It has often been observed that President Trump’s wall is a very potent symbol for his supporters. What gets discussed far less often is that it’s also a potent symbol for his opponents.
This has created a political reality in the new Washington that Trump simply refuses to engage with. If there is anything that could lead us into another disastrous government shutdown — or even into a Trumpian declaration of a national emergency, which will create more chaos and political bedlam — it’s Trump’s unwillingness or inability to accept that basic reality.
Over at the Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein has some new data that illustrates this in a fresh way. Brownstein looks at a Gallup poll released this week, which has a few key findings.
First, 60 percent of Americans continue to oppose Trump’s border wall, vs. only 40 percent who support it. And second, very large majorities oppose crucial aspects of Trump’s immigration agenda. Eighty-one percent support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and 61 percent oppose deporting them all (as Trump wants). A total of 67 percent support either increasing legal immigration (30) or keeping legal immigration the same (37), putting them at odds with Trump’s goal of reducing legal immigration, which is supported by only a meager 31 percent.
Brownstein asked Gallup for an additional breakdown of the numbers, to show the overlap between attitudes on the wall and on those other matters. The results are striking:
Seven in 10 Americans who believe that legal immigration should be reduced also support building the wall ... But the wall is opposed by nearly four in five of those surveyed who want to increase legal immigration and by more than two in three who would maintain it at its current level. Similarly, Gallup found that three-fourths of Americans who back mass deportation of all undocumented immigrants also support building the wall. But among the clear majority who oppose mass deportation (roughly three-fifths of all Americans), 80 percent oppose its construction.
Now, in one sense, that overlap isn’t surprising. But this becomes more interesting when you consider that in this debate, Democrats have had great success in untangling the concept of border security from the concept of the wall. As Gallup finds, even as a large majority opposes the wall, an even larger majority supports achieving border security through other means, such as by hiring more agents.
Similarly, a recent Quinnipiac poll found that large majorities say the wall is not necessary to secure the border and support spending money on border security without the wall. This also suggests Democrats have successfully untangled those two concepts.
Trump and his Immigration Iago Stephen Miller have struggled for years now to try to get the public to see the wall — and deep cuts to legal immigration — as synonymous with maintaining national sovereignty and securing the country against criminal and violent invaders. But large majorities reject the wall and reject deep cuts to legal immigration, and they reject the big conflation Trump and Miller have attempted.
What has been left behind is the wall as a symbol. It is a monument (in Trump’s fevered imagination, yes, but also to opponents) of his agenda and its deeper aspirations and values — the goal of rolling back the numbers of immigrants in this country, through family-shattering deportations and restrictions on migrants fleeing horrific conditions at home or merely seeking a better life, thus slowing the country’s demographic and ethnic evolution.
Which brings us to the current debate. The GOP just suffered an epic wipeout in an election that Trump tried in every conceivable way to turn into a referendum on that grand conflation. The result is that Democrats now control the House and have the power to deny him his wall money. But, having lost an election about this very topic, Trump is trying to secure that money through extortion (the last government shutdown) and threats (to either shut down the government again or declare a national emergency).
What Trump refuses to understand — or couldn’t care less about — is that House Democrats are also beholden to their voters. The large popular majority that elected an unprecedentedly diverse House Democratic caucus also sees the wall as a potent symbol — of the aspirations, values and vision of our American future they just rejected.
It is possible to envision a compromise emerging in which Democrats do accept some barriers in exchange for concessions designed to alleviate the humanitarian crisis at the border. But, even though this would entail Democrats conceding some ground, we don’t know if Trump would ever deign to accept it, if it does not fully comport with his wall fantasies. It remains to be seen whether Trump will ever be able to accept an outcome short of total victory for himself — an outcome rooted in an acceptance that the last election actually happened and that it should perhaps have some bearing on his conduct going forward.