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E.J. Dionne Jr.: After Trump's dud, it's up to the Senate GOP

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s “big, beautiful wall” was never a serious policy proposal.

It was a symbol to reassure his supporters that he would keep the sorts of people they don’t like out of the country. It was also a memory device designed by his advisers to remind Trump to talk about immigration in every 2016 campaign speech.

But since Trump has absolutely no interest in policy, it is appropriate that he has shut down part of our government to defend a piece of rhetoric.

He didn’t even intend to do this. Late last year, he signaled to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he’d sign a bill to keep the government open and McConnell dutifully got it through the Senate unanimously.

Trump closed a quarter of the government (“I will take the mantle of shutting it down,” he said in December) only after right-wing commentators told him they would be very mad if he relented on The Wall. Thus did a chief executive who likes us to think he’s strong cower before a few ideologues who have only microphones and pixels as their weapons.

This is the context of the useless, genuinely stupid fight we are in. It’s why the president’s speech to the nation on Tuesday night was so empty, so unpersuasive to anyone but the already committed.

Trump now loves this shutdown because it does four things for him:

It makes him the center of attention.

It tells his base that he is willing to stand up for the idol they adore.

It pushes aside inconvenient news — about the Russia probe, about the administration’s flipping and flopping on Syria, about the many administration posts that are empty.

And it creates the appearance that he is doing something when, in fact, he is doing nothing at all, except keeping large numbers of federal employees from carrying on and earning a living.

Trump’s phony “crisis” talk means he may have to call his own bluff. This is why there is a good chance he will invoke emergency powers to force the military to build the wall.

The move would perfectly sum up his approach to government: It would look dramatic and “strong,” it would waste federal funds for self-aggrandizing reasons, and it would be an abuse of his authority, since the “emergency” in question is not an emergency at all.

The only intelligible rationale behind Trump’s shutdown is Richard Nixon’s old “madman theory.” The idea is that if one party to a negotiation behaves in a particularly crazy and dangerous way, the more reasonable people at the table will give in simply to end the lunacy and avoid catastrophe.

Already, sane voices are proffering compromises — for example, to give Trump some wall money in exchange for protecting the Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States by their parents when they were young.

The problem is that Trump has repeatedly rejected deals on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. And the same anti-immigrant voices who pushed Trump to shutter the government have put him on notice that they would see concessions of this sort as a sell-out.

Right wing commentator Ann Coulter tweeted her spleen Sunday by referring to Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law thought to be interested in a deal, and Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister famous for appeasing Hitler: “If Kushner (Trump) trades amnesty for a wall, history books will have to be pulled from the shelves to replace ‘Neville Chamberlain’ with ‘Donald Trump.’”

Trump is willing to keep hundreds of thousands of government workers idle and unpaid. He lacks the guts to stand up to Coulter and her allies.

Which means that the only path forward is for sensible souls to pressure McConnell and other Senate Republicans to stop enabling the blusterer-in-chief and put bills on Trump’s desk to reopen the government. Already, at least three Republican senators (with others titling that way) have said it’s time to do this. More should join them.

On Fox News after Trump’s speech, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., warned that if Republicans “undercut the president, that’s the end of his presidency and the end of our party.”

Graham was at best half-right.

Yes, Republicans might humiliate Trump by forcing him to acknowledge that this whole business is a fool’s errand. But in doing so, they would be taking a step toward rehabilitating a party that has regularly abetted the depredations of a man who cares only about the spotlight and a totem he claimed Mexico, not American taxpayers, would finance.

Terry Moulton: Reflecting on the last eight years

For the past eight years, I have had the privilege of representing you in the Wisconsin State Senate. I am truly humbled by the trust you’ve placed in me as you’ve invited me into your lives and the lives of your communities. Your thoughts and concerns have never been far from my mind as I’ve worked to improve life in our area and bring your concerns to Madison.

When I was first elected to the Senate, Wisconsin faced billion dollar deficits, record unemployment and double digit tax increases. In just a few years, we’ve turned Wisconsin around. Today businesses are expanding, budgets are balanced, taxes are down and unemployment is the lowest in our states’ history. We’re preparing our kids for the future with record investments in K-12 education, freezing tuition at UW System schools for the sixth straight year, and providing the most need-based grants for college and tech school in Wisconsin history. More people in Wisconsin are working than ever before and we’re leading the nation in welfare reform.

Accomplishing all of this hasn’t been easy. Good governance, balanced budgets and a growing economy don’t happen by accident. They require tough decisions that don’t please everyone. But I took on this job with a simple goal — giving our kids and grandkids a Wisconsin that has less debt, more opportunity and a future that’s brighter than ever.

Reflecting on these last eight years, I am reminded of the many bills I personally authored that have been signed into law. So many of these laws started as ideas that folks across the 23rd Senate District shared with me at listening sessions, community events or a chance run-in at the grocery store. Together we’ve cut red tape to make it easier to open and run a small business. We’ve kept kids out of the foster care system by allowing a trusted family friend to take them in. We’re getting more and more young people outdoors to hunt, fish and trap. We’re extending hope to those with terminal illnesses and defending the lives of the unborn. And, with your help, we’ve created a permanent way for legislators on both sides of the aisle to come together around our shared love of Wisconsin’s outdoors. I am so proud of just how much we’ve accomplished together.

During my time as your Senator, I’ve traveled all over our area, hearing your thoughts, celebrating your successes, and sharing your struggles.

Today, I’m more convinced than ever that the people in our area are some of the best in the world. There are none better suited to take on the challenges that come with embracing opportunity and none more ready to fight for our bright future than you. Though my time as your Senator is coming to an end, I look forward to continuing to work together as your neighbor and friend to strengthen our communities and make a bright future for our kids.

Dana Milbank: Trump's wall isn't evil ... it's medieval

WASHINGTON — President Trump, in his address to the nation, defended the righteousness of his proposed border wall.

“Some have suggested a barrier is immoral,” he said, but it’s really an expression of love.”

He has a point. The trouble with the wall isn’t that it’s evil, but that it’s medieval.

If the plan is to bet the United States’ national security on the siege-warfare technology of the ancient and medieval worlds, which is what a wall does, then our strategy has to be much more Byzantine.

I therefore reached out to various medievalists around the world to get their recommendations on how the United States can use technology that became obsolete in the 16th century to deter the murderous hordes of Trump’s fantasy amassing on the Mexican border. Just as the Pentagon undertakes a Nuclear Posture Review every few years, I did a Medieval Posture Review — and we’re slouches.

To turn the 2,000-mile border into the walled fortress Trump desires, my experts suggest a medieval arms race as terrifying as the plague. Not only will we need a 30-foot “glorious wall” (Trump will like that term) with towers rising to 50 feet, but we’ll also need two more “curtain” walls, a moat and an earthen berm to keep away the invading migrants’ siege towers, ladders, battering rams and pole axes.

Atop the 10-foot-thick walls, crenelated parapets, screened by animal skins, will protect our archers from arrows and stones. The towers, rounded to deflect incoming boulders, will project outward — the better to hit illegal immigrants with enfilading fire from crossbows.

We’ll also need a full arsenal of ballistae to fire spears at the invaders and mangonels to launch pots of burning pitch at their siege weapons. Above all, we will need people — lots of them.

Leif Inge Ree Petersen, a siege-warfare expert at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, explained to me that to do this right — and Trump wants only the best — we should match the “gold standard” in defensive walls: the Theodosian walls that protected Constantinople from George Soros-funded migrant caravans for 1,000 years, until 1453.

Problem is, this wall had towers every 50 to 80 meters and required at least 20,000 people to defend its six-kilometer perimeter. To scale that up, Trump’s border wall will need 51,200 towers and 10.7 million people to perform its various chores: pouring hot oil and dropping rocks on invaders, pushing away their ladders, firing flaming arrows, digging counter-tunnels to intercept invaders’ tunnels and pulling ropes to operate the torsion catapults.

Another member of my war cabinet, historian Craig Nakashian of Texas A&M University at Texarkana, proposed a skeleton crew of the type the Romans used defending Hadrian’s Wall in the second century. But even that required some 15,000 people over 73 miles — so Trump’s border wall, by extrapolation, would still require more than 400,000 defenders. Siege warfare is labor-intensive. “You do kind of need people,” Nakashian explained.

Whether 400,000 or 10 million, the wall’s defenders are all going to need chain armor. And many must be trained in the most fearsome weapon of medieval times: the trebuchet. This monster, 100 feet tall and thousands of pounds, can hurl huge projectiles 1,000 feet.

Cancel the F-35 contract. Lockheed Martin is going to have to build these suckers by the thousands. On the positive side, my experts said it will not be necessary to stock the moats with alligators (this was a Hollywood invention) nor to hurl diseased animal carcasses at the migrants (ineffective).

This is all going to cost well more than the $5.7 billion Trump has requested for the wall and requires mass conscription of civilians. But if we don’t win the medieval arms race, we risk a bloody repeat of the Sassanian Siege of Amida in 359, when Romans holding the city were overrun and killed (much as Trump claims illegal immigrants are doing to Americans).

Of course, there is an easier way to protect our wall. We could use drones, ground-penetrating radar and that newfangled invention called “gunpowder.” But this would defeat the very purpose of building a wall in the first place: the frivolous novelty of using a fifth-century solution to a 21st-century problem.

How else can we hope to recreate the esprit-de-corps that warriors of yore felt launching barrels of burning oil from their fortresses with a mighty battle cry?

“God help the Romans,” cried the ancients.

“In the name of God and St. Demetrius,” cried the Byzantines.

“Lord have mercy,” cried the medievals.

And from the parapets of Trump’s wall will come the sacred cry: Make America Great Again.


In 1861, Alabama became the fourth state to withdraw from the Union.

In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the Grand Canyon National Monument. It became a national park in 1919.

In 1913, the first enclosed sedan-type automobile, a Hudson, went on display at the 13th National Automobile Show in New York.

In 1927, the creation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was proposed during a dinner of Hollywood luminaries at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

In 1935, aviator Amelia Earhart began an 18-hour trip from Honolulu to Oakland, Calif., that made her the first person to fly solo across any part of the Pacific Ocean.

In 1942, Japan declared war against the Netherlands, the same day that Imperial Japanese forces invaded the Dutch East Indies.

In 1946, the People’s Republic of Albania was proclaimed after King Zog was formally deposed by the Communists.

In 1964, U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry issued “Smoking and Health,” a report which concluded that “cigarette smoking contributes substantially to mortality from certain specific diseases and to the overall death rate.”

In 1966, Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti, 64, died in Chur.

In 1977, France set off an international uproar by releasing Abu Daoud, a PLO official behind the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

In 1989, nine days before leaving the White House, President Ronald Reagan bade the nation farewell in a prime-time address, saying of his eight years in office: “We meant to change a nation and instead we changed a world.”

In 1995, 51 people were killed when a Colombian DC-9 jetliner crashed as it was preparing to land near the Caribbean resort of Cartagena — however, 9-year-old Erika Delgado survived.

In 2010, Mark McGwire admitted to The Associated Press that he’d used steroids and human growth hormone when he broke baseball’s home run record in 1998.