The Wall

Dan Rather, the talking head TV journalist, has suggested in an editorial that Trump is going about getting his wall all wrong.  He suggests that Trump does what other presidents like Obama, Clinton, Johnson, and Roosevelt have done to get their pet projects accepted. Namely by introducing a bill that goes through Congress, is studied, amended, debated, and finally voted as acceptable.  He conveniently forgets that this wall has been deemed evil, and has already been roundly rejected as not acceptable. The shutdowns that were created by those past presidents were often used to force through their projects, not all that different from now.  Clinton had two shutdowns, the second was 21 days, and was related to the Hilary Care debate.  Obama would likewise use a government shutdown to bring in Obama Care.  Reagan, considered as one of our most effective presidents, had eight shutdowns to his credit.  What history books has Dan Rather been reading?

I am, however, puzzled by the viciousness of the fight about this wall.  What the various sides say does not reflect what they mean, and suggests other reasons. The arguments do not add up to explain the intransigent positions both sides have dug for themselves. If you calculate what the direct government shutdown caused by the fight over the wall has cost to date, it is almost  2 billion dollars in back pay, for which we (the taxpayer) got nothing.  Just a waste of 2 billion dollars.  But that is not all.  The economy has lost an estimated 4 billion in business costs alone, not to mention the tax revenue losses that would generate.  This exceeds the cost of the wall by  a billion at this point, and in the words of that famous philosopher, Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over!” Giving the politicians the benefit of the doubt, and assuming that they are not total fools,  there must be other reasons than the stated reasons to continue the squandering of our tax money.

On the side of “for the wall” arguments are the Great Wall of China which worked for Emperor Qin for at least a 1000 years , until Genghis Khan and his Mongol army overran it. Hadrian’s Wall kept out the barbarians from the Roman occupied England while Hadrian was alive, then it was abandoned.  The Berlin Wall worked out for Ulbricht and Khrushchev for nearly 40 years.  After World War II there were 5 walls of considerable length in the world, now there are 70. Those 70 countries think their walls  help. It seems that most walls work for a while and then are eventually overrun, often related to cost, need, upkeep, and interest of the builder.  But every builder of a wall believes that their wall will succeed.  And they all do for variable lengths of time, in part depending on the effort and money spent in fortifications, and fire power to enforce the physical barrier.  The  counter arguments to the wall are that, so far, all walls have eventually failed.  Walls are expensive to build and maintain.  Tunnels and tanks can subvert walls.  And the symbolism of a wall does not reflect the same symbolism as the open arms of the welcoming Statue of Liberty, which we believe stands for America.

Nevertheless, all walls work for a time, whether a thousand years or just a few decades.  With our exponential growth in worldwide population,  the need to keep borders secure has become increasingly necessary for a variety of reasons, such as job availability for the indigenous population, increasing terrorist and criminal activity, and the concern of letting migrants into this country without more knowledge as to whom we are letting in.

Population migration has been present forever.  It led us out of Africa 2 million years ago, looking for a better life, more lebensraum, and more food.  More recently, it was what gave the United States the manpower and brain power to become a world leader.  The migration from Europe in the 1920s and 1930s fueled the expansion and  industrial power we achieved in making America great in the first place.   We needed the hungry masses from Ireland, who  escaped from the potato famine.  We  welcomed the Italian migration, and the Chinese who built our railroads and did our laundry.  In 1950 the US  population was 150,000,000, but now it is over 300,000,000.  I was swept in from Austria during the 1950s (legally I might add). The population has doubled in just 70 years.  The people that came then were mostly Europeans, culturally and educationally similar to the US population.  The more recent migrants are either from Mexico and South America or the Middle East, very different cultures, multiple different languages, mostly poorly educated, and having mixtures of various religions and ethnicities.  Also, the desire and ability to be incorporated into American culture is not as strong as it was half a century ago.  The world population will hit nearly 9 billion by 2050, and most, if not all of it, will be in the underdeveloped countries, which will make the immigration pressures pushing our way even greater.  Even though there is still a need for a labor force, the type of jobs available are mostly at the lower rung of the job market.  The US Agribusiness very much depends on the workforce from Mexico.  The harvesting of produce from lettuce to lemons is a job very few American workers will accept, regardless of the pay scale.  In the 1950s and 1960s an effort was made to get unemployed American workers from the Los Angeles area to come and pick fruit.  That resulted in a lot of empty Ripple wine bottles in the orchards, with most of the fruit rotting on the trees and in the fields.  It just did not work.

The problem is not that simple, and armchair wizards and talking heads on TV are not going to solve the immigration problems easily.  Borders do need to be secure, and we can’t let terrorists or murderers into the country.  All sides seem to agree with that.  I do not pretend to know the answer.  But I do know the current costs have already exceeded the price of the wall, and it is costing more by the minute. Trump is not the first to propose a wall, nor has he kept that a secret.  The walls go back thousands of years historically.  Just because Trump proposed it, is not a good enough reason to reject it out of hand.  Even Hitler had a couple of good ideas, like the Autobahn and the Volkswagen.

Now this will really surprise you! The last wall the US funded was started not that long ago, in 2008, and will be finished this year.  It is 287 miles long between Jordan and Syria, aptly named “The Great Wall of Jordan”.  It was fully funded by us, with both Republican and Democrat administrations alternatingly in charge, near unanimous bipartisan support, and reaffirmed by Section 9011 of the 2018 Omnibus budget, with  a price tag of 500,000,000 to the US tax payer! Why that wall is appropriate, and the Trump wall is, in the same breath, an abomination is not clear and not addressed by the wall naysayers. A wall has an undeniably powerful symbolic effect, and most walls have achieved many of their goals in the past, at least temporarily, regardless what the politicos say, even if they eventually fail in the long run!

So, what are the real issues in this fight? We know it is not the cost! Both sides know what government shutdowns cost, they have had lots of experience with them.  They already knew that eventually the fight would cost more than the wall, as it already has.  The cost is not a factor.  If that were the reason, the Democrats would already have caved.

And what about the effectiveness of the wall?  No, that also is not an issue.  They know there is limited effectiveness, and limited time, but if a wall is worth building between Jordan and Syria, and paid for with near total agreement by both sides it ought to be as effective between the US and Mexico as it is in the Middle East.

What is left?  Symbolism!  But the “huddled masses” welcomed by the Statue of Liberty is a bit naïve.  It goes much deeper than that.  The left has always seen itself as the champion of the have-nots, and open borders, global free trade, and equalizing wealth. No Nazi guards and their dogs fit into that picture.  Closed borders speak to elitism, protecting the haves, and control of the have-nots.  That is what it is about! It reaches to the roots of both the left and the right. But the symbol I see is the Gates of Rome, and the hordes of Barbarians on the other side trying to get in.  And we all know how that turned out.