Let’s Discuss Walls

“The Great Wall of China, built 2,000 years ago, is 13,000 miles long, folks. … And they didn’t have … tractors, they didn’t have cranes, they didn’t have excavation equipment.” – Donald J. Trump

When the question arises, as it often does, “Was the Great Wall of China a success or failure?” one may answer one way or another, but undoubtedly any response to such an inquiry would have to contain something along the lines of “it’s complicated.” You’d have to compare Qin walls with Ming walls, you’d have to weigh the cost, in material dollars and human life, against the effectiveness of the Wall(s) in meeting its objectives, you’d have to consider variables such as strength of armies defending the wall at any given time, you’d have to take into account that when invaders evaded the wall they were still slowed on their path to potential conquest, and so on and so forth. It’s complicated, really complicated. Of course, it was all for naught when Ming general Wu Sangui just opened the gates for the invading Manchus, but alas, that’s not what this post is about.

See I have mixed feelings about the Trump wall, but, like many other things, regressive liberals have pushed the conversation to a point where I have to defend it. It’s not so much that there shouldn’t be a debate about the wall, it’s just that arguments against it have been simplified into: “wall, bad, no wall, good.”

Shouldn’t the conversation really surround the question “is the wall a good idea?” That’s the question I ask myself. It’s a legitimate question. Will the wall really stifle the cartels? Will the wall stop drugs from coming into the country? Will the wall have a national security application in the distant future (possible migrant crises?), Can the wall be built cost/time efficiently? If we believe the answers to those questions are “mostly yes,” then the wall is worth a try. After all, we’ve failed to secure our border for the three or four decades that border security has been a national issue.

And yet, if you support the wall today you are a hateful bigot according to leftists. This is despite the fact that ten years ago a wall was not seen as such a radical idea, despite that there is almost 700 miles of fence and wall along our southern border already, and despite the fact that Hillary Clinton once supported a border barrier and stated that she is “adamantly against illegal immigrants.”

Leftist rhetoric pertaining to the wall is derived from one thing: leftism… obviously, it has nothing to do with a rational debate about the wall. Few wall opponents stop to consider what they are arguing against. Though, many on the right don’t ask the critical questions about it that they should be asking either before shouting, “BUILD IT!”

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Why the Wall?

Let’s talk about the wall.

This article is written to accompany a fantastic article just written by my friend and colleague, Ben Sweetwood, which masterfully sifts through the hysteria over President Trump’s recent executive order on immigration. Here at Griffwood Post, we constantly seek to challenge the prevailing narrative of the day. We live by an important motto: if everyone seems to be in agreement about something, be skeptical.

Everyone, and I mean everyone seems to have a problem with President Trump’s idea of building a wall along the border shared between the United States and Mexico. This includes those who are left, right, libertarian, and everyone else in between. Some of the consternation has produced perfectly valid criticisms of the idea that should not be overlooked. But I write to contend that the idea to build the wall actually has its merits.

Those on the right, and those who abhor government spending, criticize the wall for its cost and complexity. The wall will indeed be expensive—and the proposed methodology of taxing a portion of the U.S.-Mexican trade deficit does eventually pass the cost of the wall on to the consumer. However, in context, the tax does have implicit benefits to the American consumer beyond the wall. The trade deficit exists because the U.S. exports to Mexico about $60 billion dollars in goods less than it imports from Mexico. However, the entirety of the U.S.’s annual imports from Mexico total around $300 billion. Now, 20 percent of $300 billion is enough to pay for three walls at Trump’s price-point of around $20 billion per year. So the cost, in context, is not outlandish. This is not to mention the benefit of protecting and encouraging American industries that directly compete with Mexican products. And if there is any American president who can spur the behemoth of the federal government to actually build something on time and under budget, it’s going to be Donald J. Trump.

But $20 billion is still $20 billion. That’s a costly project.

Another valid criticism is the complexity of building the wall. The Cato Institute has done a great job of illustrating just how complicated the process will be. Building a wall along this 2,000 mile stretch of the American southwest means overcoming geographical challenges, replacing existing walls and fences, equipping the wall with proper surveillance equipment and, of course, maintaining it. This is not to mention the inevitably long amount of time it will take the federal government to argue the hundreds if not thousands of eminent domain cases that will be necessary to gather the lands needed for the construction of the wall (much of the land abutting the U.S.-Mexican border is privately owned.) The wall may not be feasibly possible in Trump’s term.

But just because something is complex doesn’t mean it’s impossible[1]. We got to the moon, we can build a big wall.

And, yes, I’ve heard the argument that many if not most illegal immigrants come into the country by airplane, on lawful visas, and extend their stay indefinitely. Obviously, a comprehensive immigration reform package would need to address that. But the cartels, the drug runners, and criminals fleeing Latin America are not buying group ticket packages on commercial airliners. They’re the ones taking advantage of the porous border, and they’re certainly the ones we want to stop first.

I give criticisms from the left credence as well, but they are becoming a bit too ‘one-sized fits all’ to have retained their bite. I also abhor identity-politics and think the hysteria around Donald Trump is contributing to a dangerous narrowing of political discourse.

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Castles and Masterpieces

This summer I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Europe. I visited 8 countries in 20 days traveling by rail. My itinerary included London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Stockholm. It was the trip of a lifetime.

In each city I visited, I made it a point to see the well-known historical sites, art galleries, and seats of government. I visited castles, viewed masterpieces, and saw three different sets of crown jewels from England, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.

As I rounded the corner in a museum in Florence and laid eyes on the Statue of David, or as I set foot in the Louvre in Paris or Hapsburg Palace in Vienna, it struck me how fortunate I am to live in the age of prevalent democracy and capitalism.

Castles were built for the rich, the powerful, and the few. Commoners and peasants were never intended to see them from within. Now, nearly every castle in Europe is a museum, with an entry fee affordable to any tourist.

Masterpieces of art were commissioned by and for royal families or wealthy aristocrats. For centuries, art was the pastime of the supremely wealthy. The percentage of those who could afford to enjoy the masterpieces of Da Vinci, Botticelli, and Michelangelo – nonetheless own them – would have put today’s concept of “the 1%” to shame.

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Popular Sovereignty

Depicted above is a painting of Charles II, holding in his left hand the “Orb of the Sovereign”, a regal ornament held by the monarch of England during the coronation process. The Orb symbolizes the power of the head of the Church of England. As the name suggests, the Orb belongs to the sovereign – and the only sovereign in a monarchy is the King or Queen.

Sovereignty is the highest authority within a nation. The American Revolution was fought, and won, for sovereignty. Popular Sovereignty is the idea that in a nation of free people, authority is vested in a government by the sovereignty of its citizens, not by a monarch, president, or any single person. As Americans, we consent to be governed. We have designed a system of federal, state, and local administrations that we willingly allow to operate on our behalf. We elect a president to represent us as a nation of sovereign people, and the president is beholden to each of us. We exercise our sovereignty through popular application. Our sovereignty is our birthright – it is instilled at birth, or “natural”, and cannot be taken. The only way we lose our sovereignty is by forfeiting it ourselves.

True conservatism is about safeguarding our sovereignty. After the Revolution, Americans were faced with the task of forming a new government. To function properly, a government must be the only entity that can exercise the authority it has, and it cannot have competition. We need a unified system of leadership, laws, property rights, and recognition on the world stage. Again, this is a concession of power we have made as Americans. Yet therein lies the greatest concern; If government is designed to have no rival, then how can it exist and we simultaneously retain our own sovereignty? The answer is also the mission of conservatism: limits on government.

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