It would take a writer of the skill and imagination of Gabriel Garcia Marquez to relate in adequate detail the absurdity of the partial shutdown of the American government that is now into its third week. Then again, even the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude might find the limits of magic realism tested by the allegorical entity at the heart of this political crisis: U.S. President Donald Trump’s shape-shifting Mexican border wall.
Mr. Trump wants a wall, period, and says he will refuse to sign any government funding bill that doesn’t include money for it. At this point, though, very little of what he or his opponents are saying is based in verifiable reality.
A person relying on Mr. Trump for their news would believe that the United States is facing an invasion of southern “rapists” and “terrorists,” and the only thing to stop them is an impregnable wall the length of the border.
They might believe the wall is going to made of concrete, as Mr. Trump has promised over and over. They might believe construction of it has already begun and that the Mexican government is paying for it, as he has also claimed.
But they would have to simultaneously believe it when Mr. Trump says Mexico isn’t actually going to pay for the wall directly, but will do so indirectly, thanks to terms that do not appear in the renegotiated North American free-trade agreement now known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
They must also magically accept that it makes sense for Mr. Trump to now demand US$5.7-billion from the American treasury, rather than the Mexican one, to start building the wall – the building of which has already started, according to the President. And because the President keeps downgrading the specifications of his impregnable fortress, they must suspend their curiosity about whether it is to be made of concrete or steel, with slats or no slats, or will be more of a fence than a wall, or may be constructed from LEGO, or perhaps will just be a delicate sheer hung between “Keep out” signs.
Or maybe it will be a hologram! That would be fine with Mr. Trump. He just needs to be able to point to something along the Mexican border that looks wall-like so that he can tell his voters that he kept his signature promise. He knows the people who shouted “Build the wall!” at his campaign rallies, not to mention his cheerleaders on Fox News, won’t be satisfied with anything less than a reasonable facsimile of the computer-generated behemoth in Game of Thrones.
On the other hand, a person relying on the Democrats for their news would conclude that a more secure southern border is unnecessary. It’s just “a manhood thing” for the President, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put it.
And yet in the past, the Democrats have seen the need for barriers; in 2006, many prominent Democrats – including then-senators Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Barack Obama – voted for a vast increase in the kilometres of pedestrian and vehicle fencing designed to prevent illegal crossings.
Now the party’s leaders shudder at the thought. Some Democrats even argue that ICE, an agency that enforces immigration laws, should be abolished. That includes Elizabeth Warren, who announced last week she will seek the Democratic presidential nomination.
As a consequence of the reality gap between the two sides, 800,000 federal employees are about to miss their next paycheque, and U.S. citizens relying on their services – 38 million federal food-stamp recipients among them – are out of luck. All because of a fantastical wall that to date has been more resistant to the truth than it likely ever will be to illegal border crossers.
Lost in this absurd sideshow are real and pressing immigration problems that the United States has failed time and again to address.
There were an estimated 10.7-million undocumented immigrants in the country in 2016. Democrats generally want to give them amnesty and a path to citizenship, since most have been in the United States for years or decades. However, Democrats don’t much want to talk about steps to reduce the arrival of new, undocumented immigrants. Republicans, meanwhile, want to see immigration numbers fall drastically – but are uninterested in talking about amnesty for millions of undocumented long-term residents.
Instead of working on finding political compromises, the U.S. government has quite literally paralyzed itself. Brick by brick, each side is walling itself off from the other.