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Sen. Schumer, Don’t Let Trump Build That Wall!

January 24, 2018

Berlin Wall

Ever since the Weekend Shutdown ended with a whimper on Monday, I have been reading analyses about how Schumer got the best possible deal while holding a weak hand. There is one by John Cassidy in The New Yorker, one by Ezra Kline in Vox, and one in Wonkette (with the best title ever). I get their lines of thought on this, but I think they–and Schumer–are missing something more fundamentally important. It feels like a capitulation and reinforces the theme that the Democratic congressional leadership is untrustworthy and all too willing to make unsatisfactory deals with an implacable enemy. They risk losing the confidence of the party’s foot soldiers and sapping the energy that has fueled the Resistance. The troops want Churchill and they’re getting Chamberlain.

If there’s any hope of getting a fair shake for the millions of immigrants living in the shadows in this country, it lies in getting a Democratic Congress in 2018. This is an issue that supposedly appeals to all factions within the party and represents a basic difference from the Republicans. But if the Democratic leadership in Congress is seen as wobbly on this crucial issue, then what happens to the enthusiasm and focused anger that seemed to be generating a Democratic wave for the mid-terms? I think that Schumer is so focused on legislative maneuvering that he is missing the critical importance of symbolism in this battle. Maybe wonkish insiders immersed in Senate rules understand what he’s doing, but the folks out there marching in the streets are getting entirely the wrong message.

Supposedly, the major accomplishment of the deal Schumer made was “releasing one of the hostages”, i.e., the CHIPS program which funds health care for poor kids. But CHIPS is about the least controversial program imaginable these days, and even all but the most extreme Republicans support it. There was never any real chance that Congress was going to let it lapse.

Schumer’s other alleged achievement was a  carefully (and suspiciously) worded promise from Mitch McConnell to allow a clean bill on DACA to come to a vote in the Senate. Let’s accept for a minute the dubious proposition that McConnell keeps his word, and let’s even posit that such a bill would pass the Senate. There is virtually no chance that the bill will make it to the floor of the House, because the radical cabal of anti-immigrant Republican members would never allow Paul Ryan to bring it out of committee, let alone come to a vote. It will be the Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration bill debacle all over again.

What will happen is that the fate of the Dreamers, who have the overwhelming sympathy of the public, will be tied yet again to building Trump’s Wall. The argument is being made that it is worth squandering billions of dollars to build his useless fucking wall if it means that the Dreamers can stay. And it’s hard not to be sympathetic to that logic.

Except: The Wall is more than just a wall. It is the very cornerstone of Trump’s appeal. It is the thing he needs above all else to achieve. If he gets it funded, he will be doing an endless mother-of-all-end-zone-dances to celebrate his triumph, and it will energize his base and the rest of the Republican party along with it.

The Wall is, therefore, the biggest bargaining chip of them all. If the Democrats are going to allow it to be part of a bargain, it needs to be for more than just the Dreamers. It needs to be part of a comprehensive immigration bill that would create a way for the millions of undocumented immigrants to get legal status and a path to citizenship. They deserve this, and the Democrats need to fight for this tooth and nail. Otherwise, it’s not just not going to happen.

I’m really not sure that the Democratic leadership really understands that this country has moved into an era of a Cold Civil War. They appear to cling to the hope that somehow they can go back to dealing with Republicans in traditional ways, when their adversary has become a party of Bolsheviks or Jacobins bent on their annihilation.

To use a Civil War metaphor, we have Generals McClellan and Burnside leading the Democratic troops, when who we need are Grant and Sherman.


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