A placard calls for an end to the partial government shutdown during the third annual Women's March LA on Jan. 19 in downtown Los Angeles. (David McNew/AFP/Getty Images)
Columnist

This shutdown madness must stop.

President Trump proudly started it, and he can end it. But he can’t be counted on to do the right thing.

He has shown little empathy for the American people, who have been denied service, and the 800,000 wage-deprived federal employees, including those required to work during this partial government shutdown.

That raises a crucial question for Democrats: At what point do restoring public service and stopping the distressing toll on federal workers and others become more important than denying funding for Trump’s border wall? Federal employees will get back pay after the shutdown ends, but that doesn’t pay bills due today.

Listen to the Internal Revenue Service worker who cries at the thought of telling her child not to eat too much because his single mom is broke. Listen to the Department of Homeland Security employee wondering how she will make child care and mortgage payments. Listen to the federal correctional officer, with children, whose entire household income has been eliminated because mother and father both are federal employees. Listen to the federal staffers standing in the cold for their turn in the free food line. Listen to the small-time lunch vendors with fading trade. Listen to the low-wage contract workers who clean federal offices and will not get back pay.

This madness must stop.

The time for Democrats to stop Trump’s shutdown is quickly approaching.

Make no mistake, there is no moral equivalency here. Democrats are not the villain in this disgraceful soap opera. They know this fight doesn’t stop with a few billion dollars for Trump’s wall.

With Trump’s ethnically polluted fearmongering about immigrant crime, which defined his election bid and presidency from his first campaign speech, this wall fight reeks of the racism and white nationalism he has repeatedly demonstrated.

“This is about more than a border wall,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the House majority leader. “The President and Republicans in Congress are taking the American people and the government hostage to achieve what they cannot through the democratic process and which they did not when they controlled all levers of government last year.”

Democratic arguments are mostly right and worthy. But is being right more important than the wrong being done to federal employees? Are worthy arguments worth more than the service outage hitting taxpayers? At some point the answer becomes no.

Trump’s offer to include a temporary reprieve for undocumented immigrants in his wall proposal is movement, but it’s ill-fated and not enough for optimism. If no agreement is reached soon, one side must decide to stop this madness.

While Republicans talk of compromise, their position on funding the government makes that ring hollow. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refuses to allow the chamber to consider agency-opening legislation Republicans previously approved because Trump objects.

It is a gross dereliction of duty for both Trump and McConnell.

The onus is on them, but how long can we wait on them?

I think both sides need to make a compromise and come off of their hardening positions,” said Mike Gayzagian, a transportation security officer in Boston, “and take the people who have nothing to do with it out of this fight.”

Democrats can take the high ground. Congressional Republicans won’t, and Trump couldn’t find high ground with a map and an X marking the spot.

Allowing Trump some wall money could be a moral and political win for Democrats. They could claim credit for ending the shutdown on behalf of the American people and federal workers. That would be a victory for the nation. If Democrats don’t act, Trump could order the military to build the wall and take credit for ending the shutdown while heaping blame on Democrats.

Leaders of federal workers unions desperately want their people back to work, but they don’t want to give in to Trump’s bad policies and tactics.

American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox Sr. said: “Federal employees are outraged at being held hostage, and they understand that giving in to the hostage-takers means a future of shutdown after shutdown after shutdown. Our federal corrections officers don’t give in when inmates take hostages in prisons, and this situation is no different.”

National Federation of Federal Employees President Randy Erwin said: “We cannot allow the president to learn that every time he shuts down the government and punishes federal employees he gets rewarded with what he wants. That is capitulating to a bully and giving him your lunch money. Believe me, he’ll be back in a few months demanding your lunch money and your allowance. What the Democrats have offered is fair and reasonable for anyone that does not approve of hostage taking. … There is a moral hazard in rewarding government shutdowns with policy concessions.”

Well put.

A reasonable president would have accepted the Democrats’ proposal. But they don’t hold all the cards. At this point, with another payless payday approaching, is it better for them to maintain their position and continue blocking money for Trump’s wall, while the government wallows in dysfunction and feds are pushed into temporary poverty? Is the moral hazard of “rewarding” Trump worse than the moral hazard imposed on taxpayers, their government and its employees?

If there is no serious movement soon, the answer will be no, not anymore.

This madness must stop.

Read more:

IRS workers beckoned to involuntary servitude

Feds’ twilight zone — working without pay

Federal workplace-charity organization, already smarting, feels the sting of the shutdown

Shutdown situation bleak as feds rally against Trump at White House

How do you cope with Trump’s shutdown? Speech didn’t help.

Trump’s shutdown threatens Friday payday as services suffer

Unpopular Trump pushes unpopular wall as federal employees, services suffer

Partial shutdown is a total government failure