Donald Trump would do well to educate himself on the history of his home state. After all, it was there that in 1822, De Witt Clinton lost the governorship of New York during a downswing in public opinion regarding the fate of the Erie Canal. Like Trump, De Witt Clinton rode to power on a wave of republican nationalism and promises of grand works; in Clinton's case, a canal, the longest the country had ever seen. His detractors criticized the plan as impossible. There was no funding, the terrain was unyielding, and the project lacked expert backing. And yet the project captivated the public imagination for eight years, through all of its ups and downs, and was, upon its completion, touted as one of the great engineering marvels of the nineteenth century.
And yet this is not that. Trump's Wall, a cornerstone of his "America First" brand of politics, promises no greater good than a reprieve from fear for those ignorant enough to believe that the greatest threat to their standard of living is the immigrant risking life and limb to cross our borders for a shot at something resembling the American Dream. "Clinton's Ditch" promised to connect a continent. It heralded a new age of human interconnection and commerce in a world where a trip of 400 miles could previously take two weeks. Trump's wall is a barrier designed to divide a continent and humanity with it. Its very conception is rooted in a notion of statehood that has outlived its usefulness.
In the age of "alternative facts," it is impossible to know for certain what Trump's Wall will look like, but let us take some hints from his past descriptions and assume that he must be envisioning something more substantial than the border fence already in place along segments of the American-Mexican border. Trump has told the media and his supporters that he intends to wall the some 1,000 miles of our southern border that are not otherwise inaccessible due to topography and natural barriers. His claims surrounding the height of the wall have varied widely, from 35 to 40 feet up to 65 feet; however, he has been clear that this is to be a concrete structure, not a fence. Trump, after all, seeks meaning through edification, and the wall should reflect this.
Congressional republicans put the price tag of this eye sore at roughly $15 billion, although other sources, including the Washington Post, have predicted that the cost could be upwards of $25 billion. Not one to tangle with experts, the realized costs of the wall are unlikely to faze Trump.
Trump famously claims that Mexico will pay for the wall while pandering Congressional Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan claim that the cost can be offset by bolstering the economy and repealing costly Obama-era legislation. Despite Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto's cancellation of his Washington meeting this week after the delivery of an ultimatum that the Mexican delegation pay up or go home, Team Trump appears unperturbed. In the revisionist reality of our unlikely president, there is nothing shameful about rubbing salt in the wounds of a former adversary turned democratic ally and trade partner.
In the wake of President Pena Nieto's justified reassertion that Mexico will not pay for this shameful wall, the skeleton crew at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave cobbled together a shoddy plan to tax Mexican imports at 20% as a means of funding construction of the wall. More shocking than the brazenness of the plan itself is what it reveals about the sheer lack of comprehension of macroeconomic policy among the charlatans now masquerading as the leading policymakers in this country. As many economists readily admitted in the wake of the knee jerk policy proposal, such a tax would be borne by the American consumer. It appears our fears have come full circle; one way or another, the American people are paying for this wall. The only question now is how much foreign policy damage Trump will do as he fails to face that fact.
Donald Trump is not a man to face hard truths, particularly those that challenge a worldview from which he derives great self-worth. He is a textbook narcissist and his entitlement knows no bounds. He will go to impossible lengths to protect his ego, even if it means leveraging federal resources to investigate fabricated claims of voter fraud or pressuring the National Parks Service to find evidence for the grandeur of his inauguration. In light of this reality, we must come to terms with the consequences of an extortionist trade policy with Mexico.
Despite Trump's flagrant disdain for free trade and NAFTA, the US remains part and parcel to the agreement, as well as to the far-reaching WTO. International import tariffs are bound under those agreements to prevent the types of policies that Trump is proposing. Trump's bullying and cronyism is nothing new to international politics, and this gambit will not hold up to the test of decades of policy wisdom. These agreements have stood the test of time because they do not allow for Trump's brand of macroeconomic profiteering. Should Trump's administration attempt to move forward with such a policy, it would not only destabilize NAFTA and the WTO but also open the door to reprisal against US exporters. Despite Trump's attempts to neutralize the economic impact of the wall, he threatens to do grave damage to global free trade that could take decades to repair. The cost savings through Obama era policy repeal advanced by McConnell and Ryan would be dwarfed in the ensuing economic crisis.
While the outcome of this bush league grandstanding is still unclear, great joy can be derived from visualizing the looks of dumbstruck awe, horror, and confusion as someone in the White House finally explained to Trump's inner circle the idiocy of their proposed plan. Shielded by Sean Spicer's amateurish ejaculations of alternative facts and flagrant lies, the Administration has stumbled its way through the past 24 hours of press coverage like a drunk vagrant through rush hour traffic. Yet more frightening than the Administration's utter ineptitude to tactfully tackle their first true policy initiative that didn't involve Donald Trump signing leather-bound executive orders for the viewing pleasure of disenchanted White House photographers is the realization that there is no constituency backing for the wall.
It is obvious that there is a lack of backing for Trump's Wall among his opposition; however, there is mounting empirical evidence that Americans on the whole - even those that voted for Trump - really don't care about the prevalence of undocumented Mexican immigrants in this country. At some point during the second Bush Administration, we all stopped giving a shit and quietly deleted our social media posts about who took whose jobs.
Unlike Donald Trump, most of the world has done a lot of growing up over the past 30 years. So has Mexico, which went through a reformation in the 1980's, leaving behind a legacy of one-party statism that had strained Mexican-American relations for the better part of a century. A huge part of that growing up has been realizing that globalization is actually a pretty sweet deal. It brought us avocados, tahini, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It should come as no surprise, then, that when a despot threatens to shut the doors of globalization, people start to get pretty pissed off, even about something as simple the rise in the price of avocados that could result from the Administration's proposed import tax. It's clear that the wall will remain an unpopular initiative among the proponents of globalization, but the bigger question is who in the Trump camp supports the wall?
The pro-wall constituency is a tenebrous thing. You won't see their marches in the streets of Washington, nor will find them meeting secretly, Bohemian Grove-style, in the dark corners of society while planning the export of millions of Mexican immigrants. That's because a homogeneous pro-wall constituency does not exist. What does exist is a community of scared conservatives, united through internet echo chambers, that supported Trump because they fear something they've never actually encountered. Trump's populist nativism stirred up fears of the Mexican immigrant as the "other" using the kind of rhetoric typically reserved to incite ethnonational violence (or genocide, if we're not beating around the racial violence bush). People who had never had a job taken from them by an immigrant, but who might have been out of work, were angered by what they heard. How could rapists and drug dealers and murderers find work in this country while they were on the dole? These are the people that turned out for Trump and responded to his anti-immigration platform. Did they really want a wall? It's likely they would settle for a job or a living wage.
It's not such a strange thing for Republicans to diverge from the needs of their constituency when it comes to policy. For example, a repeal of Obamacare is going to hit working class Republicans square in the pants. But even Congressional Republicans don't want Trump's Wall. The reasons are many: it's ineffective, it diverts resources that could be spent reducing the incentive for illegal immigration, it poses an environmental risk, it puts a strain on our relationship with our third largest trade partner. The list goes on and on.
If no one wants this monstrosity, why build it? A rational actor might throw in the towel in response to such universal opposition to an already outlandish campaign promise, but Trump is not one to be debased by rationalism. The original raison d'etre of the wall was to stem the (perceived) surge of immigrants and illegal drugs flowing into the US. It's realization has little to do with any of these nativist fears and everything to do with Trump's obsession with edifice and monument. The wall is a bombastic, near masturbatory memorial to the greatness of Trump as seen through the eyes of Trump.
Illegal immigration is a problem, but a wall will not solve it. The quickest, most immediate solution to Mexican immigration is to divert funds away from border defense and towards NGOs and government agencies that can help alleviate the incentives to emigrate from Mexico. Like it or not, the US has two neighbors and we're stuck with them. If we let the North American neighborhood go to shit, people are going to look for a way out. If we're not willing to put our money where our mouth is to help improve economic conditions and political stability abroad, we need to consider offering paths to citizenship. If Mexican immigrants are vital to the American economy, they deserve, at minimum, legal status.
The drug crisis in America remains a problem, but don't for a second believe that a wall is going to stop it. Mexican cartels have been tunneling under the border for years. Again, the billions slated for the wall project could be spent fighting cartels abroad. Greater stability in Mexico means less drugs coming over the border, which weakens cartels through diminishing revenue, making them vulnerable to exposure and prosecution.
At the end of the day, Trump's Wall is nothing more than a squandering of what is, indisputably, American taxpayer money for a no more tangible purpose than the construction of a monument to the greatness of Trump. But let us not forget, dear reader, that most of us will outlive this septuagenarian menace and the little shop of horrors he led into Washington to roost in the swamp. The wall, should it see the light of day, promises to stand for eternity as a reminder of Never Trump, Never Again. Or we can tear the thing down and use the remains to build affordable housing and government-sponsored reproductive health centers.