Domestic Policy

Why Democrats Can’t Support Trump’s Wall

Why don’t the Democrats just give Trump the $5.7 billion he wants to build the Wall in exchange for protection for Dreamers and legislation that keeps families together, makes holding facilities more efficient and humane, provides better access to medical care, and otherwise relieves the humanitarian crisis on the southern border?

After all, Democrats have a solid, recent history of supporting border security legislation that includes physical barriers.  And $5.7 billion, while a big number, is really just a drop in the overall federal bucket.  Why, all of a sudden, are they drawing a line in the sand and refusing to approve even $1 for the Wall?

Part of the answer is that the Wall, at least the little we know about it, is nothing more than a barely formed concept. The Wall proposal arose not from a rigorous study by security experts or a careful legislative process, but from a campaign slogan, an applause line. We have little if any information about its location, its dimensions, or its potential efficacy. All we know is that Donald Trump’s gut tells him that walls work.

With all due respect to Trump’s gut, for most Americans it’s not a sufficient justification for an expenditure of 5.7 million of their taxpayer dollars.

But even if there were more detail and substance to it, Trump’s Wall would still be unthinkable for most Democrats (and many independents and Republicans) because Trump has framed his demand in terms that make it all but impossible to separate the ugly, racist, xenophobic context of the Wall from the underlying issue of the merits of border barriers.

Stated simply, Democrats can’t support Trump’s Wall without staining themselves with the slime Trump has smeared all over it.

Make no mistake, the physical barriers supported by Democrats and Trump’s Wall are not one and the same. Unless, that is, you think these two proposals describe the same thing:

  1. Shoring up existing physical barriers on the southern border and, where necessary, erecting new ones as part of a larger package to enhance border security and relieve human suffering.  Physical barriers will play a limited role as part of a comprehensive border security package that includes additional, better trained Border Patrol agents, as well as points of entry hardened with up-to-date technology.  The barriers will be placed only in carefully selected locations where nothing else has worked to prevent large numbers of unauthorized crossings, and only where they will be cost effective.  They will vary in design, size and materials according to the specific demands of each site.
  2. Building a colossal Wall between Mexico and the United States to repel a deadly invasion of rapists, killers, drug dealers, gang-bangers and terrorists that Mexico is sending to prey on innocent Americans, especially women and children.  The wall will be paid for, directly or indirectly, by Mexico, whether they like it or not.

The distinction between these two visions is not merely semantic.  It is a distinction with a difference.  It is real.  And it is enormous. 

Trump’s Wall is indelibly stained by his vile character.

Trump’s reverse Midas Touch debases everything he touches, be it the people he drags into his orbit, the norms of presidential behavior, or the distinction between truth and falsity. Border walls are no exception. 

Since there’s no way Democrats can embrace Trump’s Wall without covering themselves in the stink of his racism and xenophobia, it’s going to be up to Trump to find a way out of this.

Because Trump is Trump, that can only happen if he finds a way to declare victory.  This is where Trump’s dishonesty might actually work to the country’s benefit.  In order to declare victory, he doesn’t need a real victory, just something he can pretend is a victory.  He’s already floated three wildly inconsistent trial balloons in search of a talking point for an exit strategy: 

  1. He’s already built the wall;
  2. He can build it by declaring a national emergency; and
  3. He’s made heroic efforts to build the Wall, but he can’t do it alone because only Congress can appropriate the funds.

Nobody really cares which of these talking points Trump adopts. Nobody any more takes him literally or seriously.

But could he please just get on with it.

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