As I Watch an Empty Podium

As I Watch an Empty Podium January 25, 2019


As I write this, we are waiting for an address from the president which should have happened twenty minutes ago (it’s 1:49 right now). It’s being reported that Congress and the president had agreed to a deal to reopen the government for three weeks, without the funding for the border wall. And it’s amusing me to type out my thoughts in real time as I wait for the president’s speech.

For what it’s worth, my personal theory is that if the government reopens today, it’s because of the flights being grounded at LaGuardia. 

I think that at first, Trump’s base welcomed the shutdown and hoped it would continue long enough that we’d all get used to a leaner, libertarian-friendly government, killing off the national parks and the EBT program entirely and forcing many of those furloughed government workers to quit their jobs. It’s the kind of thing that  sounds wonderful to a certain mind. But of course, that’s not all a government shutdown would accomplish. Many predicted that, but the president didn’t notice or didn’t care. Today, airports all over the country started delaying and grounding flights. And suddenly the shutdown started inconveniencing richer people, people who can afford to take planes. And here we’ll get at least a three-week reprieve. Maybe. If he really does do it. It’s two o’clock right now and there’s been no announcement.

Whatever the reason, here we are, waiting.

Please remember that, if the government is successfully reopened today, it won’t automatically be all better for everyone hurt by this. Thousands of furloughed workers, Coast Guard personnel and the like, have no idea when their paychecks will arrive, if they do get back pay for this horrible month. We’ll have to see what deal Congress strikes. One month’s paycheck is not something that most people in this country can live without without a disaster. Check on your friends. And keep in mind that many of those furloughed workers are legally unable to just accept cash gifts because they are government workers and that would be too much like a bribe. This is going to be complicated.

My browser is open to a livestream of an empty podium at 2:11, but someone just announced that “the program will begin in two minutes.’ As if this were a sporting match. I wonder if the over-30-minute delay for a 34-day shutdown is somehow symbolic.

Remember that all of the poor people who got their EBT benefits early, around the 20th of January, in case the shutdown lingered too long, are not going to get food assistance again in February. Whatever happens, they’ve got what they’re going to get until March. That means there’s going to be a huge need for help at food banks and soup kitchens, or just for friends to take them to the store and help them stock up, starting in about the middle of February. After March, we’ll hopefully go back to normal– and “normal” means that many Americans still can’t make ends meet even with EBT, so always look out for ways to help no matter how well the rest of the country is doing. I don’t believe it’s possible for a modern nation to survive without a social safety safety net, but even then we also need lots of help from charities and from neighbors watching out for one another. The poor are always with us, and both the social safety net and private help are vital to keeping them alive.

Also, remember that our national parks are still knee-deep in garbage and poo, and someone’s going to have to dig them out.

That two minute announcement happened four minutes ago on my livestream, for the record. The podium is still empty. Forty-six minutes after the speech was supposed to begin.

Ah– now the president approaches the podium, head down, looking haggard. He’s forgotten to button his coat.

He is announcing that the government shutdown is ended.

He is claiming that the furloughed workers have “not complained” but encouraged him to go on, because they care about border security. That’s not what I’ve seen. I’ve seen video footage of them sitting on the floor outside McConnell’s office chanting “we want to work!” But never mind that for now.

He is now hawking his wall, as usual, preserverating the word “wall” and talking about how exciting and effective walls are, using curious phrases like “see-through visibility” (the emperor’s new wall?), but the point is, our government will reopen today. That is, if Trump ever leaves the podium to give his lackey and yes-man, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, permission to hold a vote. This is not remotely how checks and balances are supposed to work, but it’s how things work right now.

Trump is going on and on about the trafficking of women with duct tape over their faces and how sick and contagious immigrants are,. The detail he uses to describe this is nearly pornographic, and the xenophobia is disgusting, but there’s a moment of relief nonetheless– because this particular game of chicken is over, and he is the one who blinked. He’s going to sign a deal to re-open the government without his wall, for three weeks, and try something else to get it later.

If he ever stops talking.

He’s been talking for twenty minutes as it is. I went to copyedit what I’d written while I waited for him to stop.

And now I hear him threaten that he might shut down the government again in the middle of February.

And the speech is over, and reporters are screaming at him about Roger Stone, but he’s gone.

I’m beginning to understand why “May you live in interesting times” is a curse.

(image via Pixabay) 


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