Local residents share their thoughts and concerns about the recent government shutdown

Adin Gold, Noelle Adamo, Mathew Swerdloff and Marcelina Martynek. (photos by TerenceP Ward)

Late last month, the longest shutdown in U.S. government history was ended when congressional leaders negotiated a three-week deal to reopen all offices while trying to negotiate a settlement over the proposed border wall. While it’s been in the news and a topic in political corners of the internet, the impacts of such a shutdown are otherwise not always obvious. To gauge perceptions about the closure, several locals and area visitors were asked what they thought about the cessation of operations and the related political theater.

“Everybody feels they’ve been affected,” said Gardiner resident Zac Howell. With a voice oozing sarcasm, he referenced a campaign slogan of Donald Trump when he added, “It’s awesome, bringing arrogance and selfishness back to make America great again.” The president, Howell believes, is known for talking trash about the very people who support him. “I hope I can become rich and do the same things,” he said.

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“I was not personally, tangibly affected,” said Mathew Swerdloff, but for being unable to book a campground for a planned summer trip. However, the “emotional drama and stories of people impacted directly” did weigh on him. “It’s really so much unnecessary suffering,” which he found “hard to witness.”

Mandi Bonney and Jamie Acheson.

Jamie Acheson, a recent college graduate, has experienced “no direct impact” but has largely been stunned by the scale of this shutdown. “It was so long that I forgot for a few days that the government was even shut down, and then remembered again.” The fact that “Twitter is on fire” helped him recall and then feel “ashamed” about how the situation reflects on all Americans.

Knowledge of the shutdown is a “low-level, pervasive thing,” said Howell, who added that he believes students in particular have been “tweaked” by the situation. Focus on a political battle over a border barrier has resulted in the neglect of issues such as health care and failing infrastructure, he also said.

New Paltz resident Aaron Rudder also sees the issue as a “political play,” and one he feels was unnecessary since there was a “deal on the table” to avoid it by pairing border security funds with preservation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). “800,000 federal workers [were] in a really rough spot,” he said; while they will receive back pay, they didn’t get checks for those 35 days although some of them were required to work regardless.”

“Why do your job for weeks without pay?” Rudder asked. “It’s possibly civic duty, but at some point primal survival instinct is going to kick in. The bills need to be paid.” He added that “the workers always pay the price.”

Marcelina Martynek experienced one aspect of the shutdown firsthand: after her first flight to the area was cancelled, her eventual arrival on a rerouted trip was delayed by an hour of circling the airport while the pilot awaited clearance to land. “We were told it wasn’t dangerous,” she said, but her understanding was that long lines were the result of a massive amount of sick calls and no-shows among air-traffic controllers.

Something similar happened to a cousin of Alana Florencio-Wayne, a New Paltz high school student. She said that in the halls of that secondary school a “lot of conversation” was sparked by the shutdown; in her view it affirmed “how selfish Trump is,” as well as how divided the people of the United States are. Florencio-Wayne also has family members and friends who work in the federal government, she said.

While Martynek circled in the air that day, her ride, Adin Gold, circled in his car while waiting for the flight to land at LaGuardia. He said that in addition to the amount of time wasted by him and others, he wondered about the economic and environmental impact of all the auto and jet fuel burned during such delays.

Talk of the environment prompted Martynek to recall reports that the problems in national parks extended beyond the inability to make reservations. With no workers present, trash piled up and vandalism occurred; there have even been reports of deaths at parks during the shutdown.

Swerdloff said one aspect he found frustrating was the “utter, callous indifference” on the part of administration officials to the plight of workers and others affected; the public face which Trump supporters might characterize as being stalwart or tough in the face of opposition was to Swerdloff “even more painful” because there was “no practical, useful reason” for the shutdown to begin with, he believes. This shutdown is remarkable just for its length, but also for its “casualness,” he said.

Instead of “callous,” college student Mandi Bonney suggested that the stalemate was evidence of immaturity. “I’ll hold my breath until you give me that ice-cream cone,” she said to describe her view on the president’s standing firm. One of her peers lost an internship on the verge of graduation, because the funding was impacted by the shutdown.

To Acheson, the fight over a border barrier reminds him of how Adolf Hitler made Jews the scapegoat for German problems; he said that the president is “manufacturing a crisis” to advance “his own racism.” In this case, problems caused by the nation’s concentration of wealth are being blamed on poor foreigners seeking entry. “It’s detracting from the actual issues.”

Florencio-Wayne said that the sense around the high school is that the shutdown was “insanity;” she also called it both “unfair” and “not just.” While she acknowledged that a few of her classmates were in support of the effort, most students and teachers she spoke with thought the effort to build a border wall “ridiculous.” However, she admitted that finding the “right solution is . . . difficult,” but a physical barrier, she believes, is not the one. She is hopeful the negotiations will yield an extension for DACA.

The idea of a border wall or other barrier is puzzling to some for what they see as practical reasons. Howell observed that with “a $300 ladder, or a wire cutter” it could easily be overcome.

Bonney noted, “Boats exist.”

Simply put, “It’s just a stupid idea, politically and ecologically,” said Acheson.

On the brighter side, Bonney pointed to stories of good deeds during the shutdown: federal workers being offered free food and other assistance while they weren’t receiving pay.

One thing which Swerdloff recognized is that despite there being a majority opposed to the reasons for the shutdown locally, “this is not the country,” and that living in such a “bubble” can skew perceptions. What’s needed is to acknowledge the many strident backers of the president and his policies, he said, and a serious effort toward conflict resolution. “I don’t have to make space” for different ideas while living in New Paltz because “people agree here, and we need to remember that.”

Bonney does remember that. “People voted for [Trump] and still support him.” However, she sees that as evidence of a “broken system.”

While it’s more difficult to bump into Trump supporters in New Paltz, as Swerdloff observed, they do exist in this community as well as throughout the country as a whole. How this and future political conflicts play out may well depend upon how much actual dialog occurs, but the rhetoric these days suggests that most people — regardless of political leanings — aren’t ready for much compromise.

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