In his second letter to the Corinthians (4:7) St. Paul compares our earthly bodies to “vessels of clay,” which he says are meant to be filled with “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.” As I watched candidate Donald Trump running for president, Paul's imagery of those vessels came to mind. I envisioned Trump as a rough-hewn and ill-shaped jar that had a large opening with no stopper, that was filled with a rancid and impure liquid that spilled everywhere whenever it was brought out because of its shoddy design.
Nevertheless, in his two years as President it is clear that enough people have been praying for and encouraging him to be more open to the grace of God, and to allow the divine potter to perfect his shape and to turn the tumultuous water of his past into the wine of a leader. Certainly, the process is ongoing and not without its bumps, but it was clear that after his most recent speech where he took his case to the American people on the need for better border enforcement, that he is moving in the right direction.
While he could have done more to make a better financial case about the wall paying for itself, he instead chose to make a moral case about protecting our borders, of which building a wall (or steel fence) is but one-sixth of what he's proposing. His speech was short, to the point, and relied heavily on basic facts that were supported by the assessments of those tasked with protecting our nation's borders. He deftly used those facts to craft a narrative about our “broken immigration system” which did an end-run around the standard compassionate angle which Democrats and open border activists are fond of weaponizing in order to shame traditional American values.
By simply talking about the deaths and dysfunction resulting from the drugs and criminal elements that illegally cross our southern border, he demonstrated how politicians and activists are just as willing as coyotes to use the women and children trying to enter the country as pawns in order to fulfill their own rapacious goals. He cleverly made this point when he said that, “Senator Chuck Schumer, who you will be hearing from later tonight, has repeatedly supported a physical barrier in the past, along with many other Democrats. They changed their mind only after I was elected president.” Check.
He quickly followed this up by appealing to the “common sense” of those who actually have to live with the fallout resulting from the decisions made by those who live in elite enclaves, by asking why those who decry a border wall as immoral “build walls, fences, and gates around their homes?” He responds with a very close paraphrase of G.K. Chesterton's quote about why soldiers fight, “they don't build walls because they hate the people on the outside, but because they love the people on the inside.” Checkmate!
Say what you will about the president's political inexperience and numerous gaffes, he still has his moments, and this was one of them. By making those two assertions, the President framed the narrative in such a way that it becomes painfully obvious that all the acrimony hurled his way about being “divisive” or “fear mongering” are just cheap political dodges meant to mask the overall dereliction of duty in enforcing our nation's own laws for going on five decades now. And it is that lack of will and moral resolve, and that alone, which is at the heart of “the cycle of human suffering” surrounding illegal immigration and our borders.
In response, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, in true NPC meme fashion in both appearance and tone, and unlike any other presidential address before, are given equal time to respond. To be fair, they did spend more time on the governmental shutdown, which after all was the real reason the president gave his address. Nevertheless, they skipped right over the points the president made, including, in a rather blithe manner, the suffering of those mentioned in the president's speech. Instead they, went right back to same kind of partisan gas-lighting and “deplorable” scolding, which we have grown accustomed to. Again to be fair, they probably didn’t have too many other choices.
Where the Real Crisis Is
In the end, this shutdown will come to an end, just like all the others have. And the federal employees, who have seen these shutdowns before and who at least acknowledge that such setbacks are an occupational hazard, will get their back-pay. Just like before. The question is whether or not the overall malaise, of which this current squabble over border security are only the symptoms, will eventually be addressed.
In this respect, the president made one other salient point which I have waited a long time for a politician to finally admit, and although he was referring to the plight of those trying to illegally enter the country, it should be seen as applying to everyone, “This is a humanitarian crisis—a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul.”
And the crisis concerns identity, which is why it is so fitting that the argument is over a wall, since it perfectly symbolizes the stark polarization in our culture about who we are as a people and a nation.
In the 1997 book The Fourth Turning, authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, wrote, “America feels like it's unraveling. Though we live in an era of relative peace and comfort, we have settled into a mood of pessimism about the long-term future, fearful that our superpower nation is somehow rotting from within.” Needless to say, this sentiment has only gotten worse, and as things stand, there is little hope that there will be any real change in the divisions in our nation.
I fear that we have reached the same kind of situation which caused Thomas Jefferson to famously state in 1824, “But, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”
In Jefferson's case he was talking about the institution of slavery; in our own era, his words could apply to immigration, border security, and national identity. Justice here would be our nation's desire to use our wealth and might to help the less fortunate and to keep the peace. Self-preservation on the other hand becomes far more complicated when Americans watch as their generosity and values are turned into a cudgel which is used to shame them into hating and rejecting those same values. Especially by cultures whose values might not only be different from our own, but opposed to them and by peoples who are long on resentment and entitlement, and short of good will and gratitude towards the United States.
Moreover, there is a deep foreboding that we all love to ignore, that with a $20 trillion national debt and future unfunded liabilities which are primed to start gobbling up more and more of the national budget, at what point will helping all those needy people begin to short-change the people who are being forced to pay for those needy people? At what point do we begin to see that the bureaucratic/regulatory state apparatus we've been using as a kind of caring machine to redistribute resources, will (like a wolf) grab hold of you (through debt) and not let go. What does that make you?
Those are all facets of the “wolf” that we have by the ears, and which at some point will need to be dealt with. But if history and fallen human nature is any guide, that will only come about as a result of a complete ekpyrosis, a phoenix-like destruction of the old order and the ushering of a new. Only time and God's providence will tell.
Photo: Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star