Editor's note: The following are the latest thoughts from regular Pall-Times contributor John T. Sullivan Jr. It appears independent of his monthly column, which will return March 4.
To build, or not to build, a great wall. That is the question of the day.
How did that come to be so essential an element of our national debate over policies to advance our collective security and our success? That is a question worth examining, and putting into historical perspective.
For answers, we need to turn to history. Let’s consider two historic wall projects, the Great Wall of China, and the Berlin Wall. Neither was built by a democratically elected government.
The Great Wall of China was largely constructed by Chinese Emperors during the Ming dynasty in the 1300-1600 AD era. It was meant to protect the Chinese from the invasions of the Mongolian hordes to the north, and to govern the degree of commerce exchanged between the Chinese and the Mongolians. It was a military fortification built mostly of brick with watchtowers and connected military barracks. It is so large it can be seen from outer space, and it extends for more than 13,000 miles. It is one of the most impressive architectural accomplishments in human history.
By most historic accounts, it succeeded in its purpose of protecting the Chinese people.
The second wall was built during the Cold War to stop the indigenous population of East Berliners from escaping the depressive economy and political repression of the East German Communist regime. Built in 1961, it was a 12-foot high concrete wall that extended for 96 miles around West Berlin. It too was built of brick and monitored by the military. It did not succeed in its purpose, and was ultimately torn down by the German people in 1989, as part of the reunification process of the two Germanys.
Fast-forward to 2016, and Donald Trump, Republican candidate for President, makes building a wall along the Mexican border, a distance of nearly 2,000 miles, the centerpiece of his campaign. And he claimed that he would force Mexico to pay for it.
Currently, there is approximately 650 miles of border fencing with Mexico, which was built before Trump took office. Contrary to his polemical protestations, zero miles of new wall have been built during his administration, and 1,300 more miles would have to be built to complete his goal. Under the proposed compromise bill now before Congress, 55 new miles are authorized at a cost of $1.375 billion.
Cost estimates for completion of Trump’s wall range from $23-75 billion dollars. That would equal the cost of a proposed new fast train connection between San Francisco and LA, which has now been scaled back as being too expensive to complete.
Choosing what projects to fund, which projects are critical, and which projects are not a priority is normally the province of Congress. Here, the President alone has determined the high priority of the wall. It has become his salutary slogan. For Trump to succeed electorally, he needs to keep his voters supercharged. The politics of fear only succeeds when there is a bogeyman, and Mexico and other immigrants and asylum seekers from Central America are his bogeymen.
The problem with democracy is that you can’t always get what you want. Legislation fundamentally requires compromise. There is no Emperor Fu Manchu who can decree “ Build that wall!”
And a wall that in the 14th century succeeded in holding back the Mongolian hordes, may not be the solution in 2019 for preventing illegal immigrants from breaching our border, and stemming the flow of illicit drugs and collateral contraband. There are other, more modern, less expensive, and more proficient ways of solving the problem.
Walls and fences have their value. They are not, however, a panacea. They are not worth shutting down the government for. And they most certainly should take a number and stand in line until our Legislative representatives sort out the real priorities for the Commonweal.
Slogans and rallies notwithstanding, some things just need to be put into a proper perspective, and a 1,300 mile border wall is not at the top of the list of the most sound minded among us. “Emperor” Donald says he will find a way to build his wall, and keep his promise. The real question yet to be determined is, can he build a bridge to the rest of the electorate, and deliver the prosperity he promised to his legions of followers, or will those promises remain unfulfilled, like the unfinished wall?