The Gales of Winter in Shutdown Washington

By Jamie Stiehm

January 23, 2019 5 min read

WASHINGTON — Greetings from a world capital where an arctic wind blows and democracy is as frozen as the wide prairies were. The super blood wolf moon appears as the sky's way of saying there's a long dark winter ahead.

In the shutdown shadows, we hit the halfway mark of a president hostile to the hardworking federal government — something he swore to protect. Alexander Hamilton made the brilliant invention, with help from James Madison. It's indispensable to unifying the unruly states.

A month into the crisis, we wake to an unhappy city of cross taxi drivers, anxious eatery owners and swaths of public servants desperately wondering when they will go back to work to support their families again. It's a nightmare any politician runs away from — except for the president of the United States. He ran toward it.

The federal workforce is suffering from the longest-ever government shutdown: hundreds of thousands here and across the nation. Even white rural voters will soon feel the pinch with no Department of Agriculture crop loans.

Yet this is not only about 800,000 missing paychecks. It is bigger than that. The shutdown crisis is an insult to each citizen and our public institutions, which belong to every American.

It began before Christmas, at Trump's behest, over Senate Republican qualms. He declared he'd be "proud" to own a shutdown, so now he can't back down. He's stuck in enough concrete to build that border wall. Some symbol.

Trump even grounded a military plane set to fly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other members of Congress to war-torn Afghanistan — somewhere he has never been. He was reacting to her elegant explanation that he wasn't welcome in her House to deliver the State of the Union address, the biggest show in town, until the shutdown ends.

"No end in sight" is all we know. Much depends upon one angry man, elected by a minority vote. Much depends upon one woman as well. Pelosi is the one ray of hope for saving this singular situation. Her political skills are formidable, and everyone knows it except the vain Trump. Born the beloved Baltimore mayor's daughter, she learned it all from a young age. On the political playing field, the polished Pelosi is way out of his league.

Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate Republican leader, is trying to play power broker. But many in his caucus are up for re-election in 2020 — including him. Their strong solidarity might melt. And the truth is, none like the president or his lunch monologues much. Trump wins his party's loyalty by fear not bonhomie.

At the White House, the rate of Cabinet turnover in two years — at Justice, State and the Pentagon — is dizzying. The circle of trusted men — always men, save his daughter — whom Trump consults is ever smaller. Young Stephen Miller, a vehement anti-immigration advisor, is a hardline influencer, echoing ultra-right pundits Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh.

Just as President Trump has isolated himself from expert advice and lost friends and allies, Washington is isolated and lonely this winter. It has lost its place in the world, as a forceful beacon, because of broken treaties and Trump's attacks on NATO and the European Union. With the ongoing Russian investigation into his honesty and legitimacy, our nation stands on uncertain ground.

The hurting government workforce knows Trump wants to "win" at its expense. He doesn't even pretend to care about their pain. (He said most were Democrats.) American genius at work.

Shuttering Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo is a terrible message to the public and visitors: "Nobody's home." A British physicist told me he spent an afternoon walking on the National Mall, searching for someplace open among the art, culture, science and history museums.

That is a sorry state. The National Mall is our outdoor living room; it tells our stories in archives, narratives and aspirations of our past, present and future.

At a Kennedy Center concert, soprano Renee Fleming sang Schubert songs to a full house of souls, first speaking to wish Washington well in a time of troubled uncertainty. A kind thought, blown away by the winter wind.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit the website

Image courtesy of Anita Mishra

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