Archived Opinion

Hard-line conservatives own this shutdown

Hard-line conservatives own this shutdown

“I think it’s the right thing to do as much as we use the park and as free as this is. It’s one of the few there’s no charge. I don’t mind giving back. It’s a beautiful park. It’s ours — I take care of my house, I’ll take care of the park.”

— Mike Walker of Franklin, a frequent Great Smoky Mountains National Park user, who was picking up trash near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center during the shutdown.

It is bringing out the best in some and the worst in others. I’m talking about the government shutdown.

Come this Friday, around 800,000 federal workers won’t get a paycheck, which means many won’t be able to pay their bills. That’s everyone from Secret Service agents and federal prison guards who daily put their lives on the line to rangers in our national parks.

Visitors to the national park that is the crown jewel of our tourism industry in Western North Carolina will continue to flood into its boundaries. They’ll break park rules, leave trash where it doesn’t belong and perhaps take risks they wouldn’t if there were rangers around to provide guidance. It’s a precarious situation, deciding to leave the park open, but mostly un-staffed.

And all because of a manufactured crisis about border security by President Donald Trump and the inability of those in Congress to come to an agreement on funding the government.

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When our reporter Holly Kays visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last week to report on the shutdown’s effects, she witnessed visitors petting a female elk who was sitting near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Those of us who report on the park know that a female elk can weigh up to 500 pounds and be dangerous if provoked. Neither children nor adults should be anywhere near these wild animals, as a passive posture can suddenly and without warning turn dangerous.

There are so many aspects of this shutdown that are just maddening. Trump and his media cohorts began orchestrating this during the campaign back in October and November. That’s when the totally sensationalized story about the “caravan” of illegals heading to the southern border became Trump’s and the conservative media’s obsession.

Now, two months after losing the House to Democrats, many conservative leaders have encouraged Trump to stand firm in demanding funding for his border wall. Our own Rep. Mark Meadows — instrumental in the 2013 government shutdown — once again is playing a key role. 

A temporary compromise spending bill had passed the Senate — a bill without wall funding — and House GOP leaders were twisting arms to get a similar bill passed in the House before Democrats took over in January. Meadows, according to various media outlets, called Trump and encouraged told him to stand firm and not sign any bill that did not have funding for the wall. Trump at one point was reportedly ready to sign and end the shutdown. But the sycophants like Meadows swayed him, and Trump once again showed that his backbone is made of jelly.

And here we are nearly three weeks later. Not to mention that Meadows also said that going without pay is something federal workers sign up for. “It’s actually part of what you do when you sign up for any public service position,” Meadows told reporters as the shutdown was beginning. “It’s not lost on me in terms of the potential hardship. At the same time, they know that they would be required to work.”

Meadows may believe that, but I don’t think most Americans agree. Some have argued that perhaps this is the last gasp for hard-line conservatives like Meadows, who will certainly lose their clout as Democrats take control in the House and try to work with the moderate side of the GOP to move bills through a divided Congress. Meadows and his Freedom Caucus colleagues will be on the outside looking in.

This shutdown is on Trump, Meadows and all the other hard-liners who think a wall is some kind of panacea for immigrations problems that have bedeviled this country for decades. Wall funding won’t solve the problems and, hopefully, it won’t pass Congress.

Meanwhile, we have people like Mike Walker. He loves his national park. He and hundreds of other volunteers and many nonprofits are expending money, energy and planning time to protect our national treasures. In the best of times, they would be an inspiration to the clowns in Washington. But right now is certainly not the best of times for this country.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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