border wall
Credit: Tomas Castelazo/Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Sullivan says that the Democrats should “give [Trump] his fucking wall” on the border with Mexico. He spills a lot of words to make his case but it all comes down to a few basic ideas. One is straight up fear that Trump will use inaction on the border to his advantage and batter the Democrats into a successful bid for reelection. Another is that only by giving Trump a win on his signature issue can the Democrats defuse the issue. Another is that Trump is owed the wall because he ran on building it and he won, just as Obama ran on expanding access to health care and won. Another is that giving him the wall will allow the Democrats to horse-trade for funding and policies that will actually deal with the humanitarian crisis at the border.

All of these ideas are dubious at best, but the worst one of all is this:

The point is that after this crisis, we have to return this debate to the calm and nitty-gritty area of legislative hearings and compromises, rather than the cable news and social media rhetorical screech of the recent past.

Mr. Sullivan needs to look at the Trump administration with fresh eyes. They are not bashing immigrants because it’s a legitimate issue. They are leading a white nationalist movement, and the objective facts on the border are wholly irrelevant to them. They will attack the Democrats and accuse them of wanting open borders, of wanting non-citizens to vote, of non-existent in-person voter fraud, of coddling Mexican and Central American gangs because they don’t care about crime, or disrespecting Christianity, of only caring about non-whites, of taking white people’s money and wasting it on the urban poor. They will do these things whether or not the Democrats give Trump his fucking wall. There will be no return to calm. There will be no science and evidence-based legislative hearings. The rhetorical screech from cable news and social media and hate radio will not abate.

What Sullivan also fails to adequately explain is how the wall would help the humanitarian crisis. Thankfully, he doesn’t argue that it would be an effective way of stemming border crossings or that it could be completed at all, let alone at a reasonable cost. Instead, he simply argues that the Democrats could get a DACA fix and “massive new funding for detention facilities, humane family-friendly housing, and, above all, much more money for the immigration legal system, now completely overwhelmed by asylum cases.” I’m tempted to mock the “family-friendly housing” we’d get through massive spending on detention facilities, but I’d rather focus on the idea that the Democrats should willingly participate in the creation of a huge expansion of detention facilities whether they’re family-friendly or not.

Is this really where we are? We must do this or worsen a humanitarian crisis?

It seems to me that a better approach is to begin thinking seriously about what, if anything, the U.S. can do to help Mexico and Central American countries stop their societal disintegration. In the past few months, over 120 Mexican politicians have been murdered, including 18 mayoral candidates. Right now, depending on who you ask, either El Salvador or Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. Try to imagine what the reaction would be if this was happening in this country.

As a strictly political matter, policies that might actually have a beneficial humanitarian effect are not necessarily going to be popular or easy to implement, but it’d be nice to identify those policies anyway so they can serve as the starting point for Democrats the next time that they actually have enough power to do something other than serve as the opposition.

I don’t think giving Trump a wall in exchange for a vastly expanded but more humane set of detention camps is going to have the positive impact that Sullivan says it will. It’s not going to defuse the issue, and in some tangible ways it will actually bolster and entrench a system of mass incarceration. It won’t save money, as far as I can tell, especially with the wasted cash on a boondoggle barrier. It won’t do a thing to address the root causes driving people to seek asylum in our country or to risk illegal entry. And it’s not going to change how Trump and his minions treat the issue or how they saturate our airwaves with hate and campaign against the Democrats.

It’s true that Trump campaigned on the wall and won. He also campaigned on the opioid crisis and said he’d do something about it. Better to give him the money to address that issue because reducing our citizenry’s dependency on cheap Mexican heroin will do more to undercut the murderous gangs there than building a stupid fucking wall.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at