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A Standoff Without Creativity

Terry H. Schwadron

Jan. 11, 2019

I’ve been struck each day during this irritating stalemate by the numbing inability of the President and the Democratic leaders, all of whom credit themselves with their ability to negotiate deals, to craft their way through this knot. They are totally flummoxed about dealing with each other.

What is missing is imagination. They are actively stomping on creative thought.

Setting aside that there remain fundamental disagreements here about what constitutes a Wall, or what defines a “crisis,” or what any of these people mean by “cooperation,” what we have here is a big, fat tantrum that insists that each player must be totally victorious, period.

What we expect from our elected leaders is to work through their differences and to come up with a plan forward — and not to leave 800,000 federal employees hanging.

The standoff leaves us with the now-clear probability that the president unwisely will claim emergency powers to bulldoze his way over Democrats and a growing number of Republicans in Congress towards a Wall that mostly only he wants.

It seems patently obvious that successful negotiation depends on re-thinking a focused problem by looking at its larger context. By doing so, and looking at the whole of the immigration issue, certainly there is enough material to fashion a negotiation around finding a way for all sides to take away enough to feel that the original argument is worthwhile. The job, as Sen. Mitt Romney, R-UT, said last week is to devise a route that appears to make everyone feel a winner.

Democrats certainly want a positive outcome for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) residents, those millions brought in the past as migrant children. Democrats want a more humane response to treatment of the hundreds of thousands in the United States who came here “temporarily” after war or hurricane in their home countries. Democrats, on the whole, favor an atmosphere in which amnesty is a protected process, in which families are not separated or at least accounted for when they are, where there is a generally agreed-upon preservation of H-1 and other worker visas and in which there is a road to naturalization and acceptance, however constructed.

The Trump administration wants the opposite on most of those items, possibly excepting DACA. Trump has insisted on stopping family “chain migration,” the end of “catch and release” policies, serious limitations on asylum and even on legal immigration.

But when viewed in its largest context, the Wall can be reduced as a single point of dispute in a discussion about what our goals are in immigration policy and national security.

The President’s chosen negotiation style seems to have come down to repeating in ever-louder language the same words over and over, hoping somehow that repetition results in persuasion. Maybe the Art of the Deal never included listening to the other person.

The Democrats’ chosen style seems to be both anti-whatever Trump wants and symbolism rather than practicalities. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer may wish that the Statue of Liberty still stands as the country’s enduring symbol more than a Wall, but the realities of the anti-immigrant bias that runs through American society suggests otherwise. With 700 miles already in place of wall and fencing, our deeds belie our utterances in this regard.

Alternatively, the sides could focus in, mile by mile, about what the most appropriate defense might be. A Wall might apply in specific situations. NBC News yesterday showed sections of steel fencing of the type being promoted that has climbable holes from a normal hardware-store electric saw, further undermining the “impenetrability” of a wall.

In response, Trump started talking about a new massive caravan forming — hurricane-like — in Honduras.

But silly me, that assumes that we actually have a real problem on the border and that the sides are trying to address it. Instead, of course, the participants are busy defending slogans and their own party re-elections.

Under any of this, however, it makes absolutely no sense to keep federal employees out of work or forcing work without pay. It makes even less sense to threaten aid programs, including food stamp aid.

On the immigration front alone, the building TSA work-without-pay protests raise serious question about whether furloughs and forced work assignments with no pay threaten directly our national security. The amnesty program is not at work, and the immigration backlog is growing daily. We still don’t know how to reconnect migrant kids with their parents, whether already deported or not.

Throughout the economy, various industries are reporting in that 20 days of government shutdown are taking a toll.

Whoever in the White House is responsible for those helpful tips to furloughed workers about offering landlords barter work in lieu of rent, or suggesting to Coast Guardsmen to consider baby-sitting gigs and pet-walking to defray costs rising with each unpaid day, that person should be fired immediately for tone-deafness.

Whoever is advising the president to claim a “humanitarian” crisis on the border without referring to how our government cannot count or track separated migrant children should be dumped.

The president’s taking to the national air waves this week was a failure in persuasion. It changed absolutely no minds. His babyish decision literally to walk away changed exactly nothing. The Democrats’ wooden repetition of “no wall” likewise may indicate government al strength, but moves no one closer to a compromise.

My call: Make America Imaginative Again, and dig us out of a hole.


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