Getty ImagesThe Washington Post
The Trump-created government shutdown has now lasted 24 days, making it the longest in American history. Invoking doomsday scenarios of a border overrun by criminals, President Trump argues he must hold hostage the pay of nearly a million federal workers in order to ensure national security.
None should scoff at the issue of national security. Presidents and their advisors have access to information about threats to the country frequently unavailable to ordinary citizens. The task of the commander-in-chief is a solemn, weighty, and crucial one. Indeed I firmly believe the security of the nation is the primary and highest goal of the federal government. This is precisely why the extended shutdown is another example of the Trump administration’s nearly criminal abdication of Presidential responsibility.
National security may begin at our borders, but it does not end there.
If we measure national security by how much something threatens the lives of Americans, we need to invest in building walls of health against heart disease, cancer, lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimers. diabetes, and the flu. These conditions account for more than 70% of American deaths each year. Massive investment in American public health would yield greater national security. Instead, the Trump administration and their Republican congressional allies have worked to destroy the Affordable Care Act, slash Medicaid, and reduce access to food for poor children and families—an agenda that threatens national security.
If we measure national security by the need to protect Americans from violence, we need to invest in building walls of mental health and resiliency against suicide. Suicide is twice as threatening to American lives as homicide. Massive investment in researching, understanding, treating, and intervening in self-inflicted harm would yield more national security. Instead Republican initiatives seek to shift resources away from a broad array of mental health services, a move that threatens national security.
If we measure national security by the need to protect Americans from violence caused by others, we need to invest in building walls between citizens and handguns. The majority of gun deaths in America are suicides. But when those numbers are excluded, nearly 40,000 Americans were killed by guns in the first year of the Trump presidency, including nearly 4,000 children and teens killed or wounded by guns. Although President Trump’s move to ban “bump stocks” raised the ire of gun activist hardliners, the move was more symbolic than substantive in addressing the real threat to national security caused by the ready availability of deadly handguns.
If we measure national security by the need to protect Americans against known dangers caused by known threats to life and health, we need to build a wall against the shutdown itself. The shutdown has a direct effect on our health by furloughing and limiting the work of crucial agencies. Today the EPA is not monitoring the release of toxic chemicals in the water here in North Carolina where I live. Today the Food and Drug administration is not screening the national food supply—imported or domestic—to ensure its safety. By removing the crucial government barriers that help protect Americans, the shutdown itself is a threat to our national security. And it’s one we can’t build a wall to stop.