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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

The shutdown may be over but the battle for the US continues

America's race problem is at the heart of much of the debate around the recent government shutdown

The Statue of Liberty is seen after the re-opening. New York State will pay $65,000 a day out of its tourism budget to keep both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island open during the federal government shutdown. TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP
The Statue of Liberty is seen after the re-opening. New York State will pay $65,000 a day out of its tourism budget to keep both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island open during the federal government shutdown. TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP

As the US government shutdown took effect on Friday night amid congressional squabbling, the sun was setting over the Statue of Liberty. On Sunday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo promised emergency state funds to keep the monument open, a day before the shutdown was officially broken. Historically a focal point for immigrants, the dash to keep the statue open had been deeply symbolic. This is because the shutdown was about far more than funding. At its crux was an intractable battle for American identity. One side – which includes Donald Trump himself – views the United States as inherently Caucasian, and therefore under siege. The other does not. Recent developments in American politics appear to give the former the upper hand.

On January 11, a small group of senators announced a skeleton bipartisan deal to keep the government open, exchanging protection for the Dreamers – some 690,000 immigrants brought illegally as children and granted amnesty by Obama’s Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals programme – for stronger border security. Although Republicans have consistently slated Daca, things were looking up. Just hours later, Mr Trump had killed the deal, grumbling about immigrants from Haiti and Africa. With no progress on Daca, the government shut down for three days. Short-term funding was agreed yesterday, with Democrats insisting on a vote to renew protection for the Dreamers. For now, their future is precarious.

Race casts a long shadow over American politics. In the 1988 presidential contest, George HW Bush triumphed over Michael Dukakis, insisting that his Democratic contender had given weekend passes to convicted murderer Willie Horton, who went on to commit more crimes. A picture of Horton – who is African American – appeared on televisions across the nation, sparking fear and racial tension. When Mr Trump called Mexicans “rapists” and proposed a racially motivated travel ban nearly 30 years later, he was rewarded by the voting public. Following the shutdown, he tweeted: “Democrats are far more concerned with illegal immigrants than they are with our great military or safety at our southern border.” It appears Mr Trump has chosen his side in the battle for American identity.

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