As Stephen Colbert pointed out, Republican strategist Stuart Stevens best characterized Donald Trump’s Oval Office speech about the proposed wall along our Southern border hours before Trump gave the speech: “There are numerous examples of presidential addresses made to calm a public. This will be the first to frighten a calm public.”
The partial federal government shutdown is now well into its third week and millions of Americans are suffering because Donald Trump and his Republican flunkies in the Senate insist on building a wall along the border of Mexico, a bad solution to a non-existent problem. We already do tight security screening and illegal entry is way down, thanks to a combination of better Latin American economies and the unwelcoming attitude of the current administration.
It’s not the first time that Republicans have addressed a non-existent problem with a solution that will hurt many people, primarily non-whites, and not help the country. Remember, the states under GOP control have passed dozens upon dozens of restrictive voting laws to address the non-existent problem of voter fraud by individuals. Just as the origins of building a wall is racism, so was the wave of new voter laws, which have targeted minorities, the young and the poor. For example, the Texas voter ID law allows voters to use a hunting license as proof of identification, but not a Texas university ID card. As with the wall, new voter registration laws solved a non-existent problem by targeting non-whites.
Time and time again, Republicans have used non-existent problems in the economy as the excuse to give tax breaks to the wealthy. Once again, there were no long-term problems with the economy. But even if there had been—as there were in 2008—the way to grow the economy and create jobs is never to give tax breaks to the wealthy. What works much better is to give tax breaks to the poor and lower middle class. But what works the best is to raise taxes on the wealthy and invest the money in the economy—building new dedicated mass transit, fixing roads and bridges, making college more affordable, developing carbon neutral technologies. Yet every time the Republicans seize power, the first thing they do is lower taxes on the wealthy. They did it under Reagan, Bush II and now, Trump. Lowering taxes on the wealthy hurts not only racial minorities and the poor, but the middle class and most of the upper middle class, in several ways: It takes money out of the economy, as the rich invest their tax savings in the secondary stock market, bigger houses and other non-productive assets. More important, the government has fewer funds to invest in programs that actually grow the economy and create jobs.
The Afghanistan war breaks the GOP pattern of solving a problem that doesn’t exist with something stupid and racist, but just a little bit. We did have a terrorism problem in 2001. The Afghan War started within a month of 9/11, supposedly to hunt Al Qaida. So the problem was real, but the solution was just plain stupid—the wrong answer, almost by definition, since every outside power that has ever tried to invade or control Afghanistan has instead got caught in the worst kind of intractable, unending, unwinnable quagmire. The Soviet Union, England, the Sikhs, the Mughals—all of these governments invaded Afghanistan, and all soon regretted it. As has the United States.
That brings us to Iraq. Let’s set aside the war for a second and think about what the government had done by 2003 to fight terrorism—greater cooperation with allies, an enormous increase in surveillance, enhanced airport and border security and the development of drones are just some of the many ways we fought terrorism from outsiders after 9/11. Some would say, and include me in this group, that we committed overkill. By 2003, terrorism was no longer a problem, thanks to the Draconian measures the Bush II Administration took, with the cooperation of the Democrats. Thus the war in Iraq was another wrong-headed GOP solution to a non-existent problem that ended up severely hurting populations of non-whites. It perfectly follows the pattern of the wall, voting restrictions and tax breaks for the wealthy.
Those who say Trump has taken over the Republican Party are absolutely and completely wrong. Trump and the GOP were a match made in heaven. Trump’s policies and actions are completely consistent with Republican ideology since Reagan. His decision-making process fits right into Republican strategizing: Create a problem and solve it with a cockamamie idea that hurts non-whites. The wall represents the apotheosis of Reaganism. Those Republicans like Romney and Corey Gardner who criticize Trump only dislike his obvious emotional instability, his crude style, his addiction to lies and the overtness of his racism. They’re fine with his policies.
Trump’s foreign policy does represent a break from Republican ideology, to be sure. He rejects traditional alliances and seems fond of autocrats—perhaps picturing himself as the de facto leader of an international white nationalist movement. Of course, the true leader is Vladimir Putin.
But he deserves credit for announcing the drawdown of about half the troops in Afghanistan. We can only hope that he follows through on this promise, and soon brings home all our remaining troops in Afghanistan.
That would be a start to dismantling the global U.S. military machine now operating in 80 countries total. We have active troops fighting in 14 countries and have recently bombed or used drones in 7. Our military personnel conduct counterterrorism training in 65 countries. All this, in addition to our 40 military bases around the globe. While Trump courts disaster to turn his back on our allies, start a trade war with China and replace multilateralism with go-it-alone bellicosity, his instinct to bring home U.S. troops is a good one.
But even when he gets it right, Trump screws it up. Of all the many places where the United States has an active military engagement, just about the only one we can justify is our presence in Syria. We have no business in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the Central African Republican, Yemen, Mali and elsewhere, but our small force in Syria does bring a small measure of stability to the civil-war ravaged country. We can only leave once there is a permanent political solution that protects the Kurdish population. To do otherwise would mean we have abandoned an ally, a despicable action that we know Trump has embraced before in both his business and political careers.