Fantasy problems don’t have realistic solutions

As the government shuts down after Trump blew up a bipartisan compromise, The New Republic raises a question: What is the Democratic position on immigration, and is the lack of any clear position a problem?

To a certain extent this is the kind of problem propaganda always causes: When propagandists build an artificial crisis out of more mundane problems, opponents are usually stuck without a crisis-sized solution. The classic example of this is the blood libel: What solution could Europe’s “good” Jews propose to the problem of Jews whose recipe for Passover matzos required the blood of Christian children? How could they address an issue that existed only in the minds of anti-Semites?

The whole point of a manufactured crisis is to make common-sense solutions seem inadequate. We have to build a wall for the same reason we had to invade Iraq: Manageable issues have been puffed up into an existential threat that only some grand project can address.

People sneaking into our country do create a few problems, but the “border crisis” Trump keeps talking about is mostly in his mind and the minds of his followers. The wave of drugs and crime spilling into our country from Mexico is 99% fantasy. There is the occasional criminal among the undocumented, just as there are criminals among any large group of people. Some drugs are carried across the border by undocumented human “mules”, but the great majority arrives by mail, by ship, by air, or in the luggage of citizen travelers. If a complete shutdown of the border were possible, that portion of drug trafficking would shift to other avenues without any significant effect on the availability of drugs in your town.

Similarly, the Wall is a solution that only works in fantasy. (The whole purpose of “Build the Wall!” was to make Trump’s crowds cheer. That’s as far as he has ever thought it out.) Perfectly securing the border — which the Wall won’t do — wouldn’t even end illegal immigration: About half of the undocumented immigrants come in legally as tourists or on business, and then stay after their visas run out. Short of closing down foreign travel completely (and bankrupting Disney World), you won’t solve that problem.

Since it exists only in fantasy, though, Trump’s Wall can do anything. (I am reminded of the cartoon domes people used to illustrate Reagan’s fantasy missile-defense plan.) Its steel slats will have 9-inch gaps, but drug packages (or skinny children) won’t be able to pass between them. “Drones & Technology are just bells and whistles” compared to the advanced Bronze Age thinking that a wall represents.

Some Democrats imagine that giving Trump his wall will at least shut him up, but that won’t work any better than the Wall itself: As Jim Wright points out in some detail, a wall through a remote area is easily circumvented. (“All you need to defeat it is a ladder and some quiet time.” A shovel might work too.) So unless the Wall is actively manned and monitored for its full 2000-mile length, it will be useless. In other words, once it’s built the new issue will be that Democrats aren’t willing to fully fund the maintenance and monitoring of the Wall — which they won’t, because (like the Wall itself) that will be a stupid waste of money.

So what’s to be done? The biggest security problem related to undocumented immigrants isn’t anything they do themselves, but the mere fact that they’re outside the system and don’t dare claim its protection. So many of them might not testify to crimes they see, send their kids to school, get inoculated against epidemics, or insist on the rights that we want to enforce in all American workplaces. They are natural prey, so they attract predators. That hurts us all.

So the first priority should be to get them some kind of legal status. Deport the criminals among them. (I mean real criminals, not pillars of their communities who were arrested once thirty years ago.) Send back recent arrivals who have no legitimate asylum claim. Fund enough courts and judges to process the backlog on asylum claims that might be real. (That’s been our treaty obligation since 1951, by the way.) And finally, recognize that some people, however they arrived, have built a life here and are pulling their weight. So make them pay a fine or something and grant them legal residence.

Next, figure out why they keep coming. In particular, why are Guatemala and Honduras such hellholes that people are willing to walk thousands of miles to escape them? Wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to do some nation-building there rather than deal with their refugee caravans? (Again, you need to ignore some propaganda. The great majority of the world’s population prefers to stay home, if that’s a viable option. The caravans are people escaping from real dangers, not being drawn here by the magnet of American welfare programs.)

To the extent that people are coming here to work, make legal work permits easier to get and crack down on employers of undocumented workers.

And yes, patrol the border. But do it efficiently, with those “bells and whistles” Trump shrugs off, recognizing that no one — not the Chinese, not the Soviets, not the Nazis — has ever completely shut down a 2000-mile border. Border protection won’t be impenetrable — neither would Trump’s Wall — but the point should be to keep the undocumented immigration problem down to manageable proportions.

In short, address the non-crisis with a lot of little improvements. That approach may not be bold or grand or sexy, but it makes sense. Trump’s Wall doesn’t.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Moz in Oz  On December 24, 2018 at 8:29 pm

    > Wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to do some nation-building there

    The problem with US “nation building” is that it almost always means installing a compliant dictator, wiping out anyone who disagrees, then making sure they buy lots of US weaponry using the money they get from pillaging the country. Just stop doing that and you’ll’ve done more good than most US foreign policy decisions.

  • Lydia Spitzer  On December 28, 2018 at 11:03 am

    Well sifted, Doug!! I would only quibble with your comment about our going into Iraq — it didn’t seem to have anything to do, actually, with who attacked us. They weren’t Iraqis. Attacking Iraq was like being punched by the person sitting beside you and getting up and punching the person sitting across from you in revenge. That’s what the whole dumb-ass “WMD” bullshit was drummed up to paper over. It was way more tragically, pointlessly, criminally stupid than you let on, in my view. But at least they went through the process. The way I see it, Trump is too tragically, criminally uninformed to even do that.

    • weeklysift  On December 28, 2018 at 5:25 pm

      Actually, I don’t think I said anything about why we went into Iraq. The comment (in the previous article) was about Afghanistan, where Bin Laden and most of the rest of the Al Qaeda higher command was at the time.

    • weeklysift  On December 29, 2018 at 3:13 am

      Wait, I see what you’re referring to. But my statement “Manageable issues have been puffed up into an existential threat that only some grand project can address.”wasn’t meant to refer to 9-11. The US had had problems with Saddam since the Gulf War, and there were legitimate concerns about him using poison gas against rebels, just as Assad has in Syria. He had at one time sought nuclear weapons, and might do so again without an effective inspection program. He had attacked Kuwait and Iran (not that we cared about Iran), and during the Gulf War had lobbed missiles at Israel, so he might be a threat to his neighbors in the future. Those were legitimate concerns, but they were manageable without an invasion.

      After 9-11, though, all that was spun together with the ridiculous idea that Saddam was allied with bin Laden. Then an exaggerated notion of Saddam’s WMD potential came together into a theory that he might give atomic weapons to Al Qaeda terrorists. No sensible response to the actual issues could respond to that manufactured threat.


  • By Baby Driver | The Weekly Sift on December 24, 2018 at 11:07 am

    […] This week’s featured posts are “Is this any way to run a superpower?” and “Fantasy problems don’t have realistic solutions“. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: