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Witcover: Trump's contempt for his job was evident in shutdown threat

Every American president's responsibility is to see that the government in his care runs smoothly and continuously.

Consider, then, Donald Trump's blatant declaration in his White House meeting last week with the Democratic congressional leaders: "I am proud to shut down the government for border security." This may be the most telling and irresponsible utterance yet from this man so unfit for the office he holds.

In the face of the Dec. 21 deadline for a partial shutdown that would send home about one-third of the federal workforce just before Christmas, Mr. Trump's ultimatum of full funding for his border wall was particularly heartless, as well as unproductive.

In their meeting with Mr. Trump, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and prospective House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear he was not going to get the $5 billion he was demanding for the wall. He ought to settle for the $1.3 billion offered by Democrats, along with a deal on the so-called "dreamers" — immigrants brought to this country without documentation as children, through no volition of their own, who are seeking a path to citizenship.

However, true to form, Mr. Trump doubled down with brass braggadocio, insisting: "I will take the mantle for it, I will be the one to shut it down. Because the people of this country don't want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into this country."

His apparent willingness to take the heat from his critics reflected his confidence that his faithful base will stand by him, which may be so. But no effective government can be run on the fuel of angry followers of a president who incites hate and division on a daily basis.

Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer since have offered funding a quarter of the government on a one-year continuing resolution in the next Congress. Mr. Schumer warned Mr. Trump, however, that "his temper tantrum will get him a shutdown but will not get him the wall."

In Mr. Trump's nearly two years in office, he has treated the presidency as if it were just another business enterprise subject to his avaricious desires and dictatorial dictates. He seems yet unable to grasp the immense change in his own stature beyond the celebrity prism through which he manages his new reality.

Many previous presidents have come into the office with awe and awareness of their need to seek advice and guidance of people with experience and wisdom in government. Not Donald Trump.

As a presidential candidate, his launch pad was a make-believe television employment agency. His political education was a series of rowdy campaign rallies designed to pump him up beyond even his own bizarre self-assessment of greatness, orchestrated by ambitious political hacks.

It should not have been surprising, after Mr. Trump's election, that his White House staff and his Cabinet would be populated by unqualified cronies, recently acquired political second-raters or, worst of all, veteran collaborators in financial corruption, not to mention a family member or two.

Mr. Trump himself soon demonstrated his gross unfamiliarity with the complicated workings of the executive or legislative branches with whom he would be required to deal to achieve any major domestic or foreign policy goals.

In foreign policy particularly, he had only self-serving business objectives to involve and guide him. He plunged in on global challenges as if he were still the self-styled master of the art of the deal, with the security of the world itself at stake.

His abysmal ignorance has already taken a toll on the great Western alliance of nations that emerged from the calamity of World War II and brought stability out of the ensuing Cold War against communism.

Such are the dimensions of the harm wrought by the Trump presidency in less than two years, while failing to make even a beginning on the huge task of providing the responsible governing of the great nation he boasted he would make even greater.

Some leading Republicans are starting to see the political peril for the GOP in such neglect. According to Sen. John Thune of South Dakota: "No Senate Republican wants to see a shutdown. ... Obviously, we have no intention of having a government shutdown."

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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