The federal shutdown that politicians and political pundits speculated about more than a month ago is our present reality. Minutes of shutdown turned into hours. Hours of shutdown turned into days. Days of shutdown turned into weeks. Unless things change, weeks of shutdown will turn into months until 2019 will be remembered as the year of the shutdown.
The workers and families affected by the shutdown are terrified hostages. They are terrified about not having income for basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, childcare and transportation. They are terrified about being helpless. They are not terrified because the United States has been attacked by a foreign adversary. Their dreadful and senseless suffering is caused by a domestic actor.
President Donald Trump intentionally laid siege to parts of the federal government because of his delusion that a wall along the southern border of the United States will stop desperate immigrants from seeking asylum in this society from the violence of war, cruelty and hopelessness in their homelands. Federal workers and their families, along with many others whose work is related to government contracts, are suffering because Trump decided to shutter federal agencies rather than endorse bipartisan legislative solutions for funding and reopening the government while leaving deliberations on his wall to another day.
The rest of us know that our American neighbors are suffering. We know that public safety is threatened. And we know the shutdown is a massive and creeping spectacle of moral, political and humanitarian failure perpetuated by a homegrown threat to our neighbors and national security.
“The shutdown is a massive and creeping spectacle of moral, political and humanitarian failure.”
The shutdown is the longest in U.S. history, but timing, not duration, is the most profound feature that makes it historic. As Bill Leonard observed in a recent commentary for Baptist News Global, the first ship delivered African slaves to this country in August of 1619 – 400 years ago this year. Trump’s counselors and cheerleaders appear unable or unwilling to recognize that defrauding workers in 2019 is the latest instance of the slavery, wage theft and other abuse of workers that American society has excused, rationalized and even legalized for the past four centuries. The delusion created by free market fundamentalism, racism, white supremacy, white religious nationalism and xenophobia was the seminal, immoral force that led to the birth of the United States. That seminal force eventually produced the Civil War, the deadliest armed conflict in U.S. history, when more than 600,000 lives were lost.
No foreign power threatens the 800,000 workers furloughed or forced to work without pay because of Trump’s demand for a monument to his racism and xenophobia. Our neighbors are not threatened by a hurricane, earthquake, drought or other natural calamity. Instead, the fate and futures of our neighbors, the security of our nation and the legitimacy of our claim to be a force for morality in the world has been taken hostage by an autocratic president (cheered and enabled by political and religious sycophants) who has demonstrated a lifelong penchant for immorality and inhumanity.
Trump’s weaponized shutdown is its own form of domestic terrorism. The shutdown has besieged the lives, fortunes and hopes of people in our country the same way an armed terrorist would control the lives, fortunes and hopes of hostages.
“Trump’s weaponized shutdown is its own form of domestic terrorism.”
It is tempting to believe that time will tell how and when politicians in the U.S. Senate show they love God and their neighbors enough to condemn the federal shutdown and its unnecessary pain as a malicious stunt by a narcissistic maniac, demand that Trump abandon his border wall delusion, and end the terror our neighbors suffer from the shutdown. But we should resist the temptation to believe “time will tell.”
In his prophetic Letter from Birmingham City Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. declared that this temptation stems from “the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills…. [H]uman progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability…[but] comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of [people] willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation” (emphasis mine).
As Baptist theologian Molly T. Marshall has noted, prophetic people – not time – will determine when and how the federal shutdown ends with its malicious spectacle of massive and creeping moral, political and humanitarian impotence. God and our suffering neighbors are not watching clocks and calendars. God and our suffering neighbors are watching, waiting and yearning for determined and courageous people of prophetic character.
Are they watching and waiting for us?