The Great Cave In
Yay! The government shutdown is over. So what was gained by the political games over the past five weeks?
Well, nothing if you’re a fan of the President. Even less if you’re a small government conservative. To wit: the President shut down the government for better than a month in order to secure funding for a wall on the southern border. Then he changed that to steel slats. Then he changed it again to a down payment on steel slats. Finally, he agreed to a continuing resolution in exchange for revisiting the entire thing on February 15. However, the Democrat’s leader has already made clear she will not allow any funding for a wall, or steel slats, or any other sort of border barrier.
In other words, Donald Trump got rolled like a drunk in Hell’s Kitchen.
Now he can try to go around Congress come February 15 and declare an emergency on the border in order to build his wall (or steel slats, or… you get the idea). By midnight on the 16th, the courts will enjoin him from carrying out that order. It will make its way through the court system, eventually winding up before SCOTUS. The likely result? SCOTUS will affirm the lower court order, as there is nothing in the Constitution that allows the President to bypass Congress.
The shame of all this is, the shutdown could have been much more instructive if handled better. The President could have moved to privatize both the ATC and TSA. He could have pushed for funding the IRS and Border Patrol separately. (To their credit, some House Republicans did offer bills to do just those things). He could have activated the Coast Guard into the Navy, thereby funding them. The shutdown could have been used to showcase how little the federal government does that positively affects the everyday lives of ordinary Americans.
But since Trump is, at heart, a big government guy, such a tactic never even occurred to him. Think about it: a Republican president shut down the government because a Democrat-controlled House wouldn’t give him more money. I can’t recall any other time in our history such a thing has happened. He can’t be said to have abandoned the most fundamental policy of conservatism since he never embraced it. But it was that lack of understanding that ultimately led to his defeat.
The question is what Trump does next. The main thing those die-hard Trump supporters believe in is his infallibility in negotiations and his ability to turn losses into wins. However, unlike his failures in the private sector, there is no Deutsche Bank ready to ride in with loans to save his businesses. There is no Carl Icahn showing up with a bailout. There is no Jeffrey Zucker willing to be complicit in an identity makeover. He is on his own, against a foe who’s implacable in her opposition and much better versed at holding a political party together.
This isn’t to say some sort of compromise isn’t available. They can fudge on the wording allowing everyone to declare a victory. The President has already demonstrated that he’s willing to call a bunch of steel slats shoved into the desert sand “a big, powerful wall”, even though nobody with a functioning brain cell thinks it is. But in order to get that, he’ll need to be gracious enough to allow the Democrats to say they aren’t funding a border wall. It’s a trait that is not part of Donald Trump’s character.
A Big, Beautiful Wall
One of Donald Trump’s tag lines this election has been that he’s going to build a “big, beautiful wall” along our southern border and get Mexico to pay for it. The idea is that such a wall will prevent illegal aliens from entering the country. In an election that has been defined by emotional hyperbole, it’s turned into Trump’s clarion call. So how effective would it be? How would Mexico be forced to pay for it?
First, walls have been used since the beginning of civilization as a way to keep “others” away. They’ve proven since the beginning of time to be more of a psychological defence than an effective physical defense. From the famed walls of Jericho to Hadrian’s Wall, they’ve all been breached. Medieval warfare centered on methods for breaching castle walls. Constantinople was famed for its walls, but the city was conquered. The French grew so complacent behind the Maginot Line that they never even considered the German’s running around that wall.
Most recently, the East Germans built a wall around West Berlin. It even included machine gun emplacements and mine fields. The purpose was to keep the east Germans in East Germany. How effective was it? The simple fact that I’m writing this post in English from a comfortable office in the USA can tell you that.
So, walls aren’t terribly effective at actually keeping populations separated. But there is the psychological factor. It might make us feel safer, so perhaps the cost to build a 1700 mile long wall makes sense from that perspective. Of course, we’ll have to remain focused on wetbacks crossing the Rio Grande and completely ignore the fact that half of our illegal alien population came here legally and then overstayed their visas for that to make sense. There’s no wall that can change that.
Oh, yes – the cost. How much would it cost to build a 1700 mile long wall, say 15 feet tall and 8 feet wide? Well, just in concrete, that would work out to around $39.5 billion – that’s at the going rate of around $90/yard. To make it a wall that wouldn’t collapse under its own weight, you’ll need to reinforce with rebar, and of course you’ll need explosives, tools & equipment, manpower, etc. Let’s say the final cost is around $100 billion.
I think giving everyone in America a year’s supply of Xanax might be cheaper, if you’re looking for a way to ease our collective anxiety.
That cost (I know, Trump is saying he can do it for $8 billion, but not even he could swing that real estate deal) wouldn’t be an issue IF you could, in fact, get Mexico to foot the bill. But really, Mexico is a sovereign nation. They are hardly obligated to pay our bills. Trump has said he’ll use the trade deficit with Mexico to seize the funds. That’s so nonsensical I have a hard time believing I actually even need address it, but here I go. Trade deficits are not accrued by governments – they are the difference between the imports and exports of trade goods between nations. And, just to demonstrate how silly even Trump thinks that notion is, another major point of his platform is that he’ll redress trade imbalances by forcing companies to make everything in the US. So, if there isn’t a trade deficit with Mexico, then there is no way to seize those thousands of balance sheets from private companies and presenting them to the construction companies. who built the wall as payment.
Exactly. Trump’s entire idea can be imagined this way: your neighbor has a dog, who insists on doing his business on your front lawn. After months of feuding with your neighbor over his not curbing his dog, you finally get fed up and build a fence. All your neighbors “ooh” and “ah” over how beautiful you fence is. It is truly the most impressive fence they’ve ever seen. It even has camera emplacements and a barbed wire top, disguised as a giant flower garden. When the contractor presents you with the bill, you give him an IOU, telling him to collect from your neighbor. He sues you and you spend the next three years in court, fighting over the bill.
In the meantime, your neighbor snickers at you from his side of the fence. Eventually, the courts rule in the contractor’s favor, but now with interest and court costs your $4,000 fence is going to cost you $8,000.
And then, to add insult to injury, one morning you walk onto your front lawn and find that a mole has taken up residence. Your big, beautiful wall didn’t do the job, after all.