War of the wall threatens to cripple America

Face-off: Give me the money, rages Trump (left). No way, says Nancy Pelosi (right).

The richest, most powerful country in the world wakes up today with its government barely functioning. Many public buildings are shut. Rubbish is heaping up in parks. And Americans are angry.

The US government shutdown: Day 17. Some 800,000 federal employees have been sent home without pay. Scores of offices stand empty. Parks and museums across the nation are closed.

Donald Trump and his Democrat opponents have been locked in a stalemate since Congress failed to agree on a spending budget before Christmas. Without funding, a quarter of the US government is paralysed.

Trump is demanding $5.6 billion to fund his “big, beautiful” wall along 1,000 miles of the Mexican border, one of his earliest and most controversial campaign promises. He says it will keep out illegal immigrants and terrorists, but Democrats are fiercely opposed to the plans.

How long can this go on? “Months or even years,” said Trump, after days of negotiations came to nothing.

This is Trump’s first showdown with the new, Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Since the midterm elections in November, the two branches of the US Congress (the House and the Senate) are controlled by opposing parties. Democrats in the House now have some legislative control, shackling Trump’s power.

Pelosi’s House is younger and more diverse than ever. It includes the first two Native American congresswomen ever elected and over 100 women in total.

“We’re not doing a wall,” said Pelosi. “So that’s that.”

Neither side wants to back down in the battle, which could set the tone for the next two years. But as the shutdown rumbles on, pressure is mounting to find a solution.

House Democrats are working on short-term budget bills that would fund the government while negotiations over the wall continue, but Trump is holding firm. Yesterday, he threatened to declare a national emergency in order to bypass Congress and secure the money.

And there’s more to the stand-off between Trump and Pelosi, the veteran Democrat who was first elected in 1987. If the president is condemned in an FBI report about Russian collusion, which is due imminently, Pelosi wields the power to launch impeachment proceedings against him.

Gridlock

The war of the wall illustrates one of the deepest debates at the heart of Western democracies. To many civilised and educated voters, all walls are immoral. When the Berlin Wall dividing communist Germany from its capitalist sister country was smashed in 1989, freedom-loving America rejoiced.

Yet democracy does not just give voting rights to the civilised and educated. Everyone’s vote is equal. Trump was elected president on the clear promise of building a wall on the Mexican border. Who is to say his supporters should be overruled by those who know better? Isn’t that the sort of patronising approach that caused the Trump revolution in the first place?

You Decide

  1. Would the US be safer with a border wall? Why/why not?
  2. Will Trump be impeached before the 2020 election?

Activities

  1. Find three major pledges that Trump made during his election campaign. For each, decide whether he has completely, partially or not at all fulfilled his aims. Write a sentence or two explaining your reasoning.
  2. Research and make a poster explaining the difference between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the US government.

Some People Say...

“Without borders, we don’t have a country.”

President Donald Trump

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The US government has been partially shut down for over two weeks because the House of Representatives has refused to pass Donald Trump’s budget, which demands $5.6 billion in funding for a border wall with Mexico. Since the midterm elections in November, the House — one of two chambers in the US Congress — has been controlled by Democrats. This gives them the power to block Trump from passing legislation.
What do we not know?
How long the shutdown will go on for. It could soon pass the longest-ever US government shutdown, which was 21 days during Democrat Bill Clinton’s presidency. Trump says it could continue for “months or even years” and that he is “proud” of the measures he is taking to build the wall, which he says would protect the country.

Word Watch

Terrorists
Trump’s claim that some of those entering the US from Mexico are terrorists has been disputed by fact checkers. Nevertheless, the claim is frequently repeated by the president and his supporters.
Elections
Midterm elections take place halfway through a president’s term. In the November election, which is widely seen as a test of an administration’s popularity, Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives. However, Republicans strengthened their majority in the Senate, gaining three seats.
Senate
Congress is made up of two chambers: the upper chamber, the Senate, and the lower chamber, the House of Representatives. Laws must pass through both chambers, like Parliament in the UK.
FBI report
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting an investigation into whether the Trump team colluded with Russia to influence the election in Trump’s favour. Some believe Trump could be accused of criminal wrongdoing in the report.
Impeachment
Presidents may be impeached and removed from office if they are found guilty of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours.”

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