Seeking objectivity over bias

Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
For many New Zealanders, it must seem nearly impossible to find a view supporting US President Donald Trump’s current border barrier demands.

With the US Government’s partial shutdown now into its third week and neither Mr Trump nor the Democrat-held House of Representatives willing to budge on their positions, the fate of the wall is providing ongoing headlines in this country.

Mr Trump’s campaign rhetoric of a "beautiful" concrete wall — a wall he said Mexico would pay for — has become an easy and understandable target of derision for those opposed to the president and his politics. His constant pantomime tantrums and juvenile decision-making  make the mockery he receives not only understandable but, to a large degree, reasonable.

Yet, it seems more sensible to address the border barrier argument on its merits in spite of the president, rather than as an issue which neatly divides people into political teams. Democracy works best not when political theatre rules the news cycles but when voters are well informed and sober to the wiles of party fervour. No democracy should be comfortable seeing ad hominem override objectivity.

It has been estimated the $US5 billion Mr Trump is demanding would build less than 350km of physical barriers — much of which would likely replace or reinforce existing barriers. That is far from the 1600km concrete wall Mr Trump campaigned on, and a very long way from fencing the entire 3000km-long US/Mexico border.

The current fiscal demand is also a long way from the $US25 billion-$70 billion bill critics held up as the likely cost of Mr Trump’s election promise.

The proposed barrier is far from the concrete monstrosity Mr Trump promised during his campaign. With steel bars interspersed with gaps, it would, essentially, be in keeping with much of the more than 1000km of existing barrier  on the border. That existing barrier has been built, maintained and accepted by previous governments of both stripes.

Both Republicans and Democrats agree there are strong arguments for strengthening border security along the US/Mexico border. There is also evidence the existing border barrier has worked. None of which proves Mr Trump’s border barrier is an efficient, clever or effective solution. But it does indicate the desires of the two opposing camps are not as far apart as the current rhetoric suggests.

Then there are the American voters who, rightly or wrongly, made their choice when they elected Donald Trump to be their president. Many of those voters could reasonably demand politicians to now get on with delivering on that choice.

Instead, it seems the argument for or against the border barrier has largely become an argument for or against President Trump: allowing it to go ahead would improve his re-election chances; denying it would hinder them. Meanwhile, 800,000 Americans are trying to live without pay as the partial government shutdown continues.

Democracy is difficult. It’s fraught with friction, compromise, inefficiency and deception. It produces mistakes, squabbles and waste. But it is, to date, the most stable, fair, safe and prosperous form of government the world has seen.

Many millions of Americans voted for, and expect to see, an extension of the existing border barrier along the US/Mexico border. It is not difficult to imagine such an extension going ahead with little fanfare under a different administration. Yet, as with most of Mr Trump’s presidency, and almost entirely of his own doing, this issue has become one of pure grandstanding.

What is without question is that when it comes to contentious political issues, we are better off fighting the urge to quickly fall into established political lines and instead seek facts, opinions, points of view and context that challenges our own ideals and biases.

While the US/Mexico border barrier debate may not affect New Zealand, we can nevertheless use it to help train ourselves to seek objectivity over bias.


On the border, a child died in American custody. The Wall may prevent further incidents, but, sorry, the Border 'war' is not something to be objective about.