OK, I admit it. I like to discuss public issues and that seems to give people headaches. Lately I’ve been discussing walls. I like President TrumpDonald TrumpRobert Gates says 'extreme polarization' is the greatest threat to US democracy Cassidy says he won't vote for Trump if he runs in 2024 Schiff says holding Bannon in criminal contempt 'a way of getting people's attention' MORE’s proposed southern border wall and that sends my friends in California digging through their ample supplies of ibuprofen.
Lately, I’ve attended several dinner parties and events in Menlo Park and Atherton, two of the tony bedroom communities of Silicon Valley and Stanford where people are considered to be among the best and the brightest. People here buy houses on one-acre lots for $5 million as “tear-downs” so they can build 14,000-square-foot mansions, with the standard virtue-signaling appointments of a Tesla, solar panels and a seriously large composter. Nearly all are surrounded by a … wait for it … 10-foot wall. But I digress.
These communities are close neighbors of rat-infested and feces-covered San Francisco and its overlord (some might say slumlord) House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSen. Ron Johnson hoping for Democratic 'gridlock' on reconciliation package Virginia race looms as dark cloud over Biden's agenda Biden struggles to rein in Saudi Arabia amid human rights concerns MORE. The Democratic congresswoman doesn’t know this because she doesn’t see it from her hilltop mansion, her winery, or the window of one of the government’s private jets she commandeers to commute to Washington. It’s also hard to see beyond her walls ... but I digress, again.
To get to the dinner parties, I can start at the beautiful Menlo-Atherton High School. (My hosts never fail to mention that they are “firm believers in public education.”) I travel down Middlefield Road, through the heart of the community, and try to figure out how to get in. You see, the entire street, for miles, has a 10-foot brick and concrete wall surrounding the community. Once inside the community, it continues to be hard to find the right home; which wall or gate is it behind? It creates that strange blend of very expensive communities: dark, over-decorated and forbidding.
Initially, I like to think, I’m a good guest. Enjoying the perfect cocktails, the beautifully prepared organic food, the carefully selected wine, and the witty conversation, of course punctuated frequently with disdain or a weak joke about Trump. But at some point, it all goes wrong. And generally it is my fault.
In preamble, I need to repeat what I’ve said before on the subject: didn’t vote for Trump, not fond of his personality, don’t like his style in running the government. However, I do think I see some good, and, at times, very good results from some of his policies. When I finally respond to the usual avalanche of progressive opinion with a glimmer of that perspective, the cordial hosts and hostesses almost immediately are transformed into red-faced Inquisition Dominicans and Wagnerian Valkyries.
Generally my points simply try to suggest different ways of looking at the problem.
I might point out that many economists (and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFormer President Clinton discharged from hospital The root of Joe Biden's troubles Bill Clinton expected to be released from hospital on Sunday MORE and Jack Kennedy) believed that cutting taxes led to better economic growth and would result in the type of very low inner-city, minority and female unemployment rates we’re seeing following Trump’s tax reforms.
Or I might point out that extreme climate change and related inefficient energy policies might drive the price of energy up and increase transportation and food prices in a way that could really hurt the poor and starve many in the Third World. Such energy policies also may have contributed to the financial pressure, poor maintenance and recent bankruptcy of PG&E, as well as the related California wildfires.
Or I might point out that open borders take away jobs from inner-city Hispanics and African-Americans. Or that the zero-emission label on Teslas ignore the emissions from electricity power plants or the environmental disasters left behind in mining materials for the batteries, let alone the huge carbon footprint from building these cars. Or that Menlo-Atherton High School is like a private school academy and a feeder to Stanford — and that is a world away from the overall California public school system, which has gone from one of the very best to one of the worst in the country.
In any case, sitting in these homes behind walls, in communities behind walls, people often get so angry during dinner, they leave the table. Some even say, “Stop! I can't listen to this any more. You’re giving me a headache!”
And so, it recently occurred to me that these people have built huge walls ... around their brains. They do not want to hear new ideas. They do not want to have reasonable debate on very important issues. They do not want to hear about The Law of Unintended Consequences. They do not contemplate tradeoffs.
It is baffling. How did so many of our most successful and smartest people become the closed-minded Zombie Apocalypse, Night of the Walking Dumb, who will not test their opinions against second-derivative consequences, or even tolerate discussion?
America has thousands of walls. They also can be found in West Los Angeles, New York, Greenwich, Connecticut, Martha’s Vineyard, and Washington, D.C. The tragedy is that these walls are to protect their owners not just from people, but, more importantly, from ideas. And so, there can be no reasonable debate about “The Wall,” or anything else, until we tear down the walls in our heads.
Grady Means is a writer and retired corporate strategy consultant. He was special assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller for domestic policy in the Ford White House, and was an economist and policy analyst for Secretary Elliot Richardson in the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare from 1971-73.