All sides are digging in on the issue of the closure of part of the federal government. When all parties dig firmly into extreme positions, it is easy to find fault. So I will.

On one hand is the president who has decided that this is his last stand. The question is whether he is Custer or Sitting Bull. Pun intended.

On another hand is the Democratic leadership of Congress. Reared in Missouri, I’m partial to the metaphor of the stubborn mule. Pun intended.

On a third hand — two hands wouldn’t handle this mess — is the Republican leadership in Congress. Can you say AWOL? “Won’t you Come Home,” Mitch McConnell?

On a fourth hand are the national media. They have covered the story, as an old nooze-biz cliche goes, like a blanket. But they haven’t covered it well.

Before the shutdown, Trump signaled that he would compromise on the wall and sign a spending bill. That was doubly positive because it would keep the government open and because it showed Trump might, after all, understand incrementalism and compromise. And Congress appeared likely to go along with a deal to appropriate a couple of billion bucks for border security, if it would keep government going.

Just as a deal appeared nearly done, Trump’s trolls crawled out of the woodwork. On Fox “News,” Ann Coulter, flame-thrower in chief, called Trump “a gutless sociopath” who, without a wall, “will just have been a joke presidency who scammed the American people.” On the same network, Steve Doocy, a co-host of “Fox and Friends, said that if Trump compromised “the swamp wins” and “Trump will look like a loser.” Trump’s base, it turns out, is not the angry white folks who voted for him. His base is the trolls at Fox “News.” And when the fox hollers, Trump jumps.

He jumped into a corner and, at this writing, hasn’t been able to unpaint himself from it.

In an opposite corner we find House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, also painting themselves into an ever smaller spot. They have come off in public as being at least as rigid as Trump. Pelosi says flatly that the wall will not receive funding from Congress. Schumer stands firmly behind her, or, if you watched their feeble response to the president on Jan. 8, he stands firmly over her right shoulder.

Pelosi, at least, is on firm ground. She voted against the bill to erect a wall, though not anything so formidable as what Trump proposed over and over again at his campaign rallies. That was the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Most other Democrats voted for it.

The Democratic leaders have several times rejected even the idea of sitting down again with Trump. Polls so far show voters support the Democratic stubbornness. But polls change. Polls show what people think at a certain moment, and minds do change.

Locally, at least, one important Democrat wants this settled. Rep. Jared Golden, who has been in office 17 days, has called for all parties to belly up to the negotiating table.

At least the Democrats are out there in public. Where is the leadership of the national Republican party? With a moistened finger ever to the wind, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has steadfastly refused to get into the fight.

And on Thursday, he blocked a bill from the House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, to reopen the closed parts of the government while launching talks toward a compromise on the wall. It may be accurate, as The Washington Monthly has written, that by refusing to call a vote to reopen the government McConnell owns the shutdown. By refusing, he has put the Republicans’ share of the blame on Trump.

Would only a cynic say that McConnell is putting his personal wants above the good of the country? He is up for reelection in 10 months, and Kentucky may be one of just 17 states in which enough folks support the wall to get him reelected. McConnell is not just another Trump toady. Like Kim Jong-un of North Korea, he has suckered Trump.

Whether you call McConnell a coward or a self-seeker, national news outlets have largely ignored him. Much of their coverage has been of the hardship visited on federal employees who missed the Jan. 11 paycheck and may miss the Jan 25 check. NPR seems to interview a furloughed or working-without-pay fed on every news program.

Not to disparage federal employees, but they are a minor part of the story. And their plight doesn’t resonate with folks who work as hard or harder for a lot less pay and a lot less job security. How many single moms working at McDonald’s get civil-service protection?

The real story of the shutdown is twofold. The reputation of our government and, therefore, of our country, is damaged. A world that until two years ago looked to us for leadership now looks to us for comic relief. Second, the people hurt by the shutdown are far more numerous than just 800,000 feds.

Only in the past few days am I seeing stories about, for example, sandwich-shop owners in Wichita who may lose their business because federal offices across the street are empty and no one is coming over for lunch. Or about people who can’t open a business because no one is in a federal office to rubber stamp a permit. Or the millions, most working full time, who will lose SNAP (food stamp) benefits soon if the shutdown goes on.

The real story isn’t in the bureaucrats’ offices. It’s in the streets, and it takes more than a phone call or a camera crew panning over an empty office to tell that story. Now, in the 30th day of the shutdown, the national media are only beginning to find that real story. What took them so long?

Bob Neal, a retired farmer and journalist who lives in New Sharon, loves a good story and a good fight. But he believes this story and this fight are just dreary and futile.

Bob Neal


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