Rhetorically Dismantling the Border Wall & Building Public Consensus

Keeping Immigration and "Moral" Arguments Out of It

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by Charles Ellison | Publisher’s Riff | @ellisonreport

We’re officially in the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history. Perhaps it’s worth considering what arguments can 1) persuade more than just 6 out of every 10 Americans to oppose the “border wall” and 2) achieve 80-90 percent or as near complete national consensus that closing any portion of the federal government invites real danger to national existence.

Because we don’t yet have that needed national consensus.

Not All Americans Are Against the Border Wall

General headlines and broader national discourse on the current impasse in Washington declare, such as this Washington Post article, that “Americans don’t want Trump’s border wall.” That sounds unanimous, right? Yet, a fairly significant number of Americans do want it if we’re going by the University of Maryland poll analyzed in that same article: 39 percent or basically 4 in 10. Or, counting the entire American population, 127 million people (out of the total 326 million).

That’s about the same in a recently conducted CNN poll - as well as 45 percent in that poll who consider the situation on the border a crisis, including 80 percent of Republicans who favor the wall.

To put that in electoral context, 127 million people is double the number of people who voted for Donald Trump as president in the 2016 election (nearly 63 million people). That 63 million, by the way, was just 27 percent of the voting population and just 19.3 percent of the entire U.S. population.

So, it’s safe to assume that both Trump and Congressional Republicans have felt somewhat safe enough, politically, or covered enough to keep this thing going as long as they have, to keep the government shut down for nearly a month over border wall funding. There are 40 percent who still want it; and that’s nearly 50 percent more than the number of voting-eligible Americans who voted. These are Americans who don’t care about migrants (legal and undocumented) and who are not at all moved by federal worker suffering or those who rely on federal government benefits. And they most certainly don’t care about closed museums and trash piling up at national parks.

There Are Still Way Too Many Americans Who Support the Shutdown

Whether there are 7 in 10 Americans, according to an NPR/Ipsos poll, who hate the government shutdown, there are still way too many Americans who think it’s acceptable. And that sizable minority is giving the president and Congressional Republicans some latitude to keep this persisting. More notably, majorities of Republican voters polled - those considered the base - are still convinced this is a right path.

There are even too many federal government workers, 22 percent in a Government Business Council and GovExec.com field survey, who support the shutdown and an additional 7 percent who “neither support nor oppose.” That’s significant for a group of people who find their livelihoods threatened by shutdown.

Opponents of the Border Wall, the Shutdown and a Looming National Emergency Edict Need to Sharpen Different Counter Arguments

Democrats, especially House Democrats, are at the moment primarily responsible for crafting the mainstream discourse counter-arguments against Trump and Congressional Republicans who insist on allowing the government being shutdown over a manufactured national emergency. So far, the general conversation - with Democratic Party leadership consent - has, to date, been convinced that Democrats are opposed to the border wall due to disagreements over immigration reform and the fate of undocumented migrants. There is also still a reigning impression that their argument is primarily a moral one.

Yet, with the government shut down for so long, the negative economic and security impacts being felt nationwide, and massive public health risks looming (among other issues), moral questions surrounding the fate of migrants (cynically) will need to stay out of it for now. Democrats should make certain to pivot hard and immediately with new messaging in an effort to persuade that sizable minority of Americans who 1) support the border wall, 2) support the shutdown and 3) still approve of the current president. Counter arguments must be clear and emphatic enough to convince this still influential slice of the electorate in a way that prompts them to put extra-political pressure on Congressional Republicans to not only muster the votes to override a presidential veto, but to finally consider extra-legal proceedings (including impeachment and conviction) against the president.

Democrats are showing signs of a shift in messaging, but not fast or aggressive enough to ensure unwavering public consensus that translates into more than just protests from government workers.

The following five non-immigration related arguments should be stressed constantly, supporting the larger argument that a federal government shutdown and a presidential National Emergency declaration of any sort is not only unacceptable and unpatriotic, but poses a very destructive existential threat to the nation. Simply …

  • A shutdown is a public safety threat - the risk of plane crashes, terrorist attacks to travel and infrastructure, food poisoning, increased hunger and dangerous toxic spills increases substantially with an ongoing shutdown.

  • A shutdown is a direct threat to national security - this next argument is even more resonant when constantly posing a key question: is the president an agent for a rival foreign government? Is the shutdown a form of treason orchestrated by the president? We’re witnessing the active and self-engineered deterioration of U.S. national security posture. National security posture is one thing, particularly conservatives, put above all else.

  • A government shutdown is expensive and fiscally wasteful - we’re nearing a point where, as CNBC reports, the cost of the shutdown will be more expensive ($1.2 billion in lost economic activity per week) than the proposed $5.7 billion price tag of “the wall.” The cost to the government is also massive in terms of uncollected revenue and budget spent on workers who weren’t allowed to work.

  • A National Emergency declaration is illegal and violates property rights - it’s interesting how conservatives spent years rallying against President Obama over perceived “federal overreach” and federal encroachment on private property during the 2014 Bundy ranch standoff. A declaration of national emergency to build the proposed border wall would be that standoff multiplied by untold numbers. It would be the height of ideological hypocrisy should political conservatives, who typically despise eminent domain, accept the massive forced acquisition of private property.

  • Use of U.S. military troops on the border to acquire land would be a violation of Posse Comitatus - enacted in 1878, the Posse Comitatus Act was created to prohibit federal use of the U.S. military for domestic law enforcement. Invoking a national emergency, especially a fake one, to deploy U.S. troops to engage in support actions to steal private property for that border wall would be a violation of that Act. And it would create a slippery slope towards unfettered use of U.S. armed forces for other domestic deployments - something he made a campaign promise over in 2016.