The question of the hour
The question is this: Having had control of both houses of Congress for two years, and thus being able to get his border wall funded pretty much at will, why did President Trump wait until now, when the Democrats have control of the House and he's not going to get what he wants, to ask for it- in fact, to shut down the government until he gets it (which he won't)?
The answer, I think, is both clear and interesting. I believe that getting the border wall funded is the last thing President Trump wants. If the wall was built, it would have no appreciable effect on illegal immigration, and I think he knows it. It would cost a lot of money to very little effect, would be a colossal flop, and would make him look ridiculous.
And being made to look ridiculous is one thing a narcissist cannot abide.
The wall was never going to be built, and I think Mr. Trump always knew that. I think he also knows that it wouldn't work. So how to use it as a tool for exploiting the fears of the ill-informed about illegal immigration without running the risk of having it backfire? Simple: delay the request until he isn't going to get it, make as much of a fuss about not getting it as possible, and then use it as a wedge issue in 2020.
I suspect that ultimately some kind of half-baked fence will probably be funded. It may be designed to completely span the length of the border, though even a chain-link fence of that distance will never actually be built. Never mind that it would be useless in stopping a ten-year-old kid, most of whom are quite good at climbing over chain-link fences.
But Trump will doubtless claim victory, however implausibly, if any kind of a barrier, however easily defeated and however partial, is built. And if it isn't, he can blame the Democrats- and use it to stir up his easily-led base.
A comparatively small percentage of illegal immigrants get into America by crossing the border on foot, and a goodly number who try are turned back even as it is. Most illegal immigrants in America are folks who have overstayed their visas. Over two hundred tunnels under the border have been discovered, some equipped with electricity, air conditioning, and railroad tracks. The most effective way of getting into the country is to hide in the midst of perfectly goods being imported into the United States; both the understaffing of the Border Service and the sheer magnitude of the task makes any efficient search of such imports impractical. And when all else fails, all it takes to get over a ten-foot fence is an eleven-foot ladder. Any person of reasonable intelligence who stops to think about it objectively will quickly realize that Mr. Trump's very expensive wall would have very little effect in deterring illegal immigration across the Mexican border. It's a symbol, and nothing else. It's a battle cry with which to rally the fearful. What it's not is a serious proposal of policy.
And yet, in our polarized society, an awful lot of intelligent people are willfully blind to that fact. I personally do not have a high opinion of Mr. Trump's intelligence, but I have no doubt that he's smart enough to realize how ridiculous his wall is as a serious proposal for addressing the problem of illegal immigration.
And he's waited, after two years in which he could have absolutely gotten his fence funded, to actually get it funded until that's no longer politically possible. Why?
Because he now can have his cake and eat it, too. He can't be dumb enough to think that he can actually intimidate or pressure the House into funding his wall. But now, he can blame the Democrats for the fact that there's no wall, and even use that as a rallying cry for his re-election campaign. And best of all, he avoids the greatest possible danger: that the wall will actually be built, and prove- as it inevitably would- a failure, and in any case certainly not worth the price of building it.
And since the wall will never be built, Mr. Trump will never be made to look foolish for advocating it. And after all, the thought of being made to look foolish is one thing a narcissist simply cannot stand.