The word ‘wall’ is the impediment

The word ‘wall’ is the impediment
© Greg Nash

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiClinton says Zuckerberg has 'authoritarian' views on misinformation Trump defense team signals focus on Schiff Trump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president MORE scored a major victory getting President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpKaine: Obama called Trump a 'fascist' during 2016 campaign Kaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Louise Linton, wife of Mnuchin, deletes Instagram post in support of Greta Thunberg MORE to end the partial government shutdown without funding for a border wall. Her victory, however, is partial, since there is basically just a three-week truce.

If Congress cannot work out a border security plan that the president supports during that time, then he has threatened to shut down the government again or declare a national emergency and order the army to build the wall. The battle between Trump and Pelosi, Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president Impeachment has been a dud for Democrats Trump insults Democrats, calls on followers to watch Fox News ahead of impeachment trial MORE and the Democrats has, in many ways, been more about language and symbolism than public policy itself.

Trump called for a 2,000 mile concrete wall during the campaign, one he said Mexico would pay for. The campaign promise centered around a very concrete image, pun intended, and it was key to Trump’s victory.


Pelosi and Schumer have insisted that Trump will not get any funding for a border wall. And now that the government has re-opened, it is the expectation in Washington that they will not budge from their position. To the Democratic leaders and much of their base, the very concept of a wall is inimical to American values. It deprives us of our exceptionalist credo and fails to distinguish us from the over 50 other countries that have built walls to keep people out.

Is there a path the Congressional committee can take that will represent an effective compromise? There is, and much of the compromise turns on language.

Effective border security involves many elements, including more funding for technology that can detect drugs being smuggled into legal ports of entry, more judges for migrants seeking asylum, more border guards, and more humanitarian workers at the borders. It also requires some new fences or barriers in a very limited number of places to supplement the 700 miles of fences that already exist, fences built with Congressional funding in 2006 and 2011.

These new fences or barriers, barriers made of steel, are not a 2,000 mile concrete wall; rather, the fences and barriers needed amount to about 200 miles, one-tenth of the campaign promise and of a different material, paid by American taxpayers.

Dropping the word “wall” and indeed emphasizing to the public that the fencing will be 200 miles and not 2,000 would go a long way toward answering the charge from the Democrats that walls are unamerican and offensive to our moral sensibilities. What will be put up — probably at a cost of $2.5 billion and not $5.7 billion — are some additional fences.

The only way this works is if no one talks about a wall.

If you drop the word “wall” and give neither side any ammunition to attack the other, then the plan that emerges is emptied of symbolism. This takes the politics out of it and makes it harder for either side to leverage the agreement for the 2020 elections.

One can imagine a joint press conference prior to the president signing a border security law where both sides stand up and declare that “there is not going to be a 2,000 mile wall but there will be 200 miles of additional fencing,” or something along those lines.

The obvious problem is you cannot control what politicians say — this is especially true of Trump, but if he is determined to secure the border, he should have no problem dropping the word “wall.”

Dave Anderson is the editor of “Leveraging: A Political, Economic, and Societal Framework” (Springer, 2014). He is also the author of "Youth04: Young Voters, the Internet, and Political Power" (W.W. Norton & Company, 2004) and co-editor of "The Civic Web: Online Politics and Democratic Values" (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003). He has taught at George Washington University, the University of Cincinnati, and Johns Hopkins University. He was a candidate in the 2016 Democratic Primary in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District. Contact him at