Government Shutdown

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., pose for photographers after speaking on Capitol Hill in response President Donald Trump's prime-time address on border security, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

I don’t remember when I first saw the painting “American Gothic” — the one that depicts a 19th or early 20th century farming couple standing stiffly, side by side, with a pitchfork upright between them — sort of like a pike held at the ready to ward off any change affecting their treasured if impoverished life.

Both appear anxious to retreat into their modest home and perhaps partake of a cold lunch consisting of crusts of bread lathered with calve’s foot jelly.

Life was simpler then. Before TV. Before so many “nattering nabobs of negativity” interrupting one’s established routine.

I immediately thought of the painting the moment I saw Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer give their response to President Donald Trump’s Oval Office pitch for $5.7 billion to begin securing our largely open southern border.

The two stood stiffly, side by side, just like the American Gothic couple in the painting (though without the pitchfork) as they delivered their brief but pointed rejection of Trump’s demands. (I should say here that at least one TV news network picked up on the American Gothic angle, but I herewith declare I did it first.)

Speaker Pelosi in her Gothic moment had a weird, wide-eyed and frozen look, as if she feared her makeup was about to run like a pair of old silk stockings (not that she ever would wear anything old). Schumer seemed to be repeatedly asking himself: “What the hell am I doing here without a script?” Reading from a script is what the Democratic minority leader does relatively well. He’s not so swift at impromptu.

Whatever it was about Chuck and Nancy, they had to know they likely would not be making many points with Middle America, much less the 800,000 or so federal employees marking time during the partial government shutdown.

Both Schumer and Pelosi have been caught on video vigorously supporting border security during the Obama administration. This has been and will be dusted off many times by their political opponents so long as the border battle rages. Both voted for $25 billion or more for the wall that Speaker Pelosi now calls “immoral.”

But that was then and this is now. Both appear to have taken a blood oath not to approve of anything Trump proposes, so great is their evident disappointment over the outcome of the 2016 election.

They doubtless feel in their hearts that the Trump campaign’s unsubstantiated collusion with the Russians is what unjustly kept Hillary Clinton from taking her turn in the Oval Office, behind the Resolute Desk.

Unless an agreement is reached with House Democrats who think funding Trump’s wall would be a waste of money, there are several options the president can take to strengthen the border: He could declare a national emergency and reprogram Defense Department funds to build a wall, a fence, apply advanced technology, or whatever.

He could use his power as commander-in-chief to give the armed forces the job, working in tandem with the Border Patrol and ICE. I know of no constitutional prohibition for his doing this.

How could ensuring the territorial integrity of our borders not be in the national interest and not constitute a legitimate use of armed force?

How could it not be, when we have repeatedly throughout recent history sent our soldiers, sailors and Marines, without a formal declaration of war, to the far corners of the world to defend the territorial integrity of foreign countries?

Why would he have to declare a national emergency, when none of his recent predecessors in office have felt the necessity to do so?

R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.