WASHINGTON - Donald Trump was elected president partly by assuring the American people that "I alone can fix it."
But precisely two years into his presidency, the government is not simply broken - it is in crisis, and Trump is grappling with the reality that he cannot fix it alone.
Trump's management of the partial government shutdown - his first foray in divided government - has exposed as never before his shortcomings as a dealmaker. The president has been adamant about securing $5.7 billion in public money to construct his long-promised border wall, but he has not won over congressional Democrats, who call the wall immoral and have refused to negotiate over border security until the government reopens.
The 30-day shutdown - the effects of which have begun rippling beyond the federal workforce and into the everyday lives of millions of Americans - is defining the second half of Trump's term and has set a foundation for the nascent 2020 presidential campaign.
The shutdown also has accentuated several fundamental traits of Trump's presidency: his apparent shortage of empathy, in this case for furloughed workers; his difficulty accepting responsibility, this time for a crisis he had said he would be proud to instigate; his tendency for revenge when it comes to one-upping political foes; and his seeming misunderstanding of Democrats' motivations.
Trump on Saturday made a new offer to end the shutdown, proposing three years of deportation protections for some immigrants, including those known as "Dreamers," in exchange for border wall funding.
But before Trump even made it to the presidential lectern in the White House's stately Diplomatic Reception Room to announce what he called a "straightforward, fair, reasonable and common sense" proposal, Democrats rejected it as a nonstarter.
"What the president presented yesterday really is an effort to bring together ideas from both political parties," Vice President Mike Pence said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation." "I think it is an act of statesmanship on the president's part to say, 'Here is what I'm for. It includes my priorities, it includes priorities that Democrats have advanced for some period of time,' and we believe it provides a framework for ending this impasse."
Such an accord has proved elusive, however, in part because Democrats believe they have the upper hand politically in opposing Trump's wall and feel no imperative to give ground.
"What really drove him was 'Art of the Deal,' that he could get stuff done in D.C. and deal with the knuckleheads," said Republican strategist Mike Murphy, a sharp Trump critic, referring to the president's 1987 book. "People saw him as some sort of business wizard. That's all disintegrating. It's like McDonald's not being able to make a hamburger."
Trump has approached the shutdown primarily as a public relations challenge. He has used nearly every tool of his office - including a prime-time Oval Office address and a high-profile visit to the U.S.-Mexico border - to convince voters that the situation at the souther border has reached crisis levels and can only be solved by constructing a physical barrier.
Trump's advisers say the president has been successful at educating and persuading Americans, even though his efforts have not led to a bipartisan deal. "You can't turn an aircraft carrier on a dime," said one White House official who, like some others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
But the data tell a more troubling story for the president. One month into the shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, a preponderance of public polls show Trump is losing the political fight. For instance, a Jan. 13 Washington Post-ABC News survey found that many more Americans blame him than blame Democrats for the shutdown, 53 percent to 29 percent. And the president's job approval ratings continue to be decidedly negative.
"Even though he thinks he's doing a great job for his core, it's ripping the nation apart," said one Trump friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "I don't think there is a plan. He's not listening to anybody, because he thinks that if he folds on this, he loses whatever constituency he thinks he has."
Behind the scenes at the White House, some aides acknowledge the difficulties.
"The president is very much aware he's losing the public-opinion war on this one," one senior administration official said. "He looks at the numbers."
Other Trump advisers insist that the president is not driven by political considerations and is focused entirely on protecting the American people and finding a solution to illegal immigration.
John McLaughlin, a pollster on Trump's 2016 campaign, said Trump's suggestion to temporarily extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants protections for some people brought to or staying in the United States illegally as children, is key to increasing his popularity.
"The White House needs to press that button and more often dangle that out there," McLaughlin said. "We need to remind the voters every day that the president is willing to compromise and give legal status to DACA recipients in exchange for increased border security, but the Democrats are too intense about trying to defeat Trump right now."
Some political professionals cautioned against rushing to judgment about the shutdown's impact on Trump's re-election, saying that November 2020 is a virtual eternity from now.
"This could all be forgotten in a week if and when we come to an agreement, the government opens and the wall is built," Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said. "Nobody knows how this is going to turn out until we get a resolution. So it's a national game of chicken."
Trump has long seen his stewardship of the economy as his political calling card. Yet the instability in Washington is threatening to wreak havoc, with fresh gyrations in the stock market amid concerns about Trump's trade war with China and fears of a prolonged shutdown.
Trump's management of the impasse has also drawn criticism about his competence as an executive. The administration this past month has been playing a game of whack-a-mole, with West Wing aides saying they did no contingency planning for a shutdown this long and have been learning of problems from agencies and press reports in real time. Officials have scrambled to try to respond as best they can and keep key services operating, but they fear that they may soon run out of so-called Band-Aid solutions and that temporary pots of money may run dry in February, one official said.
In the West Wing, morale has been low in recent weeks, according to aides. Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, has not sought to impose the same level of discipline as his predecessor, John Kelly, so aides flow in and out of the Oval Office, reminiscent of the early months of Trump's presidency.
Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, is an increasingly powerful figure who has asserted himself, along with Pence and Mulvaney, in negotiations with lawmakers and believes there is a big deal to be had.
Two senior Republican aides said senators are skeptical that Pence speaks for the president, after Trump undercut him early in the shutdown.
Trump has been preoccupied by the political messaging and stagecraft of the shutdown showdown, according to White House aides. He has personally met with outside allies to ask them to go on cable television to defend his position, and he has spent time calling those who have praised him.
The president has also gone days without speaking to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., leaving negotiations effectively at a standstill despite Trump's latest offer Saturday.
"The shutdown has turned into a test of strength between the president and Washington Democrats, particularly the speaker, and how it ends and when will tell us a lot about whether they can forge a relationship over the next two years," said Michael Steel, a GOP strategist who has been a top aide to former Republican House speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan.
In private conversations with advisers, Trump alternately complains that nobody has presented him a deal to end the shutdown, complains about Pelosi and Schumer and asks how the fight affects his re-election chances. Aides said they have shown him polling that he is losing the shutdown battle and that most Americans do not think the situation at the border is a crisis, as he and his administration have termed it.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., repeatedly has told Trump that he believes Pelosi is trying to embarrass him, two people familiar with the conversations said.
Trump has accused Democrats of being insensitive to the dangers of illegal immigration. "They don't see crime & drugs, they only see 2020 - which they are not going to win," he tweeted on Sunday. He went on to single out Pelosi for behaving "irrationally" and acting as "a Radical Democrat."
Pelosi and other Democrats, meanwhile, say Trump is immune to the hardships of federal workers who are going without paychecks.
"I don't think that he understands the real-life impacts," said Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat whose home state of Montana has one of the highest concentrations of federal workers. "Look, the guy was born with a lot of money, and that's great. I wish I was born with a lot of money, too. I was born with great parents, OK? And so I don't think he really can relate with people who live paycheck to paycheck. That's why I don't think there's urgency on his part."
JACKSON, Miss. - Things are slow to change in this Old South bastion. The brass bird cage of an elevator in the Mississippi Capitol that Laurin Stennis used to ride as a 6-year-old coming to see her daddy was still operated by hand when she stepped into it one day in early January, a 46-year-old coming to shake things up. Or at least nudge things along.
"Ground floor please, sir," she said to the operator.
But some things have changed. The lawmaker who greeted Stennis in the grand marbled lobby below was a black woman, something unheard of when Stennis' father, John H. Stennis, was a member of the nearly all-white, all-male state Legislature and her grandfather John C. Stennis was a legendary champion of segregation in the U.S. Senate.
"I've already filed your bill," state Rep. Kathy Sykes said after hugs. "I'm just waiting on the number."
It was the start of a new legislative session, and Sykes, a Democrat from Jackson, had once again introduced legislation to replace the Mississippi state flag - the last in the country that still incorporates the Confederate battle flag - with a design widely known as the "Stennis flag." It features a big blue star on a white field, encircled by 19 smaller stars and flanked by red bands.
It's graphically pleasing and increasingly popular. If the Stennis flag eventually replaces the old banner - its supporters aren't expecting much to happen this year, with state elections looming - the banner might help alter the view the world has of Mississippi, a state with a brutal history of Klan killings and racial oppression. It could alter the reputation of one of the state's most famous political names as well.
Stennis, an artist, didn't set out to lead a campaign to change the flag. But she couldn't bring herself to fly the one she calls "a blinking neon sign of negativity," and she knew she had the eye - and the political pedigree - to offer a something better.
"I think people appreciate how positive I'm trying to be and have responded to that," she said during a break from the lobbying. "If this is a gift that I can leave, then I will sleep like a baby."
Stennis is not the only descendant of white Jim Crow-era leaders working to break their forbears' lingering grip on Southern mores, updating their family legacies along the way.
In 2015, after a white supremacist killed nine black worshippers in a Charleston church, Paul Thurmond, the youngest son of the late former Dixiecrat Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., helped lead the drive to strip the Confederate symbol from South Carolina's flag.
Peggy Wallace Kennedy, 69, daughter of late Alabama Gov. George Wallace, doesn't sugarcoat the actions of her father, who pledged "segregation forever" and blocked black students from entering the University of Alabama. Instead, she has countered his politics with her own, linking arms with Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 2017, and walking the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral route with the civil rights leader's daughter, Bernice King.
"It can be hard to take all this on," said Kennedy, whose father came to renounce racism and apologize for his actions. "I did it because I wanted my children to have a different legacy than the one that was left to me."
She knew about Laurin Stennis' flag fight in Mississippi. "What a brave and wonderful thing she's doing," Kennedy said. "I'm rooting for her."
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Stennis is an unlikely activist. She loves seeing her flag fly; she hates pushing for it.
"I'm just full of dread, to be honest," she said as she mounted the steps of the Statehouse with uncomfortable shoes and two plastic plastic bags filled with Stennis flag lapel pins. It was Capital Day, a kickoff schmooze-fest of legislators and lobbyists. But Stennis hesitated as one lawmaker after another passed by unmolested.
"Dang it, missed my chance," she said as a line of influencers invited by the Mississippi Economic Council boarded a bus as she stood by.
It's not that she doesn't understand the game. Her grandfather was 71 when she was born, but she remembers stumping with him during his sixth and final Senate race in 1982. He was a master of that body, an Armed Services Committee chairman whose name is now attached to an aircraft carrier.
But the Democrat, who died in 1995, was also a staunch defender of segregation, one of the authors of the 1954 "Southern Manifesto," a howl of protest against the Brown v. Board of Education school integration decision and an intellectual underpinning of the South's yearslong "massive resistance" to integration. In 1983, Stennis was one of four Senate Democrats to vote against a national holiday to honor King's birthday.
Laurin Stennis took her politics more from her father, a Princeton grad who quoted philosopher Albert Camus and publicly broke with the elder Stennis on issues of race.
She credits her father - who served 15 years in the state Legislature - with helping her grandfather evolve. The senator eventually supported the renewal of the Voting Rights Act in 1983.
Stennis is proud of both men, but she wanted nothing to do with their line of work. She is more at ease in her downtown Jackson art studio, a converted garage where she makes woodcuts of possums and pelicans and other Southern iconography. She lives with an ancient black lab on a block lined with Craftsman houses - one of which belonged to Eudora Welty. Many of her neighbors have Stennis flag yard signs.
She began thinking of the design soon after returning to Jackson in 2013 after long stints in New Orleans and North Carolina. She was happy to be back but couldn't fly the old state flag.
It's a common complaint. While many in a state where more than 58 percent of voters cast ballots for President Donald Trump embrace the banner, it's hard to find it on any but state buildings around Jackson.
The $107 million Mississippi Civil Rights Museum - a wrenching walk-through timeline of more than 580 lynchings, the killings of Emmett Till; Medgar Evers; Freedom Riders Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman; and dozens of others - opened last year with no flagpoles.
After looking into vexillology - the study of flags - and a lot of erasing, Stennis settled on the circle-star design. The 20 stars represent Mississippi's entry into the union as the 20th state; the blue star on the white background is an inversion of the white star on a blue field of "Bonnie Blue Flag," which was waved when the state seceded.
"I inverted it because I don't celebrate that dark moment in our history, but it has to be acknowledged," she said.
Stennis sent her design to Ted Kaye, the author of "Good Flag, Bad Flag" and a consultant on flag design around the world. He suggested making the stars a bit bigger, but he otherwise loved it. His cardinal flag principles include being simple, distinct and free of letters or seals (which become blurry at bumper-sticker scales).
"This flag wins on all of those," said Kaye. "I give her a solid A. And she's sure got a name that gives it legitimacy."
Stennis showed her design to friends, but not until the Charleston massacre reignited the flag debate did she debut it in earnest. Immediately, it began popping up in public, especially in Jackson, Oxford, beach towns and other liberal pockets of the state. A municipal judge put it up in his courtroom. But it appeared in some conservative quarters, too.
"I like her design, said Rob Rall, a boat-shop owner who was Trump's campaign chairman in Hines County. He has a Stennis flag on his truck and flies one over his RV. "I think in order to change the flag, we need something good to change it to."
The last big push to get rid of the current flag failed overwhelmingly in a 2001 referendum. The proposed replacement, featuring a round field of stars, was widely derided as the "pizza flag," making it an easy victim of the protect-our-heritage arguments still heard today.
But support for some kind of change is growing, led by a business lobby that has yearned to remove the Confederate symbol for years because it is seen as an obstacle to economic development.
In 2016, Sykes surprised Stennis by introducing a bill to make hers the official state flag.
"It got very real after that," Stennis said. At a lunch meeting of business leaders, Rep. Philip Gunn, the Republican House speaker, endorsed her design as the strongest alternative and dubbed it "the Stennis flag."
She wanted a local company to reap the financial gains of the growing demand, so she gave exclusive rights to sell the flag - along with all the profits - to A Complete Flag Source, a dealer off Interstate 55 filled with Ole Miss banners, POW flags and ensigns from around the world. It quickly became the company's top online seller, with more than 2,700 flags, stickers and pins purchased.
The owners are lifelong Mississippians. Brenda McIntyre, 67, has become a Stennis flag enthusiast. Her husband Jim, 70, likes the design but not the intent.
"I don't want to change; the flag we have is fine," he said, glancing at Stennis one afternoon with a mix of taunt and apology. "But I know it's probably going to happen."
Stennis just smiled. She isn't trying to shame anyone.
While she may hate the politicking, it found her easily at the Capitol. "Thank you for what you're doing," said a woman who spotted Stennis from afar and came over to ask for a sticker. "Love the flag," called another.
"Laurin, I saw your flag outside a radio station up in Greenwood," said Bill Ellison, a public-radio producer who had just driven across the Delta. "It's going statewide now."
Under the soaring Rotunda, she ran into David Blount, a Democratic state senator who has co-sponsored Stennis flag bills, all of which failed to make it out committee. He expects the same result this session because it's an election year in Mississippi. But as more people fly the Stennis flag, more lawmakers will notice, he said.
"You gotta keep at it," Blount said.
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At lunch two hours later, she got a chance to expand her groundswell. Bully's Restaurant - where they serve fried chicken and greens on school lunch trays - is popular with Mississippians from all over the political spectrum, despite walls lined with photos of Malcom X and Barack Obama.
A couple of state senators were walking out as Stennis walked in and tiredly dropped her wares on the table.
"What're those?" asked waitress Sandra Robinson, pointing at the flag pins and stickers. Stennis explained and gave her a bagful for the staff. A few minutes later, co-owner Greta Brown Bully was grilling Stennis about this new flag.
"Tyrone, we need a flagpole," she called to her husband in the kitchen.
"OK, we'll get a flagpole," he answered, coming out.
"This is John Stennis' granddaughter," Bully said. "She's got a new flag."
"John Stennis," Tyrone Bully said thoughtfully. "How about that? Yeah, I see it in your face."
"I've got Paw Paw's ears," Stennis said. "They kind of catch the breeze a little bit."
Soon, they were embracing, taking pictures and planning. Greta Bully promised to talk the flag up to the lawmakers who came in to eat. She booked Stennis to be on her weekend radio show to promote it.
"I'm really proud of you," the black woman said to the white one. "John Stennis' granddaughter. You've made a flag for all of us."