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Shutdown a toxic start to Year Two of Trump presidency

Donald Trump at Capitol Hill. Credit: PA

The US government is now closed for business until further notice.

Astonishing, really. The world’s greatest power - I guess we can still call it that by virtue of its economic and military muscle - has ground to a halt.

The shutdown, triggered at midnight, is the consequence of a political knife-fight over the budget. Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on what spending measures should be in the budget, and whether an immigration deal should be in the package, so they failed to pass one at all.

The result is the first government shutdown in four years. Many government employees won’t be paid; most federal programmes will grind to a halt, benefits for veterans won’t be processed, national parks will be closed, and many other agencies will be paralysed.

With exquisite irony, the political chaos is unfolding on the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration. The man who sold himself to the American people as the greatest deal maker in history is now overseeing paralysis. So much for The Art of the Deal.

The optics are terrible. Republicans are blaming Democrats, with the White House spokeswoman calling them "obstructionist losers".

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But since Republicans control the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House, that would seem an absurd claim.

Perhaps a compromise will be quickly found over the weekend, limiting the collateral damage. But what’s clear this morning is that whoever gets the blame, America is the loser. The country is exposed once again as having a deeply dysfunctional political system.

It’s no surprise the reputation of Congress is in the gutter. It’s no surprise that this system of government is increasingly seen by developing countries as less attractive than more authoritarian models, such as Russia and China.

What a toxic and destructive way to start Year Two of the Trump Presidency.