PAUL CONNEW takes a look at the unique circumstances surrounding the US government shutdown.
It wasn’t so much ‘America First’ as a double first for America.
The first time that a US president’s first inaugural anniversary was commemorated by a government shutdown triggered by a congressional stalemate over the funding to keep it fully functioning. The first time in history that has happened to a POTUS whose party controlled both houses of Congress.
True enough, previous presidents – including Reagan, Clinton and Obama – have faced shutdowns when federal funding ran out. But none in the unique circumstances surrounding Donald Trump over the last week or so. Somehow it stood as an anniversary symbol of a presidency like none before.
Symbolised even more when Republican and Democrat leaders on Capitol Hill did finally master the art of an uneasy, temporary compromise deal in which both sides preferred to sideline the president himself. This was, truly, the art of the deal in which Trump, the man who rode to the White House on the boast of being ‘the best deal-maker in the world’ was barely a bit-part player, finally called in only to stick his huge, looping presidential signature on the document thrashed out by others. Even while GOP and Democrat leaders were at loggerheads in their struggle to work out a compromise, they agreed on one tactic: ‘Let’s keep the president on the sidelines’. That was the result of Trump’s earlier interventions and meetings where his water-muddying mood swings, crazy contradictions and negligible grasp of detail infuriated and baffled both parties’ lawmakers.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democrat leader in the Senate, publicly lamented: ‘Negotiating with President Trump is like negotiating with Jell-O,’ and mocked ‘the great deal-making president sat on the sidelines in the end’. In private, GOP leaders voiced similar views.
It was mainly for PR appearances’ sake that Trump stayed in the White House over the weekend as the crisis developed, instead of jetting to his Mar-a-Lago estate for a big personal fundraiser.
At one point, while the crisis continued, there was even talk of Trump pulling out of his controversial trip to the World Economic Forum, in Davos, where he is the top of the bill speaker. That wouldn’t have upset many in the president’s alt-right core support base, already angry over his decision to attend the annual jamboree for global elites that contrasts so sharply with his election campaign rhetoric.
They are far from convinced by White House assurances that he’ll be preaching his ‘America First’ gospel to the assembled congregation of international leaders, celebrities and corporate movers and shakers.
But, for GOP establishment figures and much of corporate America, the Davos trip is seen as vital to recovering some of America’s lost status as a global leader caused by the Trump presidency. Some even hold out hopes that mingling informally with those ‘global elitists’ might temper Trump’s more extreme ‘America First’ isolationist tendencies.
For millions of Americans, however, the main focus of fascination continues to be not Davos, the federal funding crises or even the fate of Robert Mueller’s investigation. Instead it is the escalating saga of what Trump got up to a decade ago with the pornographic star ‘Stormy Daniels’ (real name Stephanie Clifford).
According to a story originally broken by Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen paid off Daniels with a $130,000 ‘non-disclosure’ deal at the start of the presidential campaign never to talk about her alleged affair with the candidate. The affair is said to have started shortly after Melania Trump had given birth to the president’s youngest son, Barron.
Following the reports, Daniels has been touring TV and radio studios and talking to the gossip mags, detailing the alleged affair, giving Trump a below-average rating in the sack and claiming he liked her to spank him with a rolled up copy of another US financial bible, Forbes Magazine.
You couldn’t make it up, could you? Well, yes you could, according to lawyer Cohen, who insists the ‘affair’ never happened. But, intriguingly, he’s refusing to confirm or deny whether the ‘hush money’ deal was struck.
Now Common Cause, a nonprofit watchdog group, is calling for a criminal investigation into whether campaign finance laws were violated. Whatever the truth of the allegations, they are rattling Republican campaign strategists, who fear the further damage they are causing to his standing among women voters. Last weekend gave a reminder that among this group his stock is already pretty low, as tens of thousands took to the streets of US cities for the latest Women’s March. The event began in 2017, when it coincided with Trump’s inauguration. A year on, there is little sign of the anger diminishing.