FROM this distance, or indeed from any vantage point from which cool reason may filter, the burning intensity of emotional distortion, Donald Trump's shutdown of the United States government over a wall on the southern US border makes no sense at all.

But to his fervent supporters, "The Wall" is both an article of faith and a contingency of their allegiance.

Media manipulators Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh have openly threatened to withdraw support if Trump doesn't deliver on this campaign promise.

Fearful of his own prospects in 2020, Trump responded to those two verbal arsonists, withdrew his support for a bipartisan spending bill, furloughed 800,000 US government workers into economic limbo and put the recovering economy at hazard.

Some may find this situation amusing. I'm thinking specifically of Vladimir Putin. But to anyone who values the democratic republic that America was designed to be, the sight of the self-beached whale of government is disheartening. After all, a functioning government provides many of the services that keep the country going. Not simply in the capital, Washington DC, but in all the hinterlands where its diverse branches are integral to daily life.


The shutdown's effects are a source of serious economic disruption and pain downstream. To cite but one example, Kodiak, Alaska, (population 6130) is home to the largest US Coast Guard base. While the Coast Guard is a military service, it is part of the Homeland Security department and its members and civilian employees are not getting paid — with consequent impact on the local Kodiak economy. Fishing and the Coast Guard are the two main sources of revenue for Kodiak and the shutdown puts their economy in freefall.

The government can't reopen soon enough for the thousands of furloughed employees and their families. Many are forced to rely on charity for subsistence. For some, the effects will be felt for a long time, no matter the length of the shutdown, as they lose their homes to banks whose willingness to delay mortgage payments may not last that long.

Real human beings are hurting and suffering the consequence of what has always been a game to Trump. For Trump, as he digs himself deeper into the hole he has created, what is at stake is the perception of doubt about his power. He cannot afford to be seen as weak. Yet he has already lost. Even in the unlikely event Democratic leaders commit political suicide by granting his wish for a wall, the fact he has allowed two unelected political bomb-throwers, Coulter and Limbaugh, to drive policy by threatening to remove support is more than enough proof of his real weakness.

While he is held hostage to the favour of these petty, self-aggrandising gasbags, he, in turn, holds hostage the lives and fortunes of 800,000 people whose only sin was choosing to work in government service, a choice that used to be deemed honourable.

In the absence of any real ideas from his advisers about how to get out of this fix, Trump has seized on another hostage group of his creation. He has offered a three-year extension on deportation orders of DACA, the young men and women brought into the US as little children by their immigrant undocumented parents. That promised extension is what he would trade for his wall.

He seems to have forgotten what Democrats and everyone else know. He's the one who ended the DACA protections in the first place. Those protections remain in effect with or without Trump's promises, as a federal judge has ordered Trump had no power to alter those protections.

Finally without a written and defined path to citizenship for those DACA dreamers, no Democratic leader — certainly not Speaker Pelosi — will be playing Charley Brown to his Lucy and the football of a promise. A football, after all, is just a cowskin-covered spheroid full of hot air.

Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.