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Something There is That Doesn’t Love a Wall, as Robert Frost Might Say

The two improbable promises President Donald Trump most frequently made during his improbable presidential campaign were a “big, beautiful” wall along the entirety of the Mexican-American border, and that Mexico would somehow gladly pay for it. More than a year into his presidency, Trump is still trying to to keep the former promise but has long since abandoned any pretense of the even more preposterous latter one.
The latest reports are that Trump hopes to fund his big and beautiful and at times see-through and perhaps even solar-energy-producing wall with money from the defense budget. He was recently forced to reluctantly sign a widely reviled $1.3 trillion spending bill that allotted a mere $1.6 billion to the wall, and all of the Democrats and a big chunk of the Republicans in Congress are averse to allotting a penny more, so Trump is reportedly telling friends he’ll just take the other $30 billion or so that the the most hopeful estimates suggest is needed out of the $716 billion or so that the spending bill added to the defense budget. It’s a matter of national security, as Trump sees it, and as Commander in Chief he figures he he can say how the military’s money is spent.
This is preposterous for several reasons, too, for several legal and political and practical reasons.
According to that pesky Constitution all federal appropriations, including those for the common defense, still have to be approved by Congress, where all of the Democrats and a big chunk of the Republicans think the wall is a stupid idea to begin with. Trump could try to shift the money from one defense department ledger to another by executive order, but so far those pesky courts have proved more loyal to that pesky Constitution on several of Trump’s improbable campaign promises.
Trump’s ongoing efforts to bully those damned Democrats and rebellious Republicans into paying for his big, beautiful also seem doomed to failure. The idea played well with the crowds who chanted “Build that wall!” at his campaign rallies, but whenever Trump would follow that up by asking “And who’s going to pay for it?” they’d also gullibly chant “Mexico!” At this point, no damned Democrat or rebellious Republican in Congress worries that their reluctance to build a big, beautiful border wall will have much affect on their reelection campaigns.
The left isn’t going to like it in any event, and there are still enough sane Republicans, especially in the border districts, who can make a strong conservative case against this nonsense. The massive amounts of money needed for a wall could be better spent on requiring and facilitating workplaces to confirm the immigration status of employees, checking up on the visa overstays who account for the vast majority of America’s illegal immigrants, as well as drones and other high-tech techniques that would better protect that still-pesky but lately placid border, not to the mention all the eminent domain seizures involved that used to offend conservative sensibilities. The money spent on a border wall would also build some battleships and warplanes and pay for some veterans’ surgeries that sane Republicans would still consider a more urgent priority, too, and even the crowds that are still chanting “build that wall!” at the ongoing campaign rallies probably don’t see it as our more most urgent national defense problem.
Then there’s the matter that Mexico was never going to pay for it in the first place, certainly not gladly, and how Trump will explain to his fans that the military giving up ships and airplanes and veterans’ surgeries is going to wind up paying for it. Trump can still has enough presidential power that the courts might let him get away with imposing some taxes on the money transferred by Mexican nationals or tariffs on goods and services brought in Mexico, but that will probably prove a bad idea in the long run and in the meantime the money could have just as easily been spent on much better ideas than a big, beautiful border wall.
By the mid-term elections the whole mess will probably be long forgotten, if Trump is smart enough. Every presidential election is notable for the preposterous promises made, with both Democratic icon Franklin Roosevelt and Republican icon Ronald Reagan blasting the budget deficits of their predecessors and something about a “missile gap” figuring in the 1960 race, and all the winners were smart enough to let the matter drop after their election.
Trump never quits fighting, which his pro-wrestling sort of fans seem to love. We can’t see him winning this battle, though, and with the mid-term Congressional elections so near at hand we’d advise him to let the matter drop.

— Bud Norman

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His Back Against the Wall

President Donald Trump has lost the first round of negotiations for his promised border wall, big league, and he should be glad of it. If he plays it just right, he might be able to wriggle his way out of the ill-advised promise altogether.
That won’t be easy, though, as Trump made it the centerpiece of his campaign. His rally audiences would serenade him with chants of “Build That Wall!,” which was also emblazoned on many of the t-shirts in the crowded arenas, and he frankly admitted to The New York Times that “You know, if it gets a little bit boring, if I see people starting to so of, maybe thinking about leaving, I can sort of tell the audience, I just say, ‘We will build the wall,’ and they go nuts.” As the negotiations for the big spending resolution started he insisted that funding for the wall be included but he was already starting to be a little less insistent when he told the Associated Press over the weekend that “People want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall. My base really wants it — you’ve been to many of the rallies. OK, the thing they want more than anything is the wall.”
Trump always played The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as he exited his rallies, too, so the base should have been forewarned that some promises would be hard to keep. He’d also promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, and when he’d ask his rallies “Who’s gonna for pay for it” they’d chant back Mexico, so asking Congress for the money was already a big concession. Trump did “tweet” his reassurance that “Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying in some form, for the badly needed border wall,” but he eventually was forced to concede that it’s not the thing most badly needed at the moment.
If some spending resolution or another doesn’t get passed by Friday, right around the time everyone will be writing their “First 100 Days” stories, the government will go into another one of those occasional partial shutdowns. They’re fine by us, but most people seem to intensely dislike them, and they always get the most awful press, and no matter what all the fuss is about the Republicans always seem to get the worst of it. With the Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House even most the creative talk radio hosts would find it hard to blame it on the Democrats, so at the moment job one is avoiding poll-damaging unpleasantness.
Trump seems to have thought this would give him the needed leverage to get the money to start building the wall he’d promised his base, and within the 100-day deadline he’d promised, but he quickly realized that these sorts of negotiations are different from a real estate deal.
As much as those people at the rallies wanted the wall, all the public opinions polls showed that a solid majority of the country was against it and only 38 percent or so had any real enthusiasm for the idea. The opposition included all the Republican-held border districts, too, where landowners were facing eminent domain seizures of old family ranches and Indian reservation land and the occasional non-Trump-owned golf course, and all sorts of local economies were going to be inconveniently cut off from valued neighboring customers and friends. There were also unanswered questions about the wall’s cost and whether the money would be more effectively spent on drones and increased patrols and checking up on visa overstays and other more traditional methods of border enforcement, and just how Mexico might be forced to pay for it, and whether such a strain on relations with a neighbor was really needed at a time when net migration from Mexico is about zero, so there were likely to be some other Republicans resisting as well.
With his own approval ratings around 42 percent in an average of all the polls Trump doesn’t enjoy the kind of political capital that would cow a border Congressman enough to defy his district, and those other reluctant Republicans are also in districts where some distance from the president might be advised, so he shrewdly agreed that he’d sign whatever spending resolution the congressional Republicans could come up with to avoid a shut-down. A big victory for the base in time for those 100 day stories would have been nice, but having all the stories be about a government shutdown because of the president’s insistence on a wall that most people don’t want and even members of his own party opposed would have been disastrous, and Trump understands the publicity game well enough to know that.
Trump “tweeted” enough tough talk that his rally-going supporters can console themselves that “at least he fights,” and we expect most of them will be satisfied with that. They’re still promised that Trump will fight again for the wall, eventually, in some form, but it’s hard to imagine any time in the near future when there won’t be some new spending resolution or other impending crisis that’s more pressing, and all the arguments those border counties and the rest of the country are making will still be valid, and Mexico almost certainly won’t be any more inclined to pay for it. At this moment the wall seems another case of you can’t always get what you want.
“But if you try sometimes,” as the Stones’ song goes, “you might just find you get what you need.” Trump’s already touting all the more traditional border enforcement that he’s beefed up, most of which we and a majority of the rest of country heartily approve of, and we’re quite confident that the funding for it won’t be affected whatever spending resolution the congressional Republicans come up with to avert a government shutdown. This is a happy enough resolution for us, at the moment.
After all the court interventions and more moderate counsel the president has been getting lately his more-muscular-than-Obama approach to border enforcement is pretty much what all of those supposedly soft-on-immigration Republican presidential contenders endorsed, and about the same as the Mitt Romney plan that Trump then decried as inhumane, but the base will probably be satisfied by the familiar argument that only Trump could have made such an audacious opening bid with something so outrageous as a wall stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean as a brilliant ploy to reach these common sense solutions. His more ingenious apologists are also fond of saying that you have to take Trump seriously but not literally, and Trump is already suggesting that c’mon, he was talking metaphorically about common sense border enforcement and not an actual big, beautiful wall that no Mexican could find a ladder long enough to climb over, because c’mon, that idea’s so outrageous no one would take it literally.
We think a lot of those people at the rallies took it literally, and were looking forward to seeing some chastened Mexican handing over a literal check, but sooner or later they’ll come around. Although some of his supporters are already sore about his newfound moderate positions on issues ranging from China’s alleged currency manipulation to a Syrian missile strike that didn’t seem to have an “America First” rationale, if Trump keeps up the robust border enforcement he can let his big, beautiful wall fade into memory without taking too much of a hit in the polls. Gradually dropping the wall issue probably won’t win over any of Trump’s most determined critics, but it will deprive them of a potent issue, and he’ll have easier dealings in the future with certain Republican congressmen to accomplish something more popular.
Trump was shrewd to take a loss this round, and we hope he’s shrewd enough to lose that crazy wall idea altogether.

— Bud Norman