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I’ve been trying to figure out why the United States government has been shut down for the last couple of weeks.  The best guess I have is that the U.S. president has decided that getting funding for a border wall from congress (Mexico said no to the requested hand out) is important for his 2020 re-election prospects.  Democratic House leadership seems to agree.  Therefore, the shutdown–or, showdown–revolves around a wall.  President Trump has promised that he will get a wall.  House Speaker Pelosi has promised that he will not.

Trump has tried to frame the issue as a battle over border security, but it’s not–his opponents are proposing funding for border security as well (they just claim that a wall is not the best way to improve it). One might think it’s about money.  $5.6 billion dollars is more money than most people can fathom, but, on a governmental scale, it’s really not that much.  So, are the democrats being stingy?  One might say, ‘why not just approve the money and have done with it–a full border wall likely does more good than harm.’  But, this isn’t an amount that can fund a complete border wall–just a small piece (or, pieces) of one .

But, none of this really matters.  Trump is focused on a wall and sees it as a battle that he must win (USA Today).  He tweets about it a lot.

Trump's border tweets
Click on image for interactive graphic.

The problem, as Adam Smith, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, points out, is that there is “no evidence whatsoever” that a wall is the most effective means of improving border security (The Hill).  “The president doesn’t really understand the issue,” he said. “A concrete barrier is not going to automatically stop people from coming.”

“The president doesn’t really understand the issue,” he said. “A concrete barrier is not going to automatically stop people from coming.”

But this reality is immaterial.  Trump seems to have found that the wall idea is popular with his base and good for applause lines at rallies. This was no accident.  Trump’s early campaign advisors realized that the idea of a wall was a great memory aid for Trump to help him tie his penchant for bragging about his building exploits to the immigration fears of his prospective voting base (NYT).

So, what’s the problem?  Wall/no wall.  $5.6 billion here or somewhere else.  What does it matter?  I think the problem is precedent.  If congress rewards Trump for shutting down the government by giving him this trinket, he–and all future presidents, democrat or republican–will learn that they can get whatever they want by bringing the system to a halt.  While a wall is pretty harmless, someday some fool will want to invade the Middle East again.  And, while congress has proven that it’s pretty useless at stopping such misadventures, at least the system of checks and balances makes doing stupid things a little harder.  Just look at how long it takes to build a useless wall.


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