It’s not true that the government shutdown, concluded over the weekend after 35 days of shutdown, accomplished “nothing.” President Trump did not score a policy victory on the issue that led to the shutdown. The continuing resolution that is to run for three weeks, as signed by the president, does not include a dime of funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. The Mexican standoff over the Mexican border wall did, however, accomplish something important. It revealed just how radical the Democrats have become on the issue of immigration. In the run-up to the 2020 election elections, they have been smoked out. That’s not nothing.
The telling fact, what will become clear over the next two years, was Democratic radicalism that caused the shutdown in the first place. President Trump did not ask for much, just $5.7 billion to begin construction of a barrier along porous sections of the border. The sum of $5.7 billion seems like a lot to mere mortals, but it was no more than a rounding error against the largesse of the federal budget. Not long ago, Democrats like Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, happily voted to build barriers along the border. The president’s request can only be judged unreasonable by a campaign consultant looking for an issue to exploit.
But something happened on the way to striking a budget deal. When faced with President Trump’s demand for an appropriation for wall construction, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the party theologian, said building the wall would be an “immorality.” The Democrats, figuring that being against borders and national sovereignty, the building blocks of the nation state, would be winning politics, boasted they would never spend a penny on maintaining the border. This was breathtakingly radical, and led directly to the shutdown when the president rightly declined to go along.
The shutdown did inflict damage. Eight hundred thousand federal workers went weeks without pay, though they will be paid for time missed. Less fortunate contract workers, like those who clean the restrooms at the Smithsonian Institution, for example, won’t be. During the shutdown, air traffic control and the TSA were hobbled. National parks were closed. Tax rebate checks will be delayed, given the backlog of work that piled up during the shutdown.
It’s clear to everyone why the president felt compelled to end the shutdown, even at the cost of nothing for the wall. In the face of Democratic intransigence, he took the responsible position. He couldn’t negotiate a compromise with Democrats who said they would never compromise.
There are two reasons, neither good. The first is nakedly political. The central promise of Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign was building the wall. Denying him the ability to do that would damage his re-election campaign by making the wall a broken promise. The president’s own political miscalculation played a part here. He should have asked for funding for the wall when the Republicans controlled the House instead of waiting until Mrs. Pelosi took over.
The other reason is even more cynical. Democrats claim to oppose the wall because “it doesn’t work.” This is nonsense. The experience of San Diego, Israel and other places demonstrates that walls work well. If walls are not effective, why are they, as Mrs. Pelosi insists, “immoral?” In fact, the actual reason Democrats oppose the border barrier is precisely because walls do work. With declining support from white and older Americans, the Democrats have concluded that their future lies in importing a new electorate from south of the border. A wall would prevent that.
The continuing resolution runs until Feb. 15, when there could very well be another shutdown. The Democrats are unlikely to capitulate. Neither is the president. Mr. Trump has floated another idea to get his wall funding, declaring a national emergency and order the wall to be built. The president has the legal authority to do so, though this option makes a lot of us uneasy. Declaring a national emergency in the face of political intransigence would set a dangerous precedent. The Democrats, by refusing to protect the country’s sovereignty for nakedly political ends, are setting a dangerous precedent themselves.
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