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Power Politics and the Border Wall

One quarter of the U.S. government is either shut down or working without pay. These are real people and real services being affected, as are the ordinary citizens who rely on them. Neither the president nor Democratic congressional leaders appear ready to back down from their stated positions. Both blame the other side’s recalcitrance for the government shutdown. 

We’re all hopeful and even optimistic that a compromise will be found that provides a way out of the present stalemate and reopens the government. We’re optimistic because such shutdowns, which have become almost commonplace in recent years, are always solved, eventually.

Everyone is handwringing and blaming the other. Both sides are playing to their bases and accusing the other of doing just that. Many of us are members of one of the other of those bases, and most of us are no more willing to give up our position than are the negotiators who represent us. Many people are convinced of the necessity of a wall and at least an equal number of people are equally convinced that it is unnecessary and a symbol of malignant immigration policies. For either side to give in is regarded as a sign of weakness and ideological insecurity.

Compromise, tradeoffs, horse-trading, and even bluffing are time-honored negotiating strategies in politics. Watch Steven Spielberg’ film, “Lincoln” to see how this worked during the administration of one of our greatest presidents at a time when our nation was truly in a crisis. So, in some sense, the present situation is just par for the course. A minor blip in the course of running the government in a democracy.  Look at the U.K., were the Brexit question has paralyzed the British government. That’s a bigger problem than our current shutdown. But pointing out that other governments are in worse shape than we are doesn’t solve our problem here at home.

How are standoffs resolved? The answer is almost always compromise; a solution that allows both sides to give a little while saving face. Yesterday’s meeting between the president and congressional leaders had none of that. Both sides simply reiterated their earlier positions, with the Democrats also proposing to put forward a bill to reopen the government and postpone the border security question until later. The president rejected that proposal. 

A “no money for the wall” proposal is equally stubborn as a “five billion for a wall or nothing” proposal. Democrats can increase their monetary offer and insist on the money being spent only after a thorough and transparent assessment of the best way to enhance border security, without insisting on ruling out a wall. The president can accept the idea that he will use the appropriated money in the most logical way possible, given the results of such a study. It’s likely that such studies already exist, so we’re not talking about going back to the drawing board. We could get a wall, a better fence, more fence, more border guards—whatever experts have determined will work best for different parts of the border. 

There are a number of ways a compromise could be reached on the border security issue and its funding level. The politicians are playing to their bases and we, who belong to those bases, are being as irrational and stubborn as they are. It’s our wrath they are afraid of. We all need to learn to compromise if we want our government to work.

Reader Comments (2)

While I don't like to see conditions attached to government spending bills in general, I don't like to stereotype "politicians" in the process. I've worked as a volunteer for one or two Congressional representatives and their staff in the past and have always been impressed at the "heads-down" work they do in researching topics that affect the lives of citizens and in drafting bills to protect our individual and collective rights as citizens of the United States. After reading your post, Casey, I decided that the best thing I can do is to be more diligent in observing some of the day-to-day workings of our newly elected officials, such as Representative Harley Rouda from here in Orange County. He's brand new to this "business" and the more we become involved, the more we trust the people we've elected. I firmly believe that we ARE the government. Whether that's naive or not, it's a belief I need to hold on to. We have a great opportunity via Twitter to express our feelings to our representatives. So hmmm, I think I'll just grab the url of your post right now and put it up. After all, Harley Rouda or Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, or who knows who will read it! Now if you only had a cute little graphic to go along with it!

January 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

"If you support a system/process that puts a small number of people into positions of power and authority, then you do not understand "power" and "authority"."

We can do better, we should do better, we simply have to make the effort to make the effort.


Decade after decade after decade of delusional failure to resolve the problems we face, as a community, nation and species, and all you wanna do is keep electing them to power and authority.


(I mean "you", in a general sense not you in specific.)

I learned what is in our constitution.
It specifies a constitutional oligarchy.

January 4, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter45 Mike Anderson

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