President Trump earned his first SAD! reading on the Yahoo Finance Trump-o-meter this week. That’s our lowest score, the equivalent of an F. It should be obvious why: the shutdown that Trump has single-handedly engineered is damaging, infuriating and worst of all, completely unnecessary. It’s a deliberately self-inflicted economic wound.
The border wall itself isn’t a terrible idea. A significant minority of Americans favor Trump’s border wall, and it might help deter some illegal border crossings. But it’s no cure-all for the various problems associated with illegal immigration. It’s far harder to build than Trump lets on, and wouldn’t prevent tunneling. Many experts say the money would be better spent on more people to patrol the borders, staff immigration courts and provide social services, along with new technologies to detect and prevent illegal crossings.
More than that, no president ever gets everything he wants. As everybody in Washington knows, politics is the art of compromise. Trump is offering no compromise, and his alleged negotiating skills are nowhere to be seen. It’s baldly apparent Trump picked this fight when right-wing commentators said he was going soft on immigration. It’s nothing but a foolish manhood competition Trump is going to lose.
For those who have tuned out the whole inane dispute, here are the basics: Trump wants $5.7 billion in funding this year to get started on a wall that could ultimately cost at least $25 billion. Democrats are offering $1.3 billion for border security but nothing, technically, for a wall. So for now, the disagreement is over $4.4 billion—a tiny portion of overall federal spending—and what it can be spent on. Trump won’t spend any funding bills until he gets the extra wall money, which is why roughly one-fourth of the government is unfunded.
There’s disagreement over whether Trump alone is the one to blame for the shutdown. Well, he is, and here’s why: Trump is the one person who can single-handedly end the shutdown, and he refuses to. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can’t sign the spending bills to end the shutdown. She can only shepherd them through the House. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer can’t do anything at all, since he’s in the minority party in the Senate. Trump, by contrast, only needs to sign legislation that has already passed both houses of Congress in one form or another.
Hardball politics is a fact of American democracy. But holding 800,000 federal workers hostage, with funding for a pet project as the ransom, is economic sabotage that should outrage every American. The overall economic impact of the shutdown is admittedly small. But it’s not zero, and in addition to those 800,000 workers not getting paychecks, there are thousands of businesses losing revenue because of some disruption caused by the shutdown. Most of those companies are small outfits with modest profit margins—the small businesses politicians supposedly love. Yahoo Finance profiled a few of them this week, and the fundamental question for Trump is this: Why hurt any company? Or any worker?
The U.S. economy will survive the Trump shutdown, whether it lasts another week, another month, or longer. But Trump is throwing wrenches into the economy at an inopportune time. Growth is slowing and some economists think a recession is likely within the next year or two. The stock market has partly recovered from an ugly December, but many analysts think more volatility lies ahead. Hanging over it all is Trump’s trade war with China, which will hit hard if it’s not resolved within the next few months. Trump takes American workers and American companies for granted, and if that wasn’t obvious before, the shutdown has proven Trump’s indifference to working people who actually do make America great.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman