The government shutdown continues apace
heading into the New Year, spurred on by Donald Trump’s insistence on $5 billion for the border wall he based most of his premise as a candidate for the presidency.
During the campaign, Trump made innumerable pledges about the wall. In sum, they were typified by this.
“On day one, we will work on an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall”.
Policy advisors within his administration have counseled the president that what he promised his steadfast constituency, is not feasible. So Donald Trump is dancing. Problem is, he is as clumsy a dancer as you’ve ever seen and his two left feet stumble from one step to the next.
Whether Trump has any real grasp of the practical matters that make his boasts absurd, is not clear. That he has gotten a sense of the political reality that nothing that resembles his projections will fly in Congress, seems to be indicated by some hedging that he has periodically floated – the most recently on December 20th.
Here, Trump attempts a feint, tries to bust a move to change the subject, testing out the narrative that “hey, don’t freak out about the wall funding – the border is jam up and jelly tight.” Of course that opens up its own can of worms. If the Border Patrol is doing such a bang up job, where is the impetus for that “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful wall”?
Trump is in a position where he has to juggle two contradictory representations – one factual, one fictional. Complicating matters is that Trump has no discipline in his messaging. First he takes full ownership of the inevitable shutdown, during his meeting with incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – then several days later, disavows ownership.
Trump sees the wall as a lifeline to his political base and his base as his only remaining defense against the multitude of scandals he is embroiled in. That is in fact very likely the case. I’ve been told by more than one of his supporters that if Trump punts on the wall, they are finished with him.
At each juncture where Trump signs any spending bill that does not specifically include funds for the wall, the far right among the GOP and in the media, telegraph warnings to Trump. You have the House Freedom Caucus, whose chairman, Mark Meadows (R-NC), said:
“He [Trump] campaigned on the wall. It was the center of his campaign. The American people’s patience is running out.” Translate that to mean, Trump’s voting base’s patience is running out.”
Another member of the caucus, Jim Jordan (R-OH), chided Trump, “Let me get this straight. Our chances of getting the Wall will be better in February when Nancy Pelosi is Speaker than now when we have the majority? Give me a break.”
Right wing talking heads are chiming in on the alarm bells. Ann Coulter quipped that, “Without a wall, he will only be remembered as a small cartoon figure who briefly inflamed and amused the rabble.” Describing the Trump faithful as ‘rabble’, is certainly an intriguing choice of words coming from Ms. Coulter. But that aside, media surveys seem to be confirming this narrative.
What seems to be grinding their gears is that in contrast to the very specific image of the pre-cast concrete barrier that Trump projected in the rallies, he is now attempting to down sell the structural composition to that of vertical barriers – “steel slats”– or what the construction industry terms “Bollard fencing”.
Perhaps their skepticism about what Trump is trying to bait and switch them to, is based on viewing video clips such as this:
If you plant a seed of something very precise and unambiguous in people’s minds, of course they are going to balk, when the time arrives for lowered expectations. The pushback has required Trump to resort to doing more of what he does practically on an hourly basis at this point – misrepresent circumstances. Trump made the claim early in the week that:
“I am in the Oval Office & just gave out a 115 mile long contract for another large section of the Wall in Texas.”
However, Trump has no authority to “give out” contracts for any length of a wall. That – in this particular case, is an administrative function of the Department of Homeland Security.
Where precisely Trump came up with the “115 mile” figure, is something I could not express in polite terms here. But suffice to say, 115 miles is, like most everything else he professes – complete fiction. The contract was a pre-existing award that had already been scheduled and involves funding for 33 miles (53 kilometers) of construction in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley – already approved by Congress in March of last year. In the pipeline for next year are projects adding a reported 56 miles of fencing – not walls.
In a recent interview with CBS News, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, told CBS that the president is “willing to negotiate” with Congress over border wall funding. That should be sufficient to make the right wing media and Trump’s erstwhile allies in Congress heads explode – not to mention his gradually contracting voting base.
And then, following that, in the most recent episode of “As The Stomach Turns”, Trump is back again on December 28th, issuing a repeat of an earlier extortion threat that if he does not get his border wall funding, he will “close the entire Southern border”. Trump tweeted:
“The United States looses (sic) soooo much money on Trade with Mexico under NAFTA… that I would consider closing the Southern Border a profit making operation.”
Prior to publication, Trump issued a challenge to Congressional Democrats to, “come on over and make a deal. I am in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come on over and make a deal on Border Security.”
Of course, Trump had no intention of negotiating anything, because he found the impulse to antagonize Democrats, irresistible, adding, “From what I hear, they are spending so much time on Presidential Harassment that they have little time left for things like stopping crime and our military!” That tactic is not going to work with House Democrats.
One speculation of why Trump has been impotent in terms of delivering the type of red meat policies, in this case, the “wall” his minions have been clamoring for, comes, from of all people, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson:
“He knows very little about the legislative process, hasn’t learned anything, hasn’t surrounded himself with people that can get it done, hasn’t done all the things you need to do, so it’s mostly his fault that he hasn’t achieved those things.”
That Trump is incompetent and spitefully ignorant is not open to debate. That most of what he campaigned on was not in any measure, based on either factual or political reality, isn’t either.
As a tease for the next report in this series about the feasibility and likelihood that any sort of a “border wall” such as what Trump campaigned on, will ever materialize, I invite you to take a gander at this excellent 9 minute video, in which Dennis Wagner with the Arizona Republic narrates while you see the terrain in which Trump would have us believe a wall would be built in.
It should illustrate the absurdity of such an endeavor.