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Build that Wall!

Say what you want about The Washington Examiner, but it’s not one of those far-left liberal “fake news” rags. It’s not quite up to the standards of the late and much lamented Washington Star, but it’s the factual and conservative alternative to the factual and left-leaning Washington Post. We therefore tend to believe its front page report that President Donald Trump hasn’t yet built a single mile of the big and beautiful and sea-to-shining-sea border wall on the southern border that he promised his supporters.
By all accounts there have been repairs and upgrades to the fences that previous Democratic and Republican congresses and presidents agreed to, but by no account has Mexico gladly paid for any of it, as Trump promised his supporters. At this point, though, no one much cares.
The Trump skeptics never believed for a moment that he was going to build a big beautiful wall along the southern border, much less that Mexico would gladly pay for it, but the true believers were well satisfied that he’d at least make such preposterous promises. Take Trump seriously but not literally, they’d say, and for the most part they’ve been right about that. Trump hasn’t built a single mile of border wall, but he’s enforcing border laws as cruelly as he can get can get away with, and his supporters rightly figure that’s a figurative if not literal sort of wall. The courts haven’t allowed the complete ban on Muslims entering the country that Trump promised, but he’s done his best to make the mostly law-abiding Muslims who are currently here feel uncomfortable, which should placate the fans.
There’s no telling how the next presidential election might turn out, but we will predict that it won’t result in a big and beautiful sea-to-shining-sea southern border wall that Mexico happily pays for.

— Bud Norman

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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

The Good Neighbor Policy

The United States has long benefited from its location, with vast oceans between us and all the troubles that are always brewing in Asia and Europe, and only two abutting countries to deal with. Except for that unpleasantness back in 1812 and some fuss over “fifty-four forty or fight” a few years later we’ve generally gotten along well enough with Canada, and although our relationship with Mexico has occasionally been more contentious we haven’t fought a full-fledged with war with it for 170 years.
Maintaining such friendly relationships with the neighbors has been a longstanding tradition of America’s foreign policy, but President Donald Trump is that newfangled sort of conservative who doesn’t care much about longstanding traditions. He’s threatened to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement if it’s not re-negotiated to his satisfaction, pressed various trade disputes with Canada, and his dealings with Mexico started with a campaign announcement that accused the country of sending rapists and drug dealers into America as a national policy, and things have not since become any friendlier.
Trump’s most recent diplomatic outreach toward our neighbors to the south, a telephone conversation with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, reportedly ended with a “testy” Trump still demanding that Mexico pay for the massive wall he wants along the entirety of the border and Nieto canceling a tentatively planned state visit to the White House rather than talk about it further. This is at least the second time Nieto has declined a visit rather consider Trump’s demands, and given how absurd the demands seem to pretty much every single Mexican voter and how important making Mexico pay for a wall is to Trump and a significant chunk of his supporters it probably won’t be the last time.
Which further complicates an already complicated relationship with the folks next door, which in turn further complicates all sorts of other problems that could easily be amicably settled by more cautious stewards of America’s longstanding foreign policy traditions. Trump is opening his planned renegotiation of the NAFTA treaty with a promise to his most loyal supporters that it will ultimately put America first, which puts the governments both of our neighbors in the awkward position of explaining to their voters why they agreed to second or third place, and we don’t see the as-nationalist-as-the-next-guy people in either country to the north or south being cowed by Trump’s bullying tactics. Neither is Trump’s international reputation as a blustering bully boy likely to yield any successful negotiations with the dangerous and lucrative Asian and European nations that lie just a few days shipping or a few hours of intercontinental ballistic missile travel across those once-vast oceans.
Meanwhile, here at home, Trump’s demand that Mexico pay for his big, beautiful wall is also complicated several domestic disputes. There’s an increasingly pressing question, for instance, of what to do with all those illegal immigrants — mostly from Mexico — who were brought here through no fault of their own as children and are provably not rapists or drug dealers. Their presence was tolerated under an executive order of questionable constitutional provence by President Barack Obama, and although that order was rescinded by Trump even he has since expressed sympathy for their plight and doesn’t seem to have the heart to kick them out, which has disappointed many of his loyal supporters. Trump is currently taking the position that the so-called “dreamers” can stay so long as the Democrats cough up $25 billion in funding for his promised big and beautiful border wall, but he’s also still promising that the Mexicans are going to pay for it, so that’s pretty darned complicated.
Our own long personal history with neighbors to the south and north and east and west has from time to time been complicated, but we’re pleased to say it’s mostly been amicable, and very rarely come to blows. The longstanding traditions that have guided us through it all are never being bullied but never being a bully, striving for solutions where everyone wins, and working the messier matters through the existing legal institutions, and don’t insist that the neighbor to south pay for the big and expensive wall you want block his view. We recommend this approach to the country at large.

— Bud Norman

How Not to Win Friends and Influence People

Back when he started to woo evangelical Christian voters President Donald Trump liked to boast that the pastor at the Presbyterian Church he had attended as a child was Norman Vincent Peale, saying “You could listen to him all day long,” but it never seemed clear what lessons he had learned from the sermons. Peale was better known as the author of the famously best-selling self-help book “The Power of Positive Thinking,,” and it does seem clear from Trump’s recent battles with his own party’s congressional leadership that he learned all the wrong lessons from that tome.
Trump escalated his ongoing war of words with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday with another series of “tweets.” He criticized both for rejecting his advice to attach a controversial debt ceiling increase to a popular Veterans’ Administration reform bill that recently passed with bipartisan support, claiming “Could have been so easy — now a mess!” A short time later he once again “tweeted” that McConnell was solely to blame for the Senate’s failure to pass an unpopular bill to repeal and replace the formerly unpopular Obamacare law. That came shortly after Trump had quite clearly criticized both Senators from Arizona in front of a raucous campaign rally crowd, even as he complimented himself for being so presidential as to not mention either man’s name, which followed several insulting “tweets” aimed at various other Republican congressmen who had criticized Trump’s response to the deadly violence that followed a white supremacist rally in Virginia.
No matter how much Trump positively thinks nones ¬†of which seems likely to win him any new friends or influence anyone who isn’t already a die-hard supporter.
The idea that something as controversial as a debt ceiling increase could be easily snuck into a VA bill without anyone noticing, or everyone in both parties raising a fuss that would sink even such a popular and important piece of legislation, suggests to anyone at least vaguely familiar with the legislative process that the Senate majority leader and the House Speaker know a lot more about it than does the relatively neophyte president. McConnell does indeed bear much of the blame for the Republicans’ failure to get that unpopular health care reform bill passed, but there’s enough blame to spread around that fiasco that some of it surely falls on a Republican president who had run on a campaign promise that on the first day he’d repeal Obamacare and replace it with his beautiful but not very specific plan that would cover everyone and lower costs and it would be easy for your head will spin, and Trump would do well not to give his many critics another chance to mention that. Trump’s attempts to spread around the blame for the deadly violence that occurred at a white supremacist rally have not played well with the general public thus far, and he’d be wise not to drag that out any longer.
All of which seems to complicate some already darned complicated negotiations regarding that debt ceiling increase, along with a continuing spending resolution and various other matters that must be dealt with prior to some very hard deadlines looming in the near future in order to avert all sorts of political and economic disasters. Many congressional Republicans won their seats on the promise of ending the federal government’s endless borrowing and doing so without tax increases by drastically cutting spending, others ran on the same basic principles but with a begrudging acknowledgement that it would take some time and a lot of compromises on continuing spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases all the rest of that nonsense, and Trump exponentially complicates that internecine Republican complicatedness.
Trump became the Republican president with the usual Republican promises of low taxes and balanced budgets, but also some proudly anti-Republican promises of not touching the big entitlement programs that are driving the debt and adding at least a trillion dollars of infrastructure spending, as well as his assurances that he’d done enough big real estate deals that it would be easily achieved. We’ve never been in on any big real estate deals, but we’ve been watching how Congress works a lot longer than Trump seems to have done, so we’re skeptical that can keep all those promises and won’t further complicate things.
He added even more complications during that raucous rally in Phoenix, where he hinted he’d rather force a partial government shutdown than sign any continuing spending resolution that doesn’t include full funding for his campaign promise of a tall and formidable border wall stretching across the entire border with Mexico, which he now promises will also be translucent so you can see what those wily Mexicans are up to. During the campaign Trump routing led his die-hard supporters in a chant that Mexico will pay for the wall, as president he’s threatening that he’d cause a partial government shutdown and perhaps even a federal default if the Republican-led Congress doesn’t pay for it with taxpayer funds, and we can’t imagine of the Democratic minority wanting to help him out.
From our Republican perspective out here on the prairie it seems that Trump is less interested in averting political and economic catastrophes than in making sure he once again doesn’t get blamed for them by his most die-hard supporters. McConnell and Ryan and the rest of the Republican party are easy enough targets, we must admit, so there’s a certain self-interested reason for those insulting “tweets.” As pillars of the Republican establishment they’re already reviled by the entirety of the Democratic party, and they do indeed shoulder a share of the blame for the Grand Old Party’s recent failures to make good on the opportunity of its recent political dominance, and the talk radio talkers and most of their grassroots listeners have bitched and moaned out long enough that Trump got nominated and even more improbably elected on the promise to burn the down the establishment.
At the time we wondered how Trump’s mostly-reluctant 46 percent share of the popular presidential vote was going to prevail against the combined might of both the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as all the economic and civic and academic and religious institutions that comprise the much-maligned establishment, and thought that “burn it down” was a peculiar rallying cry for conservatism, and at this point we’re hoping that some semblance of the pragmatic Republicanism we always voted for will somehow prevail. At this point that means rooting for the likes of McConnell and Ryan and against Trump and his and ridiculous border wall idea, and hoping there are still enough sensible Democrats to join with averting the looming political and economic disasters, but so be it.
For all their failures both McConnell and Ryan still strike us as more serious men than Trump, and we’re heartened they don’t seem at all influenced by Trump’s “tweets.” Ryan did his best to ignore Trump’s “tweeting” on Thursday, and instead had an impressive “town hall” appearance at a Boeing factory in the Seattle area, where he made a clear case for the Boeing-friendly corporate tax reforms that both he and Trump are working for. Some of the questioners questioned Ryan’s support for de-funding the Export-Import Bank that Boeing has taken generous advantage of, and he gave a very detailed explanation about how other reforms he’s pursuing would leave the company just as well advantaged, and we can’t imagine Trump giving a better answer. One Boeing employee asked a rather frank question about how he was dealing with Trump’s latest public pronouncements, which she seemed to find troubling, and Ryan deftly replied “It’s a day-by-day deal,” adding “I am kind of joking.”
We can’t find any press reports of questions about Trump’s protectionist trade policies, which aren’t likely to benefit Boeing’s largely export-driven business, and although Ryan is far more a traditional Republican free-trader than we suspect they were both glad of that. At this point we’re liking the Republican establishment that Trump vowed to burn down than we’re liking Trump, but we can’t say that give us a hopeful feeling.
Even a partial government shutdown would be a political disaster that can’t plausibly be blamed on that darned Democratic minority, a federal default would be a catastrophic global economic disaster that makes everyone in the American body politic culpable, so surely some sort of desultory-to-all-sides deal will eventually be struck, We’d feel a whole lot more hopeful, though, if any of the players seemed more interested in averting the looming catastrophe than avoiding any blame for it.

— Bud Norman