Tuesday evening President Trump addressed us regarding the “border crisis.” He accomplished a significant rhetorical success.
His previous spoken references to “The Wall” came in the context of his emotionally heated appeal to a sense of national identity (“Make America Great Again! …Who’s gonna pay for the beautiful wall? Mexico!“)
But on Tuesday night, he successfully changed the frame of reference. He situated his insistence on a wall in the context of: This is a perfectly reasonable, and morally necessary, national-security matter.
Now, don’t get me wrong. He still employed his usual trick: Handpicking certain crimes from among the many that sadly occur in our large nation every day. Solely to tarnish the reputation of an entire class of people, the overwhelming majority of whom have never committed a crime, and never will. Genuinely despicable.
But, in addition to using that maneuver, the President also claimed to have a proposal on the table, one that comes from experts. Experts in border-security strategy.
In their answer to the President, the leading Democrats in Congress did not have the necessary knowledge or skill to confront the President’s rhetorical stratagem. They did not give his speech the kind of answer that they should have.
President Trump signed an executive order about “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” almost two years ago. It ordered the Secretary of Homeland Security to produce a comprehensive report on, among other things, “all geophysical and topographical aspects of the southern border.”
The world still awaits that report. If we ever get it, it will certainly indicate:
Despite all of our modern surveying tools and careful planning, the earth will still surprise you. This part that you thought was boring and simple and easy to predict is actually totally complicated. Look at any major excavation for a subway system, any major bridge construction, any large tower complex; all of them had intense surveys beforehand, extensive design phases, and still had to modify while building. Earth doesn’t forgive sloppy. Ignore geology at your peril.
(The words of a geologist interviewed about The Wall.)
Over the years, border walls and fences have exacerbated flooding in both the US and Mexico. Environmental advocates and local activists in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas now fear their communities will also face increased risk of flooding.
In 2006, Congress mandated that Homeland Security build 700 miles of border fencing. That had to be revised the following year, because the agency could not manage to build 700 miles.
Engineering difficulties because of mountains and riverbeds, Mexico treaty obligations, rainwater management issues, lack of co-operation from landowners with property abutting the border–all these problems got in the way. Even after all the environmental-protection and eminent-domain rules were suppressed.
If the President actually had a “serious proposal,” produced by experts, it would necessarily take all this into account. It would involve something immeasurably more complicated than the absurd sophistry of Tuesday night’s speech. The idea that we can “lock the house.”
That analogy simply does not work. We cannot secure the US-Mexico border like you lock your house at night. It’s not a matter of whether or not doing so would be immoral. It’s simply impossible. Mother Nature herself forbids it.