There is a major difference between campaign promises and comprehensive policy development and implementation.
A major difference.
One, policy development, to be effective, requires a great deal of thought and research to ensure that all aspects of a particular issue or concern are considered and, one hopes, adequately addressed as part of the final policy to be implemented. The other, campaign promises, consist of nothing more than buzz words and catchy sound bites such as “build a wall”.
A policy, if it is a good one, is extremely comprehensive as it attempts to cover, to varying degrees, most aspects of the issue identified as needing redress and will have an accompanying plan for implementation. That implementation plan, if complete, will contain cost assessments, training needs, and the like. To put it another way, an effective policy will consist of a great deal more detail than a simple sound bite. During a campaign, however, a sound bite is all some segments of the electorate can relate to. A sound bite is all that they can remember.
If that sound bite resonates with a large enough segment of the electorate, you have a winning sound bite. The problem arises, of course, when that sound bite is to be turned into a full fledged policy. If the appropriate research and analysis to develop the policy is missing, the sound bite alone is nothing more than an empty shell. It is nothing more than an outdated roadside advertisement for a housing development that has never been and never will be built.
That is the situation we have with “the wall”, a simplistic sound bite during the 2016 presidential campaign that Trump now is attempting to sell as a panacea to address border security along the southwest border with Mexico. The simplicity of “build a wall” does not reflect any ingenuousness but, rather, a lack of understanding of the challenges that adequately addressing border security entail.
Moreover, keeping a campaign promise without regard to effectively addressing the problem is clearly more about filling one’s ego than it is about finding real and lasting solutions. Like most Trump endeavors, it is more about marketing than solutions to problems which require well thought out plans. Then, again, while Trump may be a complete disaster as a president and even more so as a compassionate human being, he does deserve some credit as a master marketer. I will say, however, that after this presidency finally comes to an end, the Trump brand will be as worthless as a Trump University diploma.
The specific problem with the concept of a wall is that Trump clearly envisioned building the Great Wall of China across the entire 2,000 mile border with Mexico. That vision was never realistic for a myriad of reasons, but because Trump was too, either, inept or lazy to take the time to fully understand what was really needed and why a “big and beautiful wall” across the entire border was neither needed nor feasible, he was left with just getting a wall built at any cost regardless of its fruitlessness just to fill his ego and keep his promise to his base of supporters.
To be fair, there is a need to harden some stretches along the border with a barrier to make it a bit easier for Border Patrol agents to surveille the portions of the border between the ports of entry. That, however, is only one aspect of maintaining border security. Even where a barrier is appropriate, it must be remembered that no barrier is fool proof, but only serves to make it a bit more difficult to circumvent.
A comprehensive plan includes addressing all aspects, not just the border crossing of immigrants seeking asylum for themselves and their families. Trump points to bringing illegal drugs across the border as a justification for his wall. The reality, of course, is that the bulk of illegal drugs are smuggled through the ports of entry and not between the ports of entry and for good reason. Getting the illegal drugs or, for than matter, smuggling humans through the ports of entry then enables the smugglers to move unimpeded into the rest of the United States. Bringing illegal drugs across the border between ports of entry on foot limits the ability to make it too far. Far enough to seek asylum; not far enough to get those drugs to deeply into the U.S.
For Trump to use drug smuggling as a justification for his wall is disingenuous at best and an outright lie at worst. As well, to claim that there are upwards of 4,000 individuals suspected of being terrorists stopped at the southwest border is a gross misrepresentation. Customs & Border Protection use selectivity criteria to identify individuals that warrant further examination when they enter the United States. They may trigger an examination because they appear on a watch list or as an individual of special interest triggered by some factor that is captured in the examination criteria. Something as simple as buying an airline ticket with cash could trigger a more intensive examination of the incoming passenger. That in no way means that the individual is a terrorist.
The fact of the matter is that the less than 4,000, as Chris Wallace pointed out to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, arrived mostly at airports and not the southwest border of which there were only six individuals who were identified on the terrorist watch list. A terrorist crisis does not appear to exist other than in the fear tactics so effectively used by Trump. A better question to ponder is whether any of the 3,755 individuals who were identified as warranting closer scrutiny had their names entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database triggering a background check for guns. No, I think not.
A comprehensive plan would also need to address immigration as a whole as well as addressing the numerous individuals who enter legally but, because they overstayed the expiration of their visas, are now here illegally. More importantly, a comprehensive plan would also include addressing the threat of home grown radicalized terrorists. Yes, such a plan would have to be a great deal more complex than the simple building of a wall and maybe that is the problem. This president is incapable of understanding complex solutions so he relies on simple ineffective fixes.
However, as I have said, Trump’s quest for his wall is not and never was about adequately addressing border security on the southwest border or immigration as whole. If it was he would have realized long before now that a full border wall no matter what it is made of is completely unfeasible and that some border barrier construction is only a small piece of a much broader comprehensive border security plan.
Evidence of the importance of a border wall as a campaign promise kept rather than for border security is Trump’s threat of using executive power to declare a national emergency. Recently, on the White House south lawn, Trump took questions from reporters and I had the opportunity to ask him this: “What Defense Department initiatives will go unfunded if you have funding reprogrammed to pay for your wall after declaring a national emergency?” His response: “There is plenty of money.”
I found that response mind-boggling. First, it did not answer the question, which is par for the course (whether in Bedminster or Mar-a-lago). Second, for someone who has based so much of his campaign for the presidency on the need to more fully fund the military to now say there is plenty of money just to get his wall is quite disturbing. I shared that exchange with Trump with Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono and her reaction was quite similar to mine. Her words: “He said what? The military has ‘plenty’ of money?” Priceless. I hope she takes him to task. If anyone can it is Senator Hirono.
One last thing. If Trump does, indeed, attempt to expand executive power by declaring a national emergency just to get his wall, it will be a failed attempt. I assume those Texas ranchers who will lose land through eminent domain will bring suit and require the Trump administration to demonstrate how a national emergency could exist if it will take years if not decades to address through the building of a wall. More importantly, would Congress, both houses, simply sit idly by and allow a sitting president to circumvent Congress’ power of the purse? Moreover, will Republicans in Congress risk allowing a precedent to be established that could see the next Democratic president use the same tactic to declare the epidemic of mass shootings or climate change as national emergencies, which they clearly are more so than the need for building a campaign promise wall?
Should be a very interesting ride on the Trump express to oblivion.