By Travis Naughton

In his now infamous December 11th meeting with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, President Trump threatened to allow a partial shutdown of the federal government if his demand for over $5 billion to build a wall on the United States’ southern border was not met. Mr. Trump vowed, “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you (the Democrats) for it.”

Travis Naughton

Ten days later, the president tweeted, “The Democrats now own the shutdown!” Sounds like the blame game to me. But this isn’t a game. Not at all.

In the weeks since the president’s attempt at extortion failed, our understaffed national parks have been ravaged by polluters and vandals. Many federal employees have been working without compensation. They, and their families, have begun to worry about paying their mortgages and feeding their children. Americans, including some right here in mid-Missouri, are suffering because a billionaire real estate mogul has gambled our nation’s future on a bet that a contrived fight over a border wall will be an effective distraction from his corrupt business dealings with foreign governments. It remains to be seen if Trump’s strategy will work, but one thing is certain: walls don’t.

The construction of the Great Wall of China, one of mankind’s most impressive feats, took nearly 2,000 years to complete. Beginning with the Qin Dynasty in 220 AD, China’s ruling elite believed that a fortified wall would offer protection from enemy attacks, ensure their continued grasp on power, and keep their subjects safe. Not only were invaders such as the Mongols still able to find and exploit the wall’s weaknesses, leading to the deaths of untold thousands of soldiers and citizens, an additional 400,000 people died while building the wall itself.

When communist East Germany couldn’t keep its citizens from fleeing to freedom in the West, it erected the Berlin Wall. In the 28 years of the wall’s existence, over 600 people were killed while braving razor wire, attack dogs, and machine guns as they attempted to escape to a better life on the other side of the heavily guarded barrier. As I watched the images on live television of jubilant Germans from East and West tearing down the graffiti-covered partition in 1989, I realized humanity was never meant to be separated by walls.

Man has built many walls over the ages, including those that separate adherents of different religions such as the West Bank Barrier dividing Palestinians from Israelis and the Peace Walls of Belfast, Northern Ireland which keep Catholic and Protestant Christians confined to their own neighborhoods in the name of security. Over the millennia, countless emperors, prime ministers, dictators, and presidents have ordered the construction of border walls under the pretense of keeping evil at bay, though the walls themselves were often the real danger.

The border fence between the United States and Mexico is just such a wall. The barrier at our southern border was built to keep out human beings desperate to escape abject poverty and a brutal drug war. Each year hundreds of mothers, fathers, and children die trying to cross our border while seeking a better life for themselves and their families. The vast majority of these refugees are not murderous rapists as the president would have you believe. Most are honest, hard-working people who are fleeing a hopeless, dangerous, and miserable existence. Frankly, I don’t blame them for doing what they must to survive.

Refugees should be allowed to apply for asylum, given a fair hearing in an immigration court, and either granted asylum or returned to their countries of origin. That would be a far better use of our 5.7 billion dollars. Besides, as long as ladders, ropes, and shovels are available, walls will not stop desperate people from getting to the other side.
Some say, “Good fences make good neighbors,” but I disagree. I say compassion and kindness do. Building more walls will not make America great again, nor will it make the world a better place. Empathy for our fellow man will. Promising to put up a taller, stronger wall will not make us safer. Helping to significantly improve the lives of those who would otherwise seek to breach that wall will.

Withholding pay from federal employees and jeopardizing their families’ financial stability, shutting down important government programs and services, and endangering our national parks and monuments are crimes against the people of the United States. Donald J. Trump is a far greater threat to our nation than a refugee fleeing violence, poverty, and starvation.