groups sent operatives to the US via Mexico, and most illegal drugs entering the US do so via legal ports of entry. Undocumented crossings over the border are reckoned to be at a 20-year low.

Visiting the border Trump announced, ‘We started building our wall. I’m so proud of it. What a thing of beauty.’ The wall expresses and symbolises US nationalism and racism. Even if constructed in its entirety it will have little effect other than to ramp up racist support for Trump and his supporters in the US, with the 2020 presidential elections in the offing. As Janet Napolitano, former governor of Arizona and former director of Homeland Security, once said, ‘Show me a fifty-foot wall, and I’ll show you a fifty-one foot ladder.’ 

A folly the wall may be, but the impacts of US immigration policy are real enough. 22 people have died in the custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement since January 2017 when Trump became President. The US has approximately 200 jails and detention camps for would-be immigrants, holding on average 42,000 people per day. Trump wants the capacity increased to 51,000. In December 2018, the US and Mexico reached a deal called ‘Remain in Mexico’ whereby asylum seekers will be forced to wait in Mexico while their claims are processed.  This will lead to thousands of people waiting months, even years, in dangerous camps near Mexican border towns. These are people driven from their homes by US imperialism plundering Central America, destabilising and overthrowing its governments whenever they try to halt the exploitation and oppression – witness Honduras and Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The leading Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, responding to President Trump, said, ‘We all agree we need to secure our borders.’ Democrats have offered to back more money for border security, just not for the wall. They said they wanted government departments reopened while issues around border security are discussed. There is no concern for the incarcerated children and families, the expanding network of prisons for immigrants, tent cities, police raids on workplaces and the violation of the right to asylum.

‘Storm clouds are brewing’

On 21 January 2019 China announced that its economy recorded an annual growth rate of 6.6% in 2018, the lowest since 1990. China has accounted for 30% of worldwide economic growth over the past decade. In December 2018 China’s exports were down 7.6% on those of December 2017. The trade war initiated by the US is having an impact (see FRFI 266). If China’s economy stalls, the world’s economy suffers. Apple of the US, Samsung of South Korea and Indian-owned Jaguar Land Rover all warned they are suffering from the slow-down in China. China accounts for 30% of the world auto market; its car sales fell in 2018 for the first year since 1990. In November and December 2018 the US stock market suffered its worst two-month fall since 1931. China’s stock market was the world’s worst performer in 2018. This is the context in which US and Chinese trade negotiators meet to try and reach a deal. If no deal is reached before 2 March 2019, US tariffs on Chinese goods are scheduled to be increased from 10% to 25%. It will not just be parts of the US government that are shut down.

Trevor Rayne