Posted on January 30, 2017
This Means Wall
Trump defines border, redefines terms
To hear the national media tell it, President Trump made good on his promise to build a border wall, just by saying so during an executive order signing ceremony. The inability of a president to unilaterally initiate such a project has done little to disrupt that story line.
In fact, the legislative authority for Trump’s order comes from the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which, as its title suggests, authorizes the construction of a high double fence – not a wall – along our Southern border. So how does the president get away with claiming this law as a legal basis for building a wall? He simply added a clause to the “definitions” section of his order that says, “’Wall’ shall mean a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous and impassible physical barrier.”
When he says “wall,” then, he means either a wall, or something that can serve a similar purpose – like a fence, for instance. In fact, he foreshadowed this redefinition at a press conference two weeks earlier, when he made reference to “the fence,” and then interrupted himself and said, “It’s not a fence; it’s a wall.” It really isn’t, of course. If it were, he wouldn’t have to expand the word’s definition.
What Trump is actually ordering – the completion of the border fence that was mandated more than a decade ago – is undoubtedly the right thing to do. We need to secure our border, but the only thing to be gained by building a wall instead of a fence is bigger budget deficits. All’s well that ends well, one might say, so why not indulge him in his claim to have paid off on a major campaign promise?
Well, there’s the small matter of its being untrue, for those who still care about that sort of thing. Until last fall, conservatives had always been stalwart defenders of the concept of an objective truth. Now that they feel the need to defend Trump, many leading conservatives are starting to embrace the liberal philosophy that there is no truth, but there are only competing narratives. It’s not enough to thank the president for his commitment to border security, while also pointing out that a fence is not a wall. No, the point is that Trump has succeeded in establishing the narrative that he’s building a wall, therefore we must call it a wall.
Never mind that one reason that narrative has prevailed is because that’s what his liberal critics want to believe. The media have agreed to call the fence a wall not because they take Trump’s word for it, but because they want to demagogue the issue, by depicting a perfectly innocent and necessary security measure as if it were characteristic of a police state. The current issue of Time magazine, for instance, features a totally irresponsible article likening our proposed border fence to the Berlin Wall, as if the structure itself was of negative moral value, without regard for the motivation for its construction.
If the ethical imperative of accepting objective truths over prevailing narratives isn’t plain enough, conservatives never know whether the next Trump narrative will be to their liking. Consider, for example, his ludicrous assertion that he will “make Mexico pay for the wall.” Trump’s surrogates are floating the idea that this payment will take the form of a 20 percent tariff on all imports from Mexico. Putting aside the unlikelihood of his actually imposing this tariff, in no way could that truthfully be considered payment by Mexico.
What if he officially declared that “Mexico” means either Mexico, or all U.S. citizens who purchase goods from that country? Many Democrats favor high tariffs, and might be happy to help Trump establish the narrative that Mexico was footing the bill. How would conservative pundits and radio hosts react? Would they support the narrative by gloating that Trump had fulfilled another promise, or would they rediscover the value of truth?
Selective application of truth is hardly better than denying it altogether. If we accept that any stationary physical impediment equals a wall; if we argue that Trump never mocked a handicapped reporter, even though he prefaced his impression with the words, “The poor guy, you’ve gotta see this guy”; if we insist that the famously defunct Trump Steaks still exist, just because Trump appeared on stage next to a pile of meat, then why should we be believed when we point out that a massive tax on American consumers is not being paid by Mexico?
The Shinbone: The Frontier of the Free Press