A couple of recent news items, the first from PBS: “Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, said Democrats will not fund Trump’s ‘immoral, ineffective and expensive wall.’”
And from The Hill: “Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in an interview Sunday knocked President Trump’s proposed border wall, saying that Democrats will not spend money on a ‘fourth century strategy’ as a partial government shutdown stretches into its second day.”
Of those two comments, Democrats should be pounding the table with Merkley’s point, complete with its evocation of a “fourth century” scene involving barbarians clad in beaver pelts storming a walled city, inside of which frightened residents are hurling rocks and sending crude fireballs reigning down upon the alien invaders.
What Democrats should do without, however, is even the faintest suggestion that any type of border security is about “immorality,” as Pelosi spokesperson Hammill suggests in the first of his three adjectives deriding Trump’s wall idea.
Wanting border security is itself not “immoral,” and it is both a strategic and a logical error for Democrats to even vaguely frame it as such.
One of the few things Trump has said during his tenure that contained a whiff of basic sense was in a tweet from July of 2015, as he began issuing executive orders trying to get his ill-considered wall idea (that Mexico was “absolutely” going to pay for) off the ground:
“A nation without borders is no nation at all.”
This point is simple and virtually inarguable in and of itself. While many aspects of Trump’s border policy have been immoral—the family separation travesty topping the list as especially vicious—it is a mistake for Democrats to be associated in any way with the idea that a desire for border security as such is somehow “immoral.”
Instead, they should be separating themselves by several country miles from any suggestion that they themselves are not stout defenders of border security.
Democrats seem to make a habit of allowing themselves to be painted into corners as extremists who are for open borders, free everything without regard or explanation for how everything will be paid for, and for peace among nations that takes too little account of just how malevolent much of the world has always been and will always be, if history is any guide.
Those latter two points are food for discussion on another day and post, but here’s what they should be saying about President Trump’s border wall:
While the United States is well-known and almost universally lauded as a land of immigrants and a beacon of freedom to oppressed peoples everywhere, no nation can long survive with porous borders. Clearly, our immigration system is broken, causing widespread misery, fear, expense and confusion among all parties, from would-be immigrants themselves to enforcement professionals and residents all along our thousands of miles of border.
The Democratic Party is second to neither President Trump nor anyone else in our desire for a strong and meaningful border that discourages illegal immigration, ensures our country’s own economic solvency by welcoming the energy and ambition of the new residents and workers we so desperately need, and honors our own values as a nation committed always to human dignity and rational problem-solving.
So our argument with President Trump is not about whether we should have border security. It’s about how we go about achieving it. And in this matter, we join with the vast majority of analysts and security professionals worldwide who cite a large wall as an ineffective means of keeping borders secure.
The futility of a wall is not a partisan issue. Democrats in the House and Senate join with a great number of our Republican colleagues who, in their more candid moments, admit that a massive wall is a profound waste of money that could be put to far better use with a comprehensive set of measures that would also include legislation on immigration reform.
Many of our Republican colleagues are simply (and understandably) concerned that opposing President Trump in his seeming obsession with building a wall may have dire political consequences for them. But if a sufficient number of them become convinced that opposing a wall while also signing onto effective and cost-efficient border security is not only the right thing to do but also, according to recent polls, has widespread backing from the American people, then we can move toward a truly bi-partisan solution.
Comprehensive immigration reform and true border security will benefit everyone—except, perhaps, for President Trump, whose proposal for a massive wall reflects the values and technologies of the fourth century rather than our own time. A wall speaks not so much to a true desire for border security as it does the president’s naked political calculations and perhaps complex psychological factors we will leave to mental health professionals to address as they will.
For our own purposes and for the good of the nation and the neighbors with whom we share our borders, we will simply state again our unequivocal desire for strong border security that is cost-effective and reflects the needs and best values of our nation. We look forward to achieving those laudable, bi-partisan objectives in concert with our colleagues across the aisle.
Meanwhile, from one side of the existing wall to the other …
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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
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View of San Diego from Tijuana by Nathan Gibbs, San Diego, https://www.flickr.com/photos/nathangibbs/
I totally agree with your suggested Dem approach – will you be sending it to your own Congressperson/Senator? I do not mean that glibly – I think it would be a good thing to send. Or to Nancy Pelosi. (maybe she is your CA Rep?)
By the way, I think there are too few references to the (French WWII) Maginot Line in current discussions about this great wall….I’d put in a great set of memes here but can’t!
Thanks for putting your mind to this, Andrew.
Thanks very much, Jeanette, Pelosi is down the Highway 101 from me a bit, so my rep is Mike Thompson (progressive, ex-military, slightly centrist; he’ll have lifetime tenure if he wants it). I may take you up on your suggestion and send it to both. Meanwhile, if you’d fill in a touch or two about your thinking on the Maginot Line, I bet I’m not the only one who’d be interested!
Let me echo what Jeanette says. What you’ve written here, Andrew, is too good to stay here.
I’m sending it to my Independent Senator Angus King and my newly elected Democratic Rep. Jared Golden (first congressman ever elected via ranked-choice voting, but that’s another story) and maybe even to our supposedly moderate, supposedly moral-high-road heartbreak of a Republican Senator Susan Collins.
Thanks for doing the hard work on this for the rest of us.
Was my pleasure, David, though this came from more like a fever—tumbling out through a long morning after I realized I’d been thinking about it through various bits of reading over the weeks/months/years this wall idea has been propagated. I also want to say I admire your faithfulness in overtly lobbying your representatives rather than just complaining about them over coffee with your friends or to the cat or plants in the room with you! Democracy doesn’t get much more basic than that, so I will be following your & Jeanette’s advice to include my own representatives in this and other missives discussing matters of public concern. Thanks for the prompt and other thoughts you share here—they do make a difference.
Do I remember reading somewhere that the whole “build a wall” idea was something Candidate Trump threw out spontaneously during a stump speech? It got a huge, visceral reaction from his audience–and thus policy was born? Set me straight if anyone knows better…
Julie, I poked around a while and the earliest mention of a Trumpian wall I could find was cited in this New York Times article…https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/us/politics/trump-border-wall-immigration.html …from a Trump tweet on August 5, 2014: “SECURE THE BORDER! BUILD A WALL!”
A later Huffington Post timeline cites the first campaign stop mention on June 16, 2015, with the Post then going on to write, “June 2015 – November 2016: Rile up the crowds! Trump with frightening regularity uses a call and response with his crowds to reinforce his promise to build a wall and vilify immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America.” That article is here: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trumps-border-wall-an-annotated-timeline_us_58b5f363e4b02f3f81e44d7b.
Thanks for chiming in on this!
Thank you, Andrew. In his manipulation of public sentiment, DJT displays a weird genius. His silent-but-appalled supporters and his opponents underestimate him at their/our peril.
When Obama unveiled his ACA, he failed to describe it in a way that most Americans could understand. Too many people just didn’t get how the whole health plan was supposed to work. The Dems are faced with a similar dilemma now in defining exactly what their “border security” blueprint entails. For example, the cost of building a wall from Arizona to the Rio Grande will cost “x” amount of dollars. What would be 3X less expensive and 10X more effective would be A, B, and C. It must be simply stated and repeated often. The Dems must frame their “No Wall” around a concrete alternative that most Americans can understand and accept.
Aye-aye on that, Robert; you have put your finger on one of my greatest frustrations with the Democratic Party, food for a much longer and more varied discussion, no doubt. Others within the party have certainly said it, but it needs constant refrain: What is their concrete, point-by-point alternative to the wall, with funds better spent on much better outcomes?
Same goes for a host of other issues, whether pocketbook, environmental, international: It’s inadequate to simply be against Trump and McConnell, et al. What specific things would the Dems propose to do differently, and how will those things make our nation better, more secure and prosperous? Rinse and repeat, in simple-but-dignified language (in stark contrast to our current bully-in-chief).
It can be done, and it had better be if we want to remove Trump from office in two more no-doubt arduous years!
Spot on, Drew. I fully support Jeannette’s suggestion and David’s second that your manifesto ought to land in the hands of a Senator or Rep, or a national publication, or a network. And it would be helpful to weave in Robert Spencer’s comment about the economics and efficacy quotient as well.
Nicely done, my friend.