For a month Donald Trump seemed triumphant that he was making life miserable for 800,000 federal workers and their families. His supporters say the same thing about Congressional Democrats. But Trump’s approval was hemorrhaging. It was down to its lowest level in a year, the disapproval beginning to screech from his sacred base. So he caved. No money for his Magic Maginot Wall, and surrender to ending the partial shutdown, at least for three weeks.
He says he might declare a national emergency if negotiations don’t give him the billions for his wall, so it’s merely tantrum delayed, though it’s certainly felt like we’ve been in a national emergency for the past two years. Declaring one won’t make much of a difference, except in our balance sheets. The wall charade is reloading.
Last month Donald Trump took to prime time to air his border-wall liturgy. His speech was a magnificent set of inventions in the grand Trump style, and a rerun of his American Carnage inaugural address, with dead bodies everywhere. But it was not factual. I realize that we are in a post-factual presidency where alternative facts are Trump’s equivalent of papal bulls: whatever he says goes. It’s about belief, not reality. For the sake of appearances though, let’s argue the facts about the wall for a moment.
The president imagines every Mexican a mule. Most drugs flowing into the United States do come through the southern border, but through legal ports of entry, not through unguarded places, as Trump claims, where he wants to build a wall. He says “more people will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam War.” True, but the majority are dying because of legal prescription drugs made by corporations and donors to whom he gave a huge tax break.
He sees a criminal behind every undocumented immigrant. Of course the undocumented murder, rape and commit all sorts of other crimes. But they seem to be model citizens in comparison with Americans. An authoritative study on the subject found that “there were 56 percent fewer criminal convictions of illegal immigrants than of native-born Americans in Texas in 2015.” Texas knows a few things about the undocumented. That study found that Americans steal more, rape more and murder more than illegals, while “the criminal conviction rate for legal immigrants was about 85 percent below the native-born rate.”
Trump considers the absence of a wall a danger to national security, and says the danger is growing. In fact, illegal border crossings are at a 45-year low, no small thanks to Barack Obama’s brutal crackdown on the undocumented and stepped up efforts along the border. More to the point: The nation not only survived the 1990s, when more than 1.5 million migrants were caught crossing illegally every year, but it thrived. These days fewer than half a million are caught crossing illegally every year. You could add a few dozen caravans to the tally: it still won’t be a crisis, nor a danger to American security.
Then there’s the cost: at least $18 billion for a wall that won’t make much of a difference, other than to make us look even more like the old East Germany than we already do. What, in comparison, has Trump provided by way of evidence that a wall would make a difference? Nothing.
So with undocumented immigration at a 45-year low, building that wall along 722 miles of border with Mexico would be like building a state prison in every Florida county even though the state’s crime rate is at a 45-year low. Of course it makes no sense. But it’s not supposed to. Not for Trump, not for his followers. It’s not about facts. It’s not even about the wall. Never was. It’s futility to debate it rationally.
Trump was elected to reassure white Americans that white lives matter, that even though the nation’s demographics are inexorably moving whites to minority status by mid-century, he’s here to do what he can to make America white again. There’s no way he can. But national myths aren’t forged in reality. They don’t have to be true to be believed. Whether it’s built or not, the wall is that myth, a wailing wall for his base’s many rages. Trump’s presidency depends on it.
We saw the same masonry with the Muslim ban, with his trade war, with his decision to pull out of the Paris accords on global warming, with his perverse war on transgender people. None of it factual, all of it visceral. None of it is making us safer, better, more powerful, let alone greater. Every one of these acts diminishes us. Some of those acts endanger us.
The wall won’t. It’ll just add to our moral debility. Just as the shutdown did and will again in three weeks, unimagined new spillage from President Guts notwithstanding.