Joco Diversions

Government workers did not deserve to be pawns in Trump’s game

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signs a bill to reopen the federal government, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 25.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signs a bill to reopen the federal government, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 25. NYT

This column was written last week, when the government shutdown had reached 33 days. It ended Friday, day 35, when Trump decided to accept the deal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi originally proposed, though he added a toothless threat that in three weeks he may call a national emergency if no wall money is designated. Federal employees who were furloughed paid dearly for his showboating.

My sister, a Smithsonian researcher for more than 30 years, has survived several government shutdowns. She is one of thousands researching, cataloging and keeping track of this continent’s natural phenomena.

It’s tempting to blame both sides. The president’s determination to a “wall,” representing his distaste for Mexican immigration, is the first problem. Pelosi was the voice of moral opposition to said “wall,” and thus had challenged him: Open the government and then we’ll talk.

Trump forgot that he had already agreed to the original compromise, so his right-wing minders directed him to take hostages, thus the furloughing of federal employees and independent contractors in exchange for wall money, even though the two are not connected in any way.

Employees missed mortgage and car payments, were threatened with bad credit ratings and depended on food pantries instead of grocery stores to feed their families.

The wall was a campaign promise, symbolizing future isolationism of the U.S. from its closest neighbors. Why Mexicans were targeted in the opening speech of his presidential campaign as criminals and vagrants was a puzzle, until after the election. That’s when news analysts began describing disgruntled white middle- and lower-income men who identified as having been overlooked by the rest of us.

The rest of who? Percentages of every ethnicity and gender combo make up our American population. In spite of a few large protest marches, citizens are not militarily, forcibly advancing or crushing straight white men’s futures and leaving them floundering as the rest of us — women, people of color, LGBTQ, Mexicans! — organize opposition to racism, hate and exclusivity of opportunity.

My sister received a partial paycheck Jan. 12, enough to pay bills through January. She has no cushion, because hers is a one-income household.

She runs a donkey rescue from her checking account. She already knows she won’t get paid at the end of the month, but she still has to buy medicine, gas and food pay the vet, make car and house payments, and heat her house.

She is not lazy, nor is she negligent.

She is luckier than some of the other hundreds of thousands of affected employees: She doesn’t have the expenses that come with children: health care, food, clothing, recreation, entertainment, transportation and day care. She has siblings who can contribute until the shutdown ends, though she is loathe to undertake our charity or loans.

This isn’t about all government employees not doing their jobs, only one: the president.

Trump should abandon his plan to erect a monument to himself at the expense of people who have nothing to do with his white man’s dream. Humans migrating for work, for family reunion, for protection and security, is not an invasion, and we have the ability and moral responsibility to process them civilly.

This shutdown is evidence of an administration unschooled in how government or negotiation works. Trump, a “businessman” who brags about being a “stable genius,” is flunking Government 101.

Unfortunately for him, Professor Pelosi is a stickler for details, and she expects her beginners to know something about their major. He didn’t do well on the midterm, and I’m sure he’s not prepared for what will happen in three weeks.

Reach Ellen Murphy at