For 30 years I was a part time kremlinologist, trying to understand what Soviet leaders — who made decisions in back rooms, without reporters — were up to.
Observers had to read official handouts and party-lining newspapers (like Правда, which I read for 29 painful years), and draw inferences from what was said and unsaid.
We also noted who stood near the current leader — the Communist Party's General Secretary — atop Lenin's tomb during Red Square ceremonies. Proximity suggested whose stock was rising or falling.
The kremlinology skills I developed now help me try to figure out what's going on in the White House. Unlike the Soviet Kremlin, today's White House is constantly probed by reporters, and staffers are constantly "leaking." Even so, Donald Trump's decision-making remains a mystery, forcing observers to infer what is going on.
We recently learned how Trump got the idea for a wall.
Political consultants — knowing nothing about border security — recommended that he mentally picture a wall as a "mnemonic device" reminding him to mention border problems during campaign appearances. They thought he needed help in remembering to do this.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line Trump began to take the idea literally.
The problem is that an expensive wall won't address the problem.
Most people here illegally enter legally and overstay their permission. There are also many ways that people can go over, under, or around a wall, making it a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Repudiating his agreement to support a bipartisan compromise, Trump decided to demand billions for the useless wall before he will allow a quarter of the government to reopen.
He changed his mind after Fox News criticized his "sellout." Some observers think this predictable criticism scared him off, but I doubt that this really explains his flip-flop. Trump does not scare easily.
More likely one or two key advisers got to him, fast-talking and flattering him into thinking he had sold out too cheaply to Congress. My best guess is that the adviser who brought him around was Steven Miller, well known as an extreme hard liner on immigration.
Mr. Trump likes to rely on his instincts. Here his initial instincts would have served him better than the second thoughts prompted, presumably, by Miller.
Hanging tough on the wall will bring Mr. Trump — not to mention the country — a lot of grief. The damage done by the shut down will be widely reported. Some government employees, unable to pay rent or mortgage, will be losing their homes.
Some will be unable to pay their medical bills or children's tuition, and many will have to turn to food pantries or food stamps (which will be unavailable for anyone if the cash runs out before a new budget is passed).
Additional harm will be caused by work not getting done because of the layoffs: accidents not investigated, trash uncollected, economic statistics needed by policy makers not getting compiled, tax cheats not being audited, tax refunds not sent out.
Those laid off were not deemed "essential," but they all performed useful services.
Essential workers like those at the TSA, ordered to continue working without being currently paid, are starting to call in "sick." This illness could be contagious. If airport security lines clog up, Mr. Trump, who proclaimed he would gladly take credit for the shutdown, may regret listening to an extremist like Steven Miller.
The shutdown isn't even saving money. When it finally ends — perhaps after President Trump packs Miller off to work for some reactionary think tank — all the government workers will get paid retroactively for the period of the shutdown. This will be only fair, since the shutdown was not their fault. But taxpayers will have paid those laid off without benefiting from work that they would have done during this period.
Economists estimate that the GDP will take a hit, as government workers reduce expenditures during the emergency. Therefore tax collections — once the IRS is back on the air — will be reduced and the national debt thereby increased.
Ronald Reagan famously said in 1981 that "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem." Doctrinaires have yanked Reagan's statement out of the context in which he was speaking to suggest that less government is always better. We are now testing this claim.
As the partial shutdown demonstrates, government inaction can cause many problems.
One can hope that Mr. Trump's initial instincts on this matter will reassert themselves, that he will revert to his original agreement to open the government, and that he will send Mr. Miller packing.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.