Barriers to Forward-Thinking Policy

 /  Nov. 17, 2017, 3:50 p.m.

President Trump

From the inception of President Donald Trump’s candidacy to its improbable fruition, Trump has touted the building of “a great, great wall” as a panacea to the myriad problems racking the United States. Unfortunately for Trump, the wall will not solve a single one. In a recent White House address, Trump confidently asserted, “An astonishing 90 percent of the heroin in America comes from south of the border, where we will be building a wall, which will greatly help in this problem.” A cursory examination of the opioid epidemic’s genesis reveals that over-prescription of opioids as low-risk analgesics for chronic pain is the real culprit. Alternatively, the fact that the CDC states, “Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid,” suggests only limiting the supply of heroin misses the mark. Nevertheless, in addition to solving the opioid crisis racking communities closer to Canada than to Mexico, the mythical wall is also intended to single-brickedly end the War on Drugs, crimes committed by illegal immigrants, and the disappearance of low-skilled American jobs.

In an Associated Press interview, Trump emphatically stated, “The wall will stop the drugs,” and, referring to drug smuggling, “We’ll stop all of it.” Ignoring the upwards of 225 tunnels disinterred along the US border in the past 25 years, ignoring the well-documented use of submarines and planes, and ignoring any other wall-circumventing methods from ladders to catapults to walking across the over one thousand miles of terrain the wall does not cover, the wall still won’t work. According to a 2016 Drug Enforcement Agency report, the primary avenue by which illegal drugs enter the US is via concealment in vehicles legally entering US ports of entry, which would not change with the erection of a wall. Furthermore, the notion of eliminating drugs by aggressively targeting the supply side of the equation is the definition of a Sisyphean task, for a reduction in the supply of a drug only serves to increase the selling price of the drug and, in turn, incentive for a new supplier to enter the market.

In Trump’s announcement speech, he proposed building a wall in order to deal illegal immigrants whom he infamously described “bringing crimes” and being “rapists”. Two months into Trump’s presidency, he created VOICE or Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, a new office in the Department of Homeland Security tasked with tabulating and disseminating information on immigrant-perpetrated crimes. Trump has also begun building wall prototypes along the border. Trump now has a method of tracking his progress and eventually (if the wall is actually built) a means to make progress. However, Trump’s current tact is likely to be ineffective. The continued proliferation of immigrant crimes occurs largely because host countries refuse to take criminals back, leading to the release of 8,500 detainees from 2009 to 2012. Furthermore, even if the countries are willing to take the criminals back, they often are quickly released and end up crossing the US border again, which is evident from a whopping 46 percent of criminal deportees each year being repeat offenders.

Finally, the notion that the wall will make the US more competitive against Mexico and lead to a repatriation of manufacturing jobs stands athwart to everything that is known about the changing nature of employment. Low-skilled jobs have and continue to evaporate due to the robust combination of automation, globalization, and skill-biased technological change, reasons which would remain unmitigated by the wall.

A cursory examination of Trump’s rhetoric and wall proposal may paint Trump as a uniquely inept politician. However, the last couple decades of politics contradict that supposed idiosyncrasy. For example, an internal investigation by the Department of Homeland Security found the TSA failed 95 percent of the time to catch contraband smuggled through by investigators. The TSA continues to exist as a security theater, a highly visible show of force that the public deplores but believes is necessary sacrifice for peace of mind. Another more complicated example occurred during Obama’s presidency with the passage of the Dodd-Frank bill, which does not prevent the banks from becoming “too big to fail.” In fact, since its passage, the largest banks have regained their dominant market share and the smallest banks’ market share has dwindled even further.

Why does this keep happening? There’s a consistent political need for celerity and visibility in solutions. The public buys the premise that complicated issues like terrorism, race relations, and illegal immigration can be solved in one fell swoop with significantly motivated politicians. Once the agency is created, the bill passed, the wall built, the public assumes the issue is solved, and no further scrutiny is leveled. The American public rejects the notion that addressing problems can span decades and is afflicted with crippling myopia. The ballooning national debt is perhaps the best example of this phenomenon, approaching $20 trillion and growing by $440 billion during a period of economic growth. Every dollar added to the debt is another interest payment in subsequent budgets for which the US receives no material benefit. Until the American attention span lasts longer than a single news cycle, until Americans stop conflating money spent on an issue with actually solving it, and until effectiveness is prioritized over political expediency, no problems of consequence will ever be solved.

The image featured in this article is licensed under the Creative Commons, the original can be found here.

Sebastian Oberkfell