Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 2, 2019
New Year’s greetings came with the government still shut down over the Wall issue and no positive signs of a breakthrough in sight. So, news of a joint briefing session today at the White House took on more than usual significance.
Until now, we’ve seen a tightening of positions for and against a Wall itself, confusion over what a “wall” means in terms of construction, and a seeming abandonment by Senate Republicans about voting on anything that the President Trump does not approve in advance.
Actually, it seems that January 1 arrived burdened by the word “uncertainty” if not words that highlighted incompetence or an inability to plan.
Effective government is uncertain, the markets are extremely uncertain, the hanging outcome of the special counsel investigation are uncertain, who is left to advise the President is uncertain. So too, the prospects for the many Democrats beginning to squabble are as uncertain as the direction of Trump White House policies. Our international alliances are seen as suddenly uncertain, as well as unhelpful pushes from foes like North Korea and Russia. The year-long economic prospects in the United States and the world all are being described in uncertain prospects.
Indeed, the uncertainty feels palpable and personal. In lots of personal conversations, this global uncertainty seems to have many of us individually wondering about our own security, well-being and anxiety about the months ahead that seems different from in other new years.
The only thing that seems certain is that the political rhetoric of disagreement is growing more and more coarse. Just yesterday, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-AL, said Democrats have “blood on their hands” for not passing money for the proposed border Wall.
From comments to this column about anything touching on a proposed Wall on the southern border are proving futile to persuasion. For me, the question primarily has been whether choosing a Wall is the correct tool for the job at hand — including how a discussion about $1 billion or $5 billion will pay for a $40-billion Wall.
From the data, are we trying to solve the right problem? Simply put, believers say yes, and critics, no.
Yes, we all understand that Trump and supporters feel it to be a necessary response to growing illegal immigration (and smuggling of drugs, disease and criminals) to such a degree that they are willing to put up with the excesses of split families and even the death of a few migrant children to end illegal entry into this country. And we get that Democrats are standing firm against the idea of a Wall, while insisting that they do support other human and technological responses to border security.
To a real extent, this Washington stand-off is based on clashing concepts more than on factually based policy discussions about construction, effectiveness, finances or the moral basis for a Wall. It is frustrating to watch from afar as politicians refuse to find a way to talk with one another.
In pursuit of his tweet campaign to win public support, Trump even said that former president Barack Obama has constructed a 10-foot wall around his own Washington home. The Washington Postsaid that does not appear to be true, noting that the house is visible from the street.
Michael Gerson, a thoughtful columnist, took on the Wall specifically as political metaphor rather than as a practical barrierover 2,000 miles that is a pastiche of public and private properties with varying physical obstacles to construction. The partial government shutdown, he argues, shuts down the federal government with the goal of constructing a continent-long wall of dubious utility that will require (by one estimate) three times the concrete poured in building the Hoover Dam.”
“This is the strange case of a political metaphor slipping off the page and trying to break into reality,” said Gerson. “As a policy proposal, the wall is already a disaster. Candidate Trump pledged, again and again, that he would construct a physical wall along America’s 2,000-mile southern border, with Mexico footing the bill. Every element of that promise has been revealed as deceptive or impossible.”
At best, presidential defenders now say the Wall is a code word for better border security.
Gerson argues: “By the standard of improved security, Trump’s plan is, at best, half-baked. A recent Government Accountability Office report warned of the possibility of massive waste because the administration’s border plans are so undeveloped. A proposal that may eventually cost $40 billion (in an estimate by MIT engineers) has been shaped more by the president’s political instincts than by serious study of alternatives.
“Agents in the field overwhelmingly request better technology and more personnel rather than longer and higher border barriers. Trump has ascribed to the wall almost magical powers to fight murder, prevent gang activity and reduce opioid abuse. Never mind that violent crime rates among migrants are significantly lowerthan among the native-born. A barrier of the type that Trump embraces would not even address more routine problems. Smugglers are talented in finding ways above and below static barriers. They are effective in outsmarting officials at overwhelmed checkpoints. And one of the largest sources of illegal migration — outstayed visas — has nothing to do with a wall.”
“Even as a political metaphor, the wall is badly lacking. It is the symbol of a political movement that has left liberty, inclusion and optimism behind it. Trumpism cultivates public fears to increase the role and power of the state. It locates national strength not in the character of a people but in the actions of an empowered leader. This is not even in the general category of conservatism,” said Gerson.
For sure, we often see photographs of people climbing existing walls. Maybe people leap over metaphorical walls.
To me, the conceptual Wall represents only more uncertainty.