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The current shutdown of the U.S. federal government is the longest in its history. It began on December 22, 2018, and at the time of writing (at 28 days), there is no end in sight. The two branches’ disagreement lies ostensibly with border security. President Trump has demanded at least $5 billion to pay for a concrete, sea-to-sea border wall with Mexico. Democrats have offered a compromise of $1.6 billion towards border security, which Trump has rejected. Yet the disagreement is, to some extent, beside the point; the constitutional implications are also pressing. The present government shutdown represents a new step forward to the precipice on which Trump is taking America’s constitutional democracy, which makes it distinctive for reasons not just of duration. First, this shutdown occurs alongside major regressions in America’s constitutional democracy, as Trump continues to reject norms of mutual tolerance and restraint already in jeopardy prior to his appointment. Second, even if the shutdown may be thought to involve intransigent Democrats as well as an intransigent Trump, it is not symmetrical. And finally, the shutdown of government is now bound up in a shrewd escalation by Trump of the constitutional stakes.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. This piece was originally published on January 19, 2019 on Verfassungsblog.