Editorial: The local impacts of a national shutdown

The Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge occupies 187 beautiful acres on Peconic Bay in Noyack, on the South Fork. But an announcement went up on its website recently that the federally owned preserve is shuttered. If you go there to hike, you do so at your own risk.

Jan. 10 is Day 20 of the Trump shutdown. FBI agents whose skills and hard work we depend on — and some 800,000 other federal employees — will not be paid. These workers are going without paychecks because of a dispute over spending what some experts and opponents estimate could be up to $70 billion to build a wall along our border with Mexico. The president says the wall is needed to keep out murderers, rapists and terrorists.

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has echoed the president’s claims. 

“Arms trafficking, sex trafficking, human trafficking, drug trafficking, illegal immigration, transnational gangs like MS-13. This is the moment of truth,” Mr. Zeldin wrote on Twitter Tuesday. He blames the shutdown on Democrats, who he says are “acting as if they have absolute power.” Mr. Zeldin doesn’t specifically use the word “wall” in tweets, but rather describes “border security.”

There’s a difference, of course, and a multi-billion dollar wall doesn’t equal more secure borders. 

The president’s opponents say he is making all this up, as he made up the assertion that former presidents — there are only four — have told him privately they wanted to build the wall when they were in the White House.

Either way, $70 billion for a wall is a staggering amount, especially since it is widely agreed that our bridges, roads and other vital infrastructure — and our education system — are in need of massive investment. Based on student math scores in our schools, we rate around 38th in the world; in science, we’re something like 24th. 

That’s nothing to be proud of. If you want to pick a real emergency and not a made-up one, our children’s test scores certainly qualify — and will affect our country for generations to come. Students in Russia, Estonia and Taiwan are all well ahead of us in math scores.

So far in Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island, we have not seen closures that will seriously impact our lives. No doubt there are federal employees among our neighbors who are not being paid, and who are worried about when this hissy fit over the wall will end. For now, here is what Douglas Ports, director of operations at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, said in an email to us:

“While some Plum Island staff are on a furlough status as a result of the shutdown, all resources required to ensure the safety and security of Plum Island remain intact.”

That’s very good news. But that news could change. 

Demonstrating American exceptionalism in the world requires leaders who are willing to work with others to find common ground and solutions that will better all of our lives. Leaders who mock science, who shut off government when they don’t get their way and who won’t bother to sit at the table with their political adversaries to resolve differences are not working for the good of this country.