What if Trump doesn’t care?

What if Trump doesn’t care? January 11, 2019

So we are now actually arriving at that point at which government workers are about to miss a paycheck due to the shutdown.  Federal employees are protesting.  The media is featuring other impacts of the shutdown, such as missed paychecks.  And this follows reports from a week ago that Trump “said he’d keep the government closed for a very long period of time — months or even years” in a meeting with House Democrats, as reported at CNN as well as pretty much everywhere else. Trump also labelled this as a “strike,” which, however faulty an analogy, suggests that he views this like a strike, a test of wills, and something that, depending on the industry, can indeed last for quite a while.

Polling says that half of Americans blame Trump for the shutdown, and pundits take that as a sign that Trump will have to concede.  But my first reaction is this:  it is already the case that half of Americans disapprove of Trump’s performance as president.  Unless you believe that those two numbers line up by coincidence, I don’t see how it hurts Trump to continue to say, “the Democrats refuse to compromise.”  I don’t see how the 40% who support him and believe that it is the Democrat’s fault for refusing to meet halfway, will change their minds on this point regardless of what reports they read about the impact of the shutdown — impacts which they will interpret as being caused by Schumer and Pelosi, not Trump.

In fact, I presume that if Trump concedes on this point, and loses his last remaining bit of leverage to “build a wall” or increase border security more generally, he support among his base and attendance at his rallies tumbles, which raises the stakes for Trump even higher, and creates a situation in which he cannot concede, cannot sign a bill opening the government with nothing to show for it.  (And for Trump to lose his support is appealing to me, if he decides to quit while he’s ahead, and leave the 2020 race open for others; but I don’t see him crumbling.)

It is also the case that Trump’s opponents generally believe that he is indifferent to the sufferings of Americans, and just cares about using the presidency to enrich himself further, and for the purpose of stoking his ego — which makes concessions all the more unlikely.

What about the suggestion that the GOP, and in particular, the Senate leadership, should simply disregard Trump and pass government-reopening legislation by a vetoproof margin, and continue to negotiate for more border security under the same broad outlines of prior “grand bargain” proposals?  To be honest, I don’t have enough sense of the numbers or of the politics in the Senate to voice an opinion on whether this is anything other than a gotcha-type suggestion, but the Pelosi Democrats certainly haven’t behaved as if that’s their plan, since their government-reopening bill included rescinding the Mexico City Policy, that is, right out the gate taking on demands the administration resume funding abortion-supporting organizations.

But here’s a part of my thinking here:

Back once upon a time when there were negotiations between the government of Israel and the PLO/Palestinian Authority, the term “confidence-building measures” appeared regularly in the news reports to describe actions that the parties undertook unilaterally and without precondition as a precursor to negotiations.  In reality, at least based on my memory, these usually took the form of the Israelis releasing Palestinians in prison for terror offenses.

In a way, I had tended to think of the wall itself as a sort of “confidence-building measure” because it would prevent new illegal immigration without affecting those now in the country in the same way as mandatory e-verify implementation would, for example.  I know that my perspective is centered around enforcement.

[Brief rehash:  I’ve written repeatedly that I believe that at a point when less-educated workers in the United States are struggling, that their wages have stagnated and that working-class men have dropped out of the labor market entirely and are being shrugged off as disposable because of the promise of hard-working replacements, that one of the few tools we have in our tool chest is to help them is to restrict the size of the labor market they compete in, or, rather, to avoid expanding it with less-educated workers from abroad, reserving any increase in immigration for labor shortages that actually materialize rather than those which are predicted to materialize at some point in the future.  I do also worry that large increases in the number of immigrants will hinder assimilation (and that everyone who says, “we had lots of immigrants arriving in the 1800s and that turned out Just Fine” ignore the corruption of machines like Tammany Hall, sweatshops, etc.).  At the same time, it is a matter of justice to make some provision for those immigrants who have built lives here because our government has failed to institute enforcement measures for so many years — but it would be wrong to implement an amnesty based on this sense of justice in a manner that ensures that future prospective immigrants will view our system as one where you can build a life without legal authorization while you wait for your turn.]

Anyway, because I know that I have a perspective based on enforcement, and would really like to see a combination of E-Verify and Social Security no-match-enforcement and pursuit of people who work and hire under-the-table as the primary mechanisms rather than deportation, I have a significant distrust of legislation, such as the multiple “Gang of” variations, which provides for immediate amnesty and promises of enforcement somewhere down the road.  Sure, sometimes there are claims that the amnestied workers will only get provisional residency until the final enforcement measures are implemented, but the provisional residency is always phrased as indefinitely renewable, in such a manner that means that there’s very little carrot left.  (In the latest “Dreamer” legislation, parents of “Dreamers” were likewise promised these indefinitely-renewable work permits.)  How much pressure would there be to implement enforcement, solely to give these immigrants, protected from deportation and given indefinite work permits, those residual additional benefits of citizenship?  I’m sorry, but I can’t see the pressure there, the marches on Washington by newly-amnestied folk demanding that the administration implement enforcement measures so they can vote.  Instead, I can all too easily see an indifferent administration, once the goodies of residency have been handed out, deeming the rest to be low-priority and abandoned.

And, to give the benefit of the doubt, I presume the same is true on the other side, that they don’t trust that any promises of future amnesty in exchange for current enforcement, would materialize.  Of course, that statement comes from a desire to reach beyond my own perceptions, because, to be honest, what I hear from amnesty-supporters is not “we’ll come to a fair bargain” but “immigrants crossing without papers aren’t harming anyone,” and many of the “Gang of” supporters in the past have tried to add into their “bargain” such items as unlimited guest worker visas for any employer who prefers to hire an immigrant, meaning that they’re not really conceding anything if the ease of obtaining work visas makes a promise of enforcement of forged IDs irrelevant.

Which all, again, means that people who are interested in resolving this issue need to think in terms of these confidence-building measures rather than imagining that the solution can be one of an immediate Grand Bargain.


Image:  from pixabay.com; https://pixabay.com/en/border-mexico-usa-united-states-62866/

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