BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON | JAN 15, 2019
When we were little, my brother and sister and I would sit on the braided living room rug to watch shows on our Admiral TV. Some of the shows had names you could cut and paste onto the reality TV theater ‘now live on our stage’ in Washington: The Twilight Zone, What’s My Line?, Who Do You Trust?, The Show of Shows, and my favorite, Howdy Doody.
Playing now is the gridlocked immigration feud that has resulted in the closure of parts of the Federal Government. This extended shutdown is raising havoc with the economy, federal programs and most critically, the lives of hundreds of thousands workers, contractors, and program beneficiaries, from park visitors, to homeowners, and small businesses.
Unfortunately, this real-time showmanship doesn’t resemble how government should perform or what honest politics and American character should look like. Leaders aren’t leading. Executives are not executing. Legislators aren’t legislating. It is the Show of No Shows.
The situation is further confused by a thick fog of partisan and political plot lines. The antagonists, who unfortunately include the media, manipulate the facts, contradict themselves and obfuscate both truth and reality. As commentator Britt Hume noted recently, “the two parties have painted themselves into corners in the same room.” It makes it hard for people to see clearly where the solutions may lie.
On some of the issues, it is not hard to see through the fog. Number one, getting to resolution should not require a debate over whether there is a crisis at the border.
Fifty four percent of Americans believe we face a crisis at our southern border, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll and 68 percent describe it as a humanitarian crisis. Other polling indicates that more consider it a serious problem if not a crisis.
There are currently about 11 million immigrants in this country illegally and tens of thousands are coming here illegally every month, including 32,000 families apprehended just last month. “Agents arrested 50,753 people who tried to sneak into the U.S. between the ports of entry, while Customs and Border Protection officers encountered another 10,029 who tried to enter without permission through official border crossings,” according to the Washington Times. The Washington Post reported last month that there is a backlog of 760,000 asylum cases and it is going up.
Conditions on our southern border are serious. Two children have died. Thousands of children are stuck in an environment foreign to them and frightening for them, facing a future unknown to them. Agents struggling to help them, as any human would, deserve praise not scorn.
Migrants of all ages have been abused, misled, and exploited politically and economically, chasing a dream that may never materialize from the nightmare they are in. And the ring leaders of the show are forming more caravans in Central America.
Don’t tell those along the border or anyone with half a conscious there is no crisis. Don’t tell that to the families of 127 border police who have died, or the customs agents struggling to maintain control without the resources and manpower. Don’t tell that to the migrants themselves who were told their caravans could cross into the U.S. unimpeded.
Second is the wall. Yeah, the wall. What is it? It has been the central prop on the immigration stage for years. It has been a concrete wall, a steel fence, an electronic barrier, more police patrols, cameras and sensing technology, and a combination of one or all. It has been partial and complete, higher and lower, and it has been repair of existing wall to construction of a new wall. It is any or all of the above, depending upon your point of view.
The wall has become a frame of mind; it is a political message, a campaign slogan, and a marketing brand. It has been at any given time a promise, a threat, a salvation or a moral outrage, a deterrent and an albatross.
Regrettably and most importantly, the wall has become the symbol of border security. Symbolism in politics confuses issues and greatly increases the degree of difficulty in resolving issues.
Border security is the real issue, the real dilemma. The wall is just a component part, blown so far out of proportion that it has literally brought down part of the government.
On one side of the wall stands President Donald Trump, demanding $5 billion for more wall construction, but shifting from one foot to the other, changing positions, trying to be tough, and then conciliatory, making it difficult to know exactly on what position a compromise would be based. At one time, his Administration attempted a compromise at $2.5 billion that both he and Speaker Pelosi rejected. Go figure.
On the other side is Speaker Pelosi, whose position is clear: No wall. No money for a wall, not now, not ever. As Rich Galen reminded us in Mullings this week, the newly re-elected Speaker said on opening day of Congress: “I pledge that this “Congress will be transparent, bipartisan and unifying, and days later declared “We’re not doing a wall. Does anybody have any doubt about that?”
True to her word, when President Trump in their last meeting asked the Speaker if he reopened the government for 30 days would she consider wall funding, her answer was no (once again, the media misrepresented what took place).
Speaker Pelosi fessed up last week that she opposes a compromise on any funding because a wall is immoral. The Quinnipiac poll found that a slight majority of Americans—52 percent believed a wall is against American values.
But a wall is not immoral. It is not un-American. It is an instrument of law enforcement not morality. There are walls already along 500 miles of the 2,000-mile southern border that a good many of the current antagonists voted for. The structures have a door, actually a lot of doors in a lot of locations.
They are ports of entry, through which millions of immigrants have passed and followed the path to citizenship, hopefully in accordance with immigration laws and regulations that are both generous and humane.
What Dr. Jim Johnson, a demographics expert at the University of North Carolina calls the browning and graying of America is the direct result of our immigration programs, which have resulted in 45 million foreign born Americans living in the US, and 45 percent of whom are Latino and another 26 percent Asian. Those demographics would not have been possible before 1965, as Dr. Johnson pointed out in a recent speech in Columbus, Ohio.
There is already broad bipartisan agreement that border security must be the first phase of a broader, more permanent and more comprehensive resolution, which is where the country should be focused today.
That brings us back to the immediacy of the current crisis, the closure of parts of the government affecting 800,000 government workers, thousands more contractors and millions more who are impacted, either by the termination of government services and benefits or whose livelihood is indirectly dependent upon those agencies and services.
President Trump puffed up his chest and declared that he would take full responsibility for the shutdown. Bad move. The media wasted no time in ensuring that he got all of the blame he wanted and more, dumping on the entire Republican Party while they were at it. The obsessive negative focus on Trump has been inexcusable. You can argue that the President brings it upon himself, but the media and our leaders are supposed to rise above the mudslinging blame game and provide the public with accurate information on which people can decide what is the right course for them.
The public is the loser in this three-way cage match show. It is of little value to public discourse among adults. We all need to remember that the little ones are watching.
Editor’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist, who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is co-author of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff, co-founder and member of the Board of the Congressional Institute, and a participant in the Congress of Tomorrow congressional reform project. Johnson is retired. He is married to Thalia Assuras and has five children and three grandchildren.