A Commentary By Michael Barone
Friday, January 11, 2019
The televised presidential address from the Oval Office, a staple of communication between the chief executive and the people in the second half of 20th century, has recently been in desuetude. Former President Barack Obama delivered only three such addresses in his eight years in office. President Donald Trump this week delivered his first one, just days short of completing half his term.
It was a sober address, short but touching some emotive chords, carefully based on facts and proposals — contrary to the Democrats’ meme that it would be based on fears, not facts.
Post-speech fact-checking was particularly farcical. The Washington Post said Trump’s claim that ICE officers made “266,000 arrests of aliens with criminal records” in two years is accurate but “misleading” because the number includes all crimes. Huh?
Another complaint is that Trump claimed 1 in 3 women in migrant caravans is sexually assaulted. The complainer pointed to a study that says it is 60 to 80 percent of those women. Obviously, nobody knows the actual numbers; a good guess might be “a lot.” But it is pretty obvious what’s been happening on the southern border.
Attempted border crossings were way down in 2017, presumably for fear of tough Trump enforcement. They rose in 2018, as many Central Americans started arriving with children, hoping to gain entry into the United States by exploiting court-created loopholes in American asylum law. Few had legitimate claims on the political persecution or other traditional grounds for asylum; many complained of high local crime rates, for which, so far as I know, no nation has ever granted asylum.
Now it may be objected that the number of illegal southern border crossings was much higher 15 and 20 years ago. That’s why Congress, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, voted in 2006 for more border protection.
And it’s possible to argue that in the current hot labor market, illegals have little depressing effect on wages, and that the numbers of violent crimes by illegals, though regrettable, are bearable in a nation of 328 million. Democrats understandably tend to shun these valid but hard-hearted arguments.
Instead they insist vehemently that a wall, which many supported a dozen years ago, will inevitably be ineffective and must be regarded as “immoral.”
This first argument flies in the face of evidence. As American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin pointed out in 2017, Israel’s wall with the West Bank, Morocco’s with Algeria, India’s with Bangladesh, Hungary’s with Serbia and others have reduced illegal crossings to near zero. This year, Rubin reports that France, Iraq, Lithuania, Estonia and Norway are putting up walls. “(I)t is simply counterfactual to suggest that walls won’t work, a willful subordination of facts to the politics of the day,” he writes.
And why are walls immoral? Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell recognizes the “but the Berlin Wall was to keep people in” argument but insists a wall to keep people out is “medieval” and “a symbol of ‘us and not us.'” Well, yes — U.S. citizens and not U.S. citizens. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith says Trump’s call for the wall is rooted in “xenophobia and racism.”
To say that it is impermissible or racist to distinguish between American citizens and others is to make a case for open borders. Even in the days of Ellis Island, health restrictions blocked some would-be immigrants and deterred perhaps millions of others.
Trump made the argument more gracefully, pointing out that wealthy politicians build walls, fences and gates around their property not “because they hate the people on the outside but because they love the people on the inside.” A backyard fence is not a prison wall.
In his speech, Trump was careful to stress that he is seeking better technology, more personal humanitarian assistance and asylum law changes, as well as “a physical barrier.” He says, “At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall.”
In her response, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi conceded, “we need to secure our borders.” And Sen. Schumer said, “Democrats and the president both want stronger border security.” You might see these words as pointing toward a deal. I don’t.
Pelosi and Schumer insisted, without citing evidence, that a wall is “ineffective” and “unnecessary.” Their party seems emotionally fixated on blocking a wall and impervious to argument, even as Trump, perhaps surprisingly, made a dignified and factual case that it’s needed to “protect our country.”
Government shutdowns, formerly headline news, seem less painful these days (three-quarters of government is funded). Looks like a stalemate.
Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.
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