Be a Voice: Will the US Government Shutdown Play into Trump's Hands?

By Blog Writer Eleanor Longman-Rood

Is there a perception issue in the US media that Trump will use for the 2020 election? 

The 1920s deemed the United States the shining beacon of hope for all democracies to model themselves on. Almost a century on, global politics is looking at a very different picture. President Trump occupying the White House has altered the international perspective that nations have of the US. The new year has been no exception to this pattern, with the unravelling issue of the US Government shutdown. This domestic chaos arose after continuous disagreement on how the budget would accommodate Trump’s infamous wall.

Yet looking back, has this in fact played right into Trump’s hands? It has been said all too often that in politics it is not the issue that matters, but the perception. At least, this is the aspect that matters to politicians when considering how the public will view an event. The 2018 US Midterms saw the Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives, in a momentous night for the party, especially women. This has meant that there is finally some accountability and checks held against Trump’s actions.The new lay out of the House created an opportunity for the Democrats to raise issue with the budget, sparking a partisan battle between the left and the right. But, if we cast our eyes forward to 2020, is there a danger that this will give Trump a step up in the election? It is of little doubt that the shutdown is an issue that will be raised during campaigns in order to persuade voters to draw a close to the Trump administration. Is it not possible that Trump’s team will use the same issue to argue that it was in fact the Democrats that were ineffective as they proved themselves an obstacle to government functionality? That their reign in the House of Representatives was the problem, not Trump’s presidency. 

There is no reason why this argument would stop with the government shutdown. As the next two years unfold, if the Democrats create further opposition to bills in the house, there is a possibility it could be added as a further string to the Republican’s bow come 2020- essentially building a similar narrative to the accusations that the Republicans proved themselves an obstacle to President Obama when they regained the House in 2013.

Trump has been accused of many malices. However, one skill he seems to have stumbled across in his political career is how to twist the media to fit his best interests. From his flippant comments about developing countries to his vast reliance on nepotism in the White House, it appears that however atrocious an act Trump performs, sooner or later it dies down in the media. Arguably, this has birthed a decline in the quality in news coverage, as his presence has given a new lease of life to right wing outlets, such as Fox News. Is this not the perfection ammunition to spread an image that the White House is not to blame for the devastating shutdown? 

While we must continue to look ahead to the coming weeks to see how the shutdown will be perceived, it is important to also recall the past. Casting our thoughts back to the year that brought Trump to the Oval Office, we know that he ran on the message of overturning an elitist Washington with his “I’m a hard working ordinary individual - just like you” sentiment. Perhaps, this is why it is of no surprise that election day brought in votes from a majority of older blue collar citizens from rural or smaller cities. This same group of voters are highly vulnerable to the spin that is likely to be created following the shutdown, as well as any other events that surface between now and the coming election. It is this same vulnerability Trump may endeavour to prey on again.

If Trump does succeed in twisting this to his advantage, this only creates more challenges for the Democrats, and uncertainty for ordinary Americans. Unfortunately, none of us has a political crystal ball to see what challenges will befall the States leading up to 2020. What is key, however, is a sense of vigilance from the public and a desire to know where their facts are coming from. With the trends in the polls showing Trump’s approval rating declining, what comes next from Pennsylvania Avenue is likely to be bold and drastic. However, these are two traits that do not often lead to rational decision making, especially when concerning America’s current Commander in Chief. 

Image: Kevin Harber @flickr