Las Vegas Sun

January 16, 2019

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Americans in and out of public office work to clean up the president’s mess


Andrew Harnik / AP

The Capitol building is visible as a man who declined to give his name picks up garbage and stacks it near a trash can during a partial government shutdown on the National Mall in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018.

Trash cans and restrooms are overflowing, and human waste is piling up as people find other places to go when nature calls.

Welcome to America’s national parks, Donald Trump-style. The partial government shutdown is turning them into a combination of garbage dumps and open sewers as a result of reduced staffing. Meanwhile restricted and sensitive areas are being damaged by off-roading and other unauthorized activities by people taking advantage of cutbacks in security staffing.

What a fitting image of Trump’s broader impact on the nation.

His two years of chaos have left government in tatters, bleeding out talented and dedicated employees, and struggling to serve Americans. His assault on environmental protections has left our air, water and wildlife at extreme risk. And then there’s the damage that can’t be seen: the effects of his relentless vandalizing of our nation’s values, our sense of decorum and our unity.

Now comes the shutdown, the result of Trump’s 180 on a deal that would have kept the government open. Trump’s insistence on funding for his ridiculous and ineffective border wall is his latest assault on responsible governing.

The effects go way beyond heaps of trash at parks and locked doors at museums. Federal funding has been cut off for food assistance programs for women, children, infants and people living on Native American reservations, meaning that those programs will end unless there’s state or local funding that can support them. Federal Aviation Administration investigations have been delayed. Entrepreneurs’ startup plans have been disrupted as processing for Small Business Administration loans has been suspended. Scientific research being conducted by the government has been halted as labs have closed.

And then there are effects on the 800,000 furloughed government workers — our fellow Americans, let’s not forget — who are facing anxiety about when they’ll get their next check.

The list goes on and on.

For the national parks, the shutdown has left volunteers scrambling to do some of the work normally done by federal employees. The fact that those volunteers are doing their best but are being overwhelmed speaks volumes about the importance of those idled workers.

“I feel really proud when I see how much our community cares about the park, and how willing people are to do some pretty gross, dirty work to protect it. But we shouldn’t have to,” wrote Sabra Purdy, a volunteer at Joshua Tree National Park, in a guest column in The Washington Post. “And the excitement to pitch in during the first few days might not last if this drags out for three weeks, or longer, with no resolution on the horizon. This isn’t sustainable. The campgrounds were closed down on New Year’s Day, and if this continues, the park may shut down entirely.”

Calls to volunteer organizations for protected areas in Southern Nevada weren’t immediately returned — hardly a surprise, given that the offices are either closed or volunteers are busy at work — so it’s unclear what the situation is like locally.

But at this juncture, all we can do is hope our parks and national monuments aren’t too badly damaged by this pointless shutdown.

The same is true for the rest of the rolling damage of Trump’s infantile brinkmanship. Just like the park volunteers defending our parks, across America doubtlessly there are families, communities, nonprofits and churches pitching in to fill critical gaps caused by a president who has shut down the government simply out of fear of blowback from right-wing radio talk show hosts and a handful of TV commentators.

That’s how low this presidency has sunken: It is something that patriotic citizens are banding together to survive and to limit the damage of a cowardly occupant of the Oval Office.

The good news is that the incoming Democratic majority in the House is making it a top priority to end the shutdown.

Here’s a hand for them, and for the thousands of volunteers who are doing their best to protect the parks. For accepting the responsibility that Trump and congressional Republican leaders have abdicated, they deserve all the praise and support we can give them.

Cleaning up Trump’s colossal mess won’t be easy. But whether it’s at the ballot box or at a national park, Americans are already working to clean it up.