The partial government shutdown, now into its fifth week, is a national crisis. The lack of a border wall — used to justify the shutdown — isn’t. As I have noted, the number of apprehensions at the southern border is down 75 percent since 2000, immigrants are more law-abiding than the native-born, and most drugs come through legal ports of entry. But don’t take my word for it. Rep. Will Hurd (R.-Tex.), whose district includes 820 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, says the border crisis is a “myth” and the wall a “third-century solution to a 21st-century problem.”
Chief executives have a limited amount of time and energy. While President Trump is fixated on a faux crisis, he is ignoring these actual crises.
Climate change. Both the U.S. government and the United Nations have issued reports, reflecting the consensus of climate scientists, which warn that global warming is accelerating. New studies find that U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions rose 3.4 percent in 2018, the oceans are heating up 40 percent faster than the United Nations estimated just five years ago, and ice in Greenland and Antarctica is melting much faster than predicted. We are seeing a rise in sea levels, The Post reports, that “would result in the inundation of island communities around the globe, devastating wildlife habitats and threatening drinking-water supplies.”
Gun violence. The United States has more guns than people, and almost 40,000 people died of gun violence in 2017 — the highest level in half a century. Nearly two-thirds of gun deaths are self-inflicted; according to the gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety, “The U.S. gun suicide rate is eight times that of other high-income countries.” Meanwhile, “the U.S. gun homicide rate is 25 times that of other high-income countries.” Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the group notes that “firearms are the second leading cause of death for American children and teens.”
Opioids. Drugs are killing even more people than guns. More than 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2017, a record number, because of the popularity of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than heroin. The number of fentanyl overdose deaths was up 45 percent since 2016 and 833 percent since 2013. The New York Times writes that drug overdoses have contributed to a fall in life expectancy and are now “the leading cause of death for adults under 55.”
Debt. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget notes that, despite a strong economy, the budget deficit is projected to hit $1 trillion this year and public debt to exceed 160 percent of gross domestic product by 2050. “By 2041,” the group warns, “spending on Social Security, health care, and interest will exceed all revenue. That essentially means every dollar Congress appropriates — whether for defense, education or basic research — will be financed with borrowed money. By 2050, interest will be the single largest federal spending program.”
Autocratic populism. Autocratic populists have taken power in countries including Bolivia, Brazil, Hungary, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Poland, Serbia and the United States. Dictators have already destroyed democracy in Egypt, Russia, Thailand, Turkey and Venezuela. Freedom House finds that democracy is in retreat around the world — even in the United States. Even when they aren’t undermining democracy per se, populists are waging war on good government. The United Kingdom has no Brexit plan but faces a March 29 deadline to exit the European Union, while the United States is mired in a record-setting government shutdown.
China and Russia. Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin are the world’s foremost champions of autocracy. Russia helped to elect Trump and to pass Brexit; China has been exerting influence from Australia to Africa. Both countries are building up their armed forces and aggressing against their neighbors: Russia invaded Georgia and Ukraine, while China has de facto annexed the South China Sea. They are also turning more repressive, with Xi imprisoning 1 million members of the Uighur minority and Putin presiding over the suspicious murders of opposition leaders and journalists.
That’s my (admittedly subjective) list of our most urgent crises. Other problems, such as crumbling infrastructure, cybersecurity, terrorism, wage stagnation and unaffordable health care, could easily be added.
What’s depressing is that one of the few crises on my list that Trump has tried to address is opioids. He signed legislation in October to combat this scourge. But, showing where his priorities lie, he has tweeted about opioids only 16 times, compared with 627 tweets about the border. At least that’s better than his response to climate change, which he treats as a joke. Or his response to gun violence: He won’t do anything meaningful because he is so beholden to the National Rifle Association. He is confronting China on trade, although not on the South China Sea or the Uighurs, but he largely kowtows to Putin. He is indifferent to the debt crisis, reportedly saying “I won’t be here” when it blows up. And, of course, when it comes to autocratic populism, Trump is part of the problem, not the solution.
How can the government address the most pressing crises we face when the president won’t even acknowledge they exist?