It occurred to me the other day, watching news shows discussing immigration, that I had never heard anyone refer to Donald Trump’s wall without pejorative adjectives. It’s never The Wall, or even Trump’s wall. It’s always ‘Trump’s stupid wall,’ or ‘Trump’s idiotic wall,’ or ‘Trump’s moronic wall.’ I do it too. When Donald Trump was campaigning for President, one of his big applause lines involved the wall, a big wall he wanted to build between the United States and Mexico. And then he’d add “and Mexico’s gonna pay for it.’ That was never going to happen, of course, but he still wants it, I think out of sheer ego and stubbornness. I’m a liberal; like most liberals, I think it’s dumb, and want Democrats in the Senate to oppose it. When, in the middle of the government shutdown negotiations, Chuck Schumer agreed to fund building the wall, trading it for a clean DACA bill, it felt like a punch in the gut. We have to be against the wall. I mean, don’t we?
In the early New Deal era, British economist John Maynard Keynes came to the US, and Harry Hopkins showed him around. As the story goes, Hopkins showed him a WPA project, in which a whole gang of guys dug ditches with shovels. “See,” Hopkins said, “shovels. It’s a job stimulus project.” “If this is a stimulus project,” Keynes replied, “you should have given them teaspoons.” The point is, to stimulate the economy, there’s value in make-work projects. As long as people are working, and getting paid for it, essentially any job has stimulative value. The wall may be worthless from a policy perspective, but hey, people are getting paid, that money will circulate; it’s a stimulus project. (Then, a year or two later, we can pay other people to take it down! Double stimulus!).
And let’s be honest, Democrats haven’t always opposed building physical barriers on the Mexican border. Hillary Clinton voted for a fence. Other Dems have voted for other ‘border security’ projects. As much as Republicans want to paint Democrats as the pro-illegal-immigration party, no President deported as many undocumented people as Barack Obama did. Pretty much every Democrat running supported some combination of ‘pathway to citizenship’ and ‘secure our borders.’ When thousands of refugees showed up in the US from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, most of them children, the US didn’t exactly welcome them with open arms. I support our country accepting many many more refugees and many many more immigrants, from all over the world. Millions. But mine is not the majority opinion of the Democratic party.
The wall is, let’s be frank, idiotic public policy. First of all, just building it is a logistical nightmare. Much of the border between the US and Mexico is a river. We can’t build a wall in the middle of a river, and we obviously can’t build on the Mexican side. We’re gonna put a big ugly dangerous wall right on the river’s edge? Construction can’t even begin until someone sorts out thousands of eminent domain cases. A lot of the border is inhospitable building terrain. Plus, build a fifteen foot wall, and folks will show up with sixteen foot ladders. Plus, a large percentage of people who are here illegally arrived by plane, and then overstayed their visas. The Trump wall won’t help with that. It’s a stupid, useless idea, expensive and wasteful. The thing it’s meant to accomplish isn’t worth accomplishing, and the wall won’t accomplish it anyway. Bad idea all around.
Immigration is good. The US wants more, not fewer immigrants. Immigrants are an economic plus. It’s way too hard to get a green card, and much much too difficult, after immigrating, to earn American citizenship. The arguments against immigration, and I’ve heard all of them, are either factually wrong, racist, or irrelevant.
Quick tangential drug policy digression: Mexican drug cartels are dangerous, violent and destructive. We need to amend American drug policy to drive them out of business. Right now, what we’re doing about drugs is interdiction; we’re trying to stop drugs from entering the US. In other words, we’re artificially constricting supply of a commodity. Reduce supply, and if demand stays constant, you’re artificially raising prices and profits. In other words, we’re battling Mexican drug cartels by making them richer. This strikes me as, uh, counterproductive. End drug policy digression.
So we’re all against the wall, except for those Democrats who have, in the past, supported building physical barriers. We’re against the wall, except we also grant its central premise–the need for ‘border security.’ We like the DACA kids, but hate illegals. And everyone, right and left, opposes ‘amnesty.’ So can’t we liberals at least be consistent? Or, you know, brave? I would fall down at the feet of any Democratic politician who came out for amnesty, for increased immigration, for issuing many more green cards and who urged us to take in, I don’t know, five million refugees from Central America, Africa, Syria and Libya. Want to see economic stimulus? Want job creation? Increased immigration will do it.
No, the wall has become symbolic, right and left. I think the people who cheered Trump when he talked about it love the idea of it. The world is changing. White people seem to be losing power. By golly, when I was in high school, the idea was, you got a job at the local RCA plant, building radios, or the local Otis plant, building elevators, and you worked there for forty years, got married, bought a house, and then you retired. Meantime, you coached Little League, and supporting Scouting, and joined the Elks Club. And the people in charge were the same kinds of people who had always been in charge. And everyone on TV was white. (I remember the first time I saw a black person on a TV commercial. For Proctor and Gamble, as I recall) All of that is changing. America doesn’t look the way it looked, and the RCA factory shut down, and so did Otis, and they’re offering job training, on computers. Computers! And your brother-in-law is a drug addict, became one after his back surgery. And the President had a Muslim name and dark skin. He looked wrong. Whether he did a good job or not–he did–wasn’t relevant. Build a wall! Stop it! Block it all out! Make it all go away.
Trump ‘said it like it is.’ That’s astonishing, given how much he lies, but what he was offering was solace, a comforting fantasy. And the wall was the key to his appeal. It stood for something. a barrier to change.
And I’m an old white guy, and I get it. But I also love the world today. If a wall gets built, I want to be there when it falls. I want a piece of it, like everyone wanted when that other idiotic wall got built in Berlin. I like multi-cultural, post-racial, gender bending, feminist, post-modern America. I want more change, faster. I want more, not fewer, gay friends and trans friends and professional female friends. I want more change, faster.
Trump supporters want the wall for symbolic reasons. Liberals oppose it, also for symbolic reasons. Whether an actual wall gets built–it shouldn’t–may be kind of beside the point.