As Donald Trump enters his second year as US President with a federal shutdown, a political battle over immigration and mass women's marches across the country, it's clear that old partisan arguments have morphed into a tribal battle over what it means to be an American.

Although US federal shutdowns have become a depressingly familiar ritual of American politics, with arguments about the size and role of government, the new one is born of a more toxic dynamic. A deeply polarised political climate now demands both sides — Republican and Democratic — play to their most ideological and rigid partisans.

The match that ignited the kindling was a single comment: Trump's racially charged suggestion that "shithole countries" such as Haiti and those from Africa produce undesirable immigrants.

The remark offered a vivid illustration of how a standoff ostensibly focused on spending had become a different kind of fight.


That conflict now pits the nativist impulses unleashed by Trump's presidential campaign, and now embraced by his party at large, against the demands of a Democratic base that more reflects and embraces an increasingly diverse nation.

Democrats have insisted that their leaders dig in on extending an Obama-era programme, known as DACA, offering protection against deportation to an estimated 800,000 immigrants brought to the US illegally as young children. The President demanded funding for his proposed border wall and other security measures.

"What's at stake in the immigration fight is a clash between two visions of our future — or if you want to be literal about it, a clash between our future and our past," said William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who worked in the Clinton Administration. "Both sides have pushed a large pile of chips on the table."

The shutdown could be short in duration but the climate of distrust and ill-will is not going away.

Yesterday's women's rallies, which took place hours after the shutdown, were organised to spark the activism and civic participation ignited by the massive Women's March on Washington held the day after the inauguration.

Organisers said they hope to build on efforts that have pushed women's issues to the forefront. At the Washington rally, there were few Trump supporters to be found. Protesters held up a sign that spelled out "Impeach#45" on one side and "Narcissist" on the other.

Another sign said: "When Voldemort is president we need a nation of Hermiones". Others made the coming November elections their focus, proclaiming "Blue tsunami coming in 2018" and "Grab 'em by the midterms".

Who gets the blame for the shutdown — or if voters will even care about it by the time Election Day rolls around — remains to be seen. Much will depend on how long it lasts and whether it damages the economy.


While polls show large majorities are sympathetic to the plight of the young undocumented immigrants, most also say keeping the government open is a higher priority. The wall, on the other hand, is largely unpopular outside Trump's base.

When the Pew Research Centre asked Americans in 1994 if "immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents" there was almost no partisan difference in the responses — 32 per cent of Democratic-leaning voters and 30 per cent of Republican-leaning voters answered yes.

But that same question now reveals an enormous political divide. Mid-last year, 84 per cent on the Democratic side agreed that immigrants were a strength, compared with 42 per cent on the Republican side — a gap of 42 points.

Rick Manning, the president of conservative group Americans for Limited Government, says immigration has become a front-burner question for the Republican base, and will likely prove decisive in GOP turnout this November.

"If Donald Trump signs a DACA deal, caves on this thing, on the one-year anniversary of his presidency, it ends his presidency for all intents and purposes. There is no reason for the blue collar Democrats who voted for Trump last time to come out again."

Democrats are betting it will be the Republicans who find themselves estranged and isolated. "They are living through a Trumpian period of ethnic nationalism and populism," said Frank Sharry, the leader of liberal group America's Voice.

"That clearly works for a majority of their party. But the majority of the country is much more in line with where the Democrats are."Washington Post