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The one-trick pony president and his wall

Given the Trump administration’s incompetence and intransigence on immigration issues, the president is now cornered and his speech proved it. But, rather than revel in his predicament and keep the government closed, Democrats would be wise to make a deal.
John Feeley was US Ambassador to Panama and is a Univision consultant.
President Trump addressed the nation about border security from the Oval Office, Jan 9, 2019. Crédito: Pool photo by Carlos Barria

Last night’s address to the nation by President Trump regarding the fictitious national security crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, funding for a wall and the government shutdown was a sad reminder that one-trick ponies are called that for a reason.

Convinced by Roger Stone and Steve Bannon that he could vilify his way into the White House by pandering to the fears and frustrations of low-education and low-income Americans who had failed to prosper in a globalized economy, Trump’s trick on the American electorate in 2016 was to create and then demonize a scapegoat: foreigners. More specifically, Mexican immigrants.

When they failed to cooperate with Trump’s fiction by staying at home and not crossing the border in massive numbers, the president shifted gears and focused on desperate Central American minors and families as the primary villains in his conjured crisis. This culminated last fall with the purported “invasion” of Central Americans, most of whom have gone home, or remain along the border in Mexico waiting to file legal asylum petitions at a U.S. border crossing stations.

Most pundits saw through Trump’s hype and concluded that the electorate had rejected Trump's fear mongering about an invasion. Most observers, that is, except for the president.

So the one-trick pony president came out again last night to perform his now familiar act. What the nation and international audiences heard was an unevolved reprise of his 2016 campaign stump speech, with all the requisite, 'dog whistle' code that stokes his base.

As tempting as it might be to fact-check his comments or point out the multiple logical inconsistencies in a relatively short nine-minute speech, a more useful task is to consider the deal making opportunity the president’s current dilemma affords both Democrats and Republicans who genuinely care about the lives at stake in the Wall funding debate.

I’m not talking about the American lives lost by foreign terrorists who illegally entered the United States by crossing the Southern border. That figure is zero, according to Trump’s own Department of State. It was pathetic that, even after Fox News’ Chris Wallace eviscerated the president’s spokeswoman for referring to the highly misleading figure of 4,000 terrorists and SIA (special interest aliens) border crossers, the president used that debunked talking point again last night. But I’m not talking about American victims, real or imagined.

No, I am talking about the lives of the over one million peaceful, law abiding immigrants in the previously protected class known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and the Honduran, Salvadoran and Haitian migrants who enjoyed Temporary Protected Status (TPS) until the president’s pen ended it. These are real lives, not the fictitious hordes of gangbangers coming for our women and children that the president imagined in his speech.

Given the Trump administration’s combination of incompetence and intransigence on immigration issues, the president is now cornered, and his speech proved it. Rather than revel in his predicament and keep the government closed, Democrats would be wise to make a deal that is already out there and relatively well-developed: offer some amount of wall funding in exchange for rescission of the Executive Orders that ended both the DACA and TPS programs, and create a path to permanent lawful resident status for those million plus immigrants, most of whom are acculturated, tax paying, lawful residents of the United States.

To be sure, this compromise has been discussed and failed to prosper before.

But as the pain of the shutdown begins to affect more Americans, Speaker Pelosi should reconsider her previous opposition to the deal. After the president’s desperate speech, and his upcoming visit to the border on Thursday, more and more Americans are realizing the “Chicken Little” folly of Trump’s wall. However, were some portion of wall funding approved by the Congress in the context of a government-wide funding bill, progress on the actual construction of physical barriers where they do not now exist will take years. And that money can always be re-programmed, depending upon the politics of this Congress or the 2020 election cycle.

Meanwhile, the DACA “Dreamers” and TPS recipients don’t have that time to burn. Given court injunctions, Dreamers remain in the country, but now is the time to get them out from under the Damocles sword of uncertainty regarding their futures as contributing American residents and citizens. The TPS beneficiaries are in a similar boat. Courts have halted implementation of Trump’s orders. Yet absent a revocation of the various ill-considered executive orders, these peoples’ lives remain on hold.

By dealing with the President to permanently accord to over one million migrants’ the legal right to remain in the United States, Democrats will take away Trump’s “Democrat equals obstructionist” trope. They will take off the table two contentious elements of a much-needed reform of our immigration legislation. And given that a number of Republican House and Senate members have already signaled their interest, such a deal could begin to forge key legislative relationships needed to get the country beyond our polarized politics.

What do Speaker Pelosi and Democrats lose by agreeing to give the President a number shy of his $5.7bn for a “big beautiful wall?” My bet is next to nothing.

Even if the money is appropriated, experts say a wall won’t be built according to the administration’s desired timetable. So bragging rights for 2020 shouldn’t be a factor. Meanwhile, the Mueller Report, Democratic House Investigations, and his own destructive instincts will all hurt Trump painfully in 2019. So Democrats don’t have to define a “win” as Trump losing categorically. In doing so they’ll pocket a million grateful potential voters and keep playing the unimaginative and desperate president for who he is: a one-trick pony.