Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. World
10 January 2019

Will Trump’s shutdown miscalculation drive him to declare a state of emergency?

The president has painted himself into a corner with no good options for him to save face.

By Nicky Woolf

Trump is gambling that his base will come along with him on the government shutdown, well on its way to its fourth week, over building his border wallk. But he may have miscalculated quite how much they care about the wall as a solid actual project, rather than as a metaphor for reduced immigration in the abstract.

Here’s the problem. Democrats have no incentive to concede to Trump on their first showdown following their storming midterms victory in November, especially as Trump has decided to personally take ownership of the shutdown itself.

This may have been because Trump, despite heading the federal government, has little or no practical understanding of what it does. He gets his information from the swivel-eyed loons of Fox News – Sean Hannity, Jeannine Pirro, The “and Friends” – who say things like “what do we need a federal government for anyway.”

That’s all very well in theory and as rhetoric, but not so effective in practice. The ideological bubble Trump has surrounded himself with – Stephen Miller, Fox News – has pushed him to believe that he is winning a battle that he is actually losing. His base may want a wall in theory; but they also want their garbage to be collected and their mail delivered.

There is a theory that the longer the shutdown goes on, the more pressure might shift to the Democrats simply to be the adults in the room. The victims of an armed robbery might be against the robber when he first draws his gun, but after nearly a month of being kept hostage they may be inclined to say “just give him the fucking money already.”

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

But this is unlikely to be how things play out, mainly because Trump’s wider credibility is so obviously shot. When he claims, as he did on Twitter on Thursday, that he did not have a “temper tantrum” in his meeting with Democratic leadership, who really believes him? Finally, the chickens of lying with such ease may be coming home to roost.

The problem is that that leaves him with only one option: declaring a state of emergency. That gives him a scary amount of emergency powers, as detailed in this chilling recent piece in The Atlantic. He told reporters on Thursday that he was mulling that option.

What happens after that is anybody’s guess.

Topics in this article :