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US-shutdown: why Democrats and Republicans benefit from the shutdown

Feb 08, 2019

US-shutdown: why Democrats and Republicans benefit from the shutdown

Negotiations on the new US budgets have been going on for weeks. Although the shutdown has been temporarily suspended, the dispute about the wall along the Mexican border continues to smolder. An agreement is still a long way off – which is largely due to the negotiating tactics of both parties.

Both Democrats and Republicans entered the conversation with preconceived ideas. Some want to prevent the wall at any cost. Others, in particular President Trump, see it as an important instrument for US security. Abandoning their respective positions would mean to lose face and is therefore out of question for either party.

The unusually long duration of the US shutdown proves that it is no longer just about the construction of a wall on the Mexican border. By now, it is more about who is right and who will prevail in the public debate.

Trump is well known for his confrontational style, so this kind of behavior is typical for him.

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Disruption at any cost

There is very little likelihood Trump will suddenly give in. Neither will the Democrats shift position. The next presidential elections are less than 18 months away and with that in mind, negotiations are being carried out with maximum media impact.

Political debates are generally held on two levels: Firstly, there is the internal negotiation, i.e. the talks at the negotiating table. Then there is the external negotiation that is used primarily as a signal to voters. An internal solution could be found relatively easily in this case. If you see the wall as a symbol of America’s security, then one could discuss guaranteeing that security by other means, such as upgraded video surveillance or more soldiers on the border.

External negotiations are much more difficult, however. How would you explain to voters that the reason they have voted for the Republicans has suddenly become obsolete? Or that the Democrats suddenly agree to building a wall? That would be equivalent to a complete loss of face, and who would want to risk that? Trump promised to shake up America and he will stick to his promise whatever the cost.  

Both parties benefit from the shutdown

In Germany, the situation would be very different as there is a strong willingness to compromise and resolve conflicts as quickly as possible. Disagreements hardly ever escalate because escalation is not desirable in our culture. Due to its political architecture, the US style of politics is more susceptible to conflict than many other countries. Many nations have a multi-party system in which at least four parties interact. However, America is one of the last countries with a two-party system, which means that most of the time two opposing positions are pitted against each other.

In addition, Americans are more willing to go into a political debate to win it. Often the conflict is more about discrediting the political opponent and demonstrating power rather than the issue itself.

What is really absurd about this is how both parties benefit from a non-agreement and the opportunity that it brings for accusing and discrediting the opponent. Trump keeps accusing the Democrats of disregarding the country's security whereas the Democrats keep discrediting him as xenophobic, non-cooperative and inciting people against each other.

Unless public opinion tips in favor of one or the other party at some point, there will probably be no quick settlement. The Democrats would therefore be well advised to establish a counter-candidate to the presidential election as soon as possible. Ideally, this would be a personality that unifies people, so the people can rally behind that person and the Republicans could live with him or her. The population would likely welcome such a figure because even some of Trump’s supporters are beginning to be fed up with the President's disruptive style.

Records of an interview of XING.

Sabrina Keßler from Xing News and Matthias Schranner (CEO Schranner AG)