At his spirited rally in Phoenix, on August 22, President Trump reiterated his threat to shut down the government to force Congress to fund his border wall with Mexico. I believe he was absolutely right to do so, and Republicans should give him their full support. Reasonable people can disagree about the efficacy of a border wall. After all, wall or no wall, people flow across the border every day, as visitors, as students, and to engage in lawful commerce. A wall will make it easier to control these flows, and to block people and illegal substances that we don’t want in our country, but arguably there are other steps, like cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, that would be more effective in ending the scourge of “unauthorized” migration.
That the wall will only be partially effective, however, is no excuse for refusing to build it. After all, any wall is a more compelling barrier than no wall at all. The Democrats’ feigned outrage at the concept of Trump’s border wall is also wholly disingenuous. The U.S. already has plenty of fencing and other security infrastructure on its border with Mexico, much of it put in place by President Obama. If a fence is politically acceptable, then why is a slightly more substantial and permanent barrier beyond the pale? It makes no sense.
The best reason to build President Trump’s wall, though, is that elections have consequences. Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States primarily based on two consistent themes: protecting American jobs by revising bad trade deals, and protecting America’s borders by cracking down on illegal immigration and building a wall. He must, therefore, work tirelessly to achieve these aims, and Republicans must, therefore, assist him in doing so. To act otherwise would be to ignore the will of the American people.
In the grand scheme of things, the cost of Trump’s wall is easily within America’s reach. The alleged damage such a wall would do to our relations with Mexico and Latin America is also vastly overstated. Our neighbors to the south already know that the waves of illegal immigrants that they have been sending us for decades are, to many, unwelcome. They already know that we are trying with renewed vigor to close our borders to illegal immigrants and illegal drugs. They are quite accustomed to looking across that border and seeing armed Border Patrol agents, checkpoints, fencing, and other paraphernalia of self-defense. What they are not used to, however, is a United States of America that acts energetically and consistently to defend its own interests, but that, I suspect, they can adjust to, given enough time, and they may even come to respect the United States as never before. Latin American nations, after all, do not hesitate to defend their borders. Why should they begrudge us the right to defend our own?
President Trump is doubling down on his pledge to build a border wall, and he is doing so by signaling his willingness to shut down the government if Democrats refuse to support a budget including funding for the wall, which is precisely what they swear they will do. In other words, Trump is ready to do battle, ready to take extreme political risks, on behalf of a wall that he believes is vital to U.S. national security, and perhaps vital to his own reelection chances. Republicans in Congress, though, are wavering. They remember the bruising government shutdowns of 1995-96 and 2013, which resulted in Republicans getting the blame for the shutdowns (thanks naturally to biased media coverage), and Republicans blinking first and more or less giving in to Democrats’ demands. Congressional Republicans, in other words, are scared, and so they would prefer to play nice and negotiate with Democrats, and, if that means sacrificing the wall, so be it.
This approach is not only weak and cowardly; it is also foolish. Republicans control both Houses of Congress as well as the Presidency. Republicans thus have far more leverage over the budget than Democrats do. Republicans just have to be willing to use it.
President Trump has proven time and time again that he is prepared to go to the mat even for causes that are not universally popular. With a media establishment virtually united in (phony) outrage regardless of what he says or does, he has very little reason not to act according to his own beliefs, and to strive to do what is right for the country in his eyes. He will be pummeled either way.
We know, then, that President Trump means what he says: he is absolutely committed to the border wall. Therefore, Republicans should stand with the President. They should support his pledge to shut down the government unless an acceptable budget is passed, inclusive of funds to build the wall. Republicans should do so because President Trump is going to make his stand with or without them, and we will have a much better chance of victory if we form a united front. Indeed, a united front might cause the Democrats to cave, and obviate the need for a shutdown. Republicans in Congress should also realize that they will inevitably receive much of the “blame” if there is a shutdown, regardless of their attitude towards it, so why should they not embrace it, and thus gain a share of the credit if (and when) the strategy works? Finally, Republicans should support the potential shutdown because Republican voters, who put President Trump and Republican Congressmen in office, expect progress towards conservative goals, not consistent surrender to Democratic obstruction. The inaction on repealing Obamacare and tax reform places Republicans in a perilous position. Standing firm on the border wall can help restore Republicans’ confidence and self-respect.
In the past, Republicans have come out the losers in government shutdowns (and threatened shutdowns), because no one truly believed, and for good reason, that they had the fortitude to see them through. Republicans did not have the courage of their convictions. President Trump, though, is itching for a fight. He is ready to shut down the government indefinitely if that is what it takes to achieve an acceptable budget. Democrats, moreover, know that Trump is just “crazy” enough to follow through on his threats. That is why he has such a good chance of prevailing in this fight.
Republicans in Congress: America wants the wall. America, moreover, is going to get a wall. President Trump will make sure of that, even if he has to build it himself. Get on board, therefore, stand with the President, and accept nothing less than a budget that protects America’s borders fully and completely. Victory is at hand, so let us grasp it together.
Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History in the State University of New York and blogs at: www.waddyisright.com.