Staff Editorial: Go beyond appearance

Two sides that can’t seem to play nice, and a country stuck in the middle of them — welcome to the United States.

We grew up in this time of extreme political polarization — most of us didn’t know what was happening with politics before the 2016 election cycle (and some of us weren’t even paying attention then). So it’s hard for us to say definitively if bipartisan cooperation is that much more difficult to achieve nowadays.

Or at least, until the government shut down.

Thirty-five days of no government — a new record. Two weeks longer than the previous titleholder. Nine federal departments were impacted, employing 800,000 people in total. These people missed two pay periods during this time. Most of them will get back pay — some workers will not. It will take years for the national parks to recover from damage done by tourists, unchecked by the usual park employees. And the government lost billions of dollars in revenue — billions. Why, again, did we shut it all down?

Over a wall.

Firstly, let’s be clear: This was an ideological battle for the Democrats. Five billion is nothing at all in the face of a nearly four trillion federal budget, and it would have only provided enough to build about 300 miles of a wall — while the US-Mexico border is nearly 2,000 miles long. They didn’t care about the money. They cared about what the wall represented. They cared about not appearing to give in to Trump. Their base doesn’t want a border wall. So the Democrats had to come out of this with a win.

No one really talks about what the Republicans were doing during this time. It’s all about the House Democrats and President Trump now. But they were, in fact, doing something very important — enabling Trump. Our own Representative Steve Chabot opposed the most recent spending bill that prevented a second shutdown from occurring, joining only a quarter of Ohio’s representatives in refusing to endorse a compromise that prevented our country from plunging back into chaos, despite claiming in a blog post on January 30 that he hoped “real negotiations take place.”

On his blog, he advocated for compromise (although his definition of compromise seems to be restoring DACA protections Trump had taken away and calling the wall “Medicare for All”). But if he supported a compromise so much, why didn’t he support the bill? Our best guess is that he didn’t refuse to sign it because he opposed it — he did it because he thought it would make him look good. If he can tell his base that he supports Donald Trump so much he refused to compromise on spending for a border wall, well, they’re all the more likely to vote for him in the 2020 election.

And, of course, there’s Donald Trump. Mr. MAGA himself. What did Trump want out of all of this? Was it really his wall? Probably. He certainly seems to want it. After all, no one has ever approached a wall, laden with drugs and anti-American sentiment, and thought to try climbing over it. But it’s more than that. This wall was one of the primary — certainly more memorable — campaign promises he made. It’s something his base believes in. It’s something they want. And Trump is all about his base. His approval levels are so abysmal, they’re all he’s got left (because no one feels ‘iffy’ about Trump — you love him or you hate him). And so he’s going to do what he needs to keep them happy.

You may have noticed that each of these groups has something in common: The base. That golden goose, the people who have your back. That’s what this shutdown was about. While the country as a whole was unhappy with it, we have to ask ourselves: Who were we angry with? If you’re liberal, the answer is probably Donald Trump and the Republican Party. If you’re conservative, the House Democrats. We don’t like to point fingers at our own team. But still, we expect results from them. And our politicians are sure to make sure that we feel like we did.

What did we get out of this shutdown? A difference of less than $4 billion on wall money. A national emergency. But most importantly, a re-affirmation of our own views. How dare those Democrats refuse to sign poor President Trump’s bill! He just wants to protect Americans — why do they like illegal immigrants more than their own citizens! And how dare Trump promote his immigration policy! Does he think he can just do whatever he wants? Does he think we won’t notice? We won’t care?

Really, that may be the root of our problem: We don’t really care. We like to get angry, sure, but we don’t like to do much about it. Maybe Steve Chabot was trying to appeal to his base in voting against that spending bill, but he hardly needed to try — he’s held his office for a staggering 23 years. Maybe Donald Trump wanted to show his base that he was working to get them what he promised, but how many of his promises has he already broken? We don’t care about what our politicians do for us, as much as what they appear to be doing. Appearances are everything.

So maybe we should start to care.