Slicing through the relief that the longest U.S. government shutdown has finally stopped is the lasting-damage reality of President Trump’s reprehensible folly.
Providing back pay to the 800,000 federal employees who went without wages since before Christmas will not make them whole. Sacrifices were made that cannot be fixed. Many federal contractors are poorer after going without income for the 35-day partial shutdown. The ripple effect rolled over to workers such as the food-truck vendors who count on lunchtime business. Personal stories of despair abound. The shutdown cost the economy $6 billion, according to Standard & Poor’s, a financial rating company. That’s more than the $5.7 billion Trump has demanded from taxpayers for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The harm goes beyond the tangible, beyond money lost.
Trump’s decision to close much of the government has weakened confidence in all of it. How stable is an institution that can be seriously damaged because Congress would not approve money for a wall that Trump promised Mexico would fund? How foolish this nation must look to those who once thought this a place of sanity. His threat to shut down the government again in three weeks if he doesn’t get wall funding tempers any relief with pangs of doubt, worry and apprehension, particularly for those who suffered so much at his hands.
The shutdown is the president’s legacy, and more evidence that he is unfit for the office.
Trump proudly owned the closure from the start and now it covers his bolshie persona with a narcissistic stink. For all his New York bluster, Trump was beaten by a gentle lady from California. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) is not the winner. This shameful saga has no winner. The United States, its people and its reputation are the losers because of Trump.
The damage is demonstrated by folks such as Charles M. Smith.
Smith, of Bowie, Md., is a proud 32-year Internal Revenue Service employee. Now, he said, “my public service heart and spirit are both broken.”
Smith had intended to grow his annuity by retiring after age 62. But then came Trump. “This is my fifth shutdown,” Smith said. “This will be my last. … This madness happened, and now I want out.” Smith, 59, has decided to retire early.
In conversations and by email, he discussed his decision and his youthful eagerness to work for Uncle Sam.
“Over time I found great pride and satisfaction working for the government. I believed that I was making a valuable contribution to my country by choosing public service,” he said. He remembered learning about President John F. Kennedy’s call to service. “ ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ I answered President Kennedy’s call and I dedicated my whole career to public service,” Smith said. “But President Trump has changed all that. … The rhetoric and falsehoods spoken by Mr. Trump and his allies have changed everything.”
Smith’s attitude also changed over the course of two days last week. When we initially connected with him on Thursday, he said he would retire in June, driven out of government, disgusted and frustrated by the shutdown. He didn’t want to be named in an article “because of possible retaliation from the administration or others.”
Smith is no longer afraid to be identified. His early retirement, he decided, will be even earlier than planned. He will file for retirement when he gets back to work. “The news that the Government will open for three weeks does nothing for my broken heart and spirit,” he said on Twitter on Friday night. “As soon as I can I will submit my retirement application with a date of 2/28/19.”
You can thank Trump for driving a dedicated public servant out of public service.
“My Country which I grew up to love is not the same,” Smith said by email. “We are more divided and polarized than ever before. Our Government is broken and is not functioning. This Pawn is leaving this Political Chess game that occurs almost every year.”
This shutdown hit Smith harder than the others.
“I’m done with this merry-go-round of uncertainty,” he said during an interview. “I no longer feel valued as a federal employee. … I’ve lost that passion. … I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve been crying over this ... and because what I feel the current shutdown has taken away from me. … I’ve lost the dignity of public service. I’ve lost the honor.”
Smith is not alone. The financial and emotional toll that Trump’s shutdown has taken on federal employees and others is a national disgrace. We all lose when federal employees lose the dignity of public service.