When is a Wall NOT a Wall?

Last evening President Trump took to the airwaves to make his case for greater border security in the form of a wall. The argument for a wall, one that Mexico would pay for, has been a constant theme of the Trump campaign and presidency. Last evening’s remarks were the President’s first Oval Office address and there was considerable hand-wringing from TV network executives about giving him this platform. Sacrificing lucrative prime-time real estate to a political figure who has a history of playing fast-and-loose with the truth made for a difficult decision. However, in the end (and in light of the government shutdown and the potential for news to be made) all major TV networks agreed to air his remarks, and the Democratic rebuttal, in real-time.

Fence separating United States and Mexico

While there is little disagreement about the need for greater security on our southern border, there is considerable debate on how to best achieve that security. Trumps wants a wall while others argue for heat-sensors, drones, and other forms of electronic surveillance. All of these would slow down illegal entry, drug smuggling, and other abuses of our national sovereignty. An effective barrier would also serve to funnel immigrants and those seeking asylum to legal ports of entry. These ideas are not terribly partisan. Democrats, including Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Chuck Schumer, voted for 700 miles of border fencing in 2006.

But what is most surprising to me is the arguments that seem to hang on the disagreement over the idea of a barrier and what we will call it. President Trump calls it a wall while others use the term fence. Whether it is made of concrete or steel appears to be important to some. There was even a debate last week about whether former President Obama had a wall constructed around his residence in the District of Columbia. Some argued that the brick and steel fencing did not amount to a “wall.”

Any rational person can see that this argument, and the ensuing government shut down, is not actually about border security and immigration policy. Instead it is about scoring political points and playing to constituents who are divided on this and so many other issues. Effective communication depends on a level of trust between parties who are willing to listen to each other…and sadly that appears to be nearly impossible in this current political climate.

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