We are so screwed. The Texas economy is totally dependent on trade with Mexico. Trump’s determination to stir up his flash mob by insulting Mexico is going to absolutely kill us.
But our top Texas elected officials are Republicans who are so afraid of far-right challengers that they can’t do anything but cringe and whimper. Like I said. We’re screwed.
A study published last year by the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank found that since NAFTA went into effect in 1994, Texas trade with Mexico has grown twice as fast as the national rate. The study found that jobs in low-value-added industries like garments were lost initially along the border, but now overall employment and wages are up in the main border cities:
Border cities went on to gain far more employment than what they lost amid increased imports from Canada and Mexico and shifting production between the countries. Moreover, the unemployment rate went down in major Texas border cities following NAFTA implementation.
Trump has this thing about carmakers manufacturing cars in Mexico and importing them back into the U.S. If he had read this report, he would know that different parts and portions of the manufacturing process fly back and forth across the border like ducks during hunting season. These so-called intermediate products may be produced here, assembled in Mexico, then re-imported and sold here.
The bottom line for Texas is that 40 percent of the state’s exports go to Mexico in an extremely diverse menu of products and services. The lion’s share, over a quarter of the total, is in computers and technology, followed by vehicles, followed by oil and coal, followed by chemicals.
Just about everybody with a couple IQ points to rub together who looks at our relationship with Mexico says a full-scale trade war would tank the Texas economy. So what are our elected leaders doing to stave that off? What could they do?
They could tell Trump no. They could tell him emphatically that his proposal for a “border tax” (what college students call a tariff) is a recipe for absolute economic disaster, and his idea for a full-scale continuous wall on the southern border is terrible on sheer physical and logistical grounds alone, before you even get to the trade war.
As only one example of why, Victor Manjarrez, retired Border Patrol chief and project director at the Center for Law and Human Behavior at the University of Texas at El Paso, told The Austin American-Statesman this week that merely getting out into remote areas of the border in order to carry out construction of a concrete wall would require cutting and building paved construction roads that would then provide smugglers with easy access to areas that are now physically impassable.
There is the fact that a concrete wall is a dam, and a continuous dam along the Rio Grande is a disastrously bad idea because of the flooding and property-destruction it would cause. By the way, based on our own experience here in Dallas with the Trinity River, I don’t even get how a concrete wall could be built along the Rio Grande absent a multiple-years-long process of study and review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Highway Authority.
So let’s say he just does it anyway, like the Muslim travel ban. Even if it doesn’t stand the test of time, even if it goes away eventually, merely proposing the wall and then salting the wound by saying Mexico should pay for it is bound to get Mexico thinking about looking for some new trade main-mama, like, I don’t know, China?
All of that flies in the face of Texas interests. Anything that would put a damper on trade with Mexico will come straight out of the economic hide of Texas. Forget the physical stupidity. The issue of trade alone should be enough to put Texas politicians on a war footing to save this state’s economy.
But, no. They’re all terrified if they say one thing that makes Trump mad he’ll sic some Tea Party stiff on them next time they have to stand for election.
So how do they defend us? U.S. Senator John Cornyn said last week, “I want to make sure we know what the consequences would be and how this would work. I know a lot of the major retailers are concerned about this as well.”
That’s what I would call the please-don’t-hurt-me approach. Please. Really. Please don’t. My own memory of middle school playgrounds — the last places I encountered Trump types — was that the please-don’t-hurt-me approach usually got me punched in the gut. I may not be remembering. Maybe please-don’t-hurt-me was what got me pantsed. Anyway, I remember now never ever to say it out loud even if it’s what I am thinking.
Then we have Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who said immediately after Trump ordered construction to begin that he was “pleased with the immediate action President Trump has taken to fulfill his promise to secure the border.” This week in his state-of-the-state address, Abbott did not even mention the wall or trade with Mexico. But he did say: “This is the session we will ban sanctuary cities. I’m declaring this an emergency item.”
I would call that approach: “If I go kick that dog, can we be friends?” Like sanctuary cities are a real problem. All major cities in Texas are sanctuary cities – sanctuary from the rest of Texas. Why do you think we live in them? Next Abbott can tell Trump he’s going to ban bicycles and pinot grigio.
Oh, I know, we have U.S Senator Ted Cruz to talk about. He says he loves the wall and wants to imprison anybody who climbs over it for five years. But, c’mon. That’s just Cruz. The guy doesn’t change. His plan for fending off attacks from nutball right-wingers has always been to out-nutball them, something Cruz can do in his sleep.
If Trump agreed to five-year prison terms for border-crossers, Cruz would amp up his own game to water-boarding. The only thing Ted Cruz never wants to see in his sleep is Ted Cruz getting defeated in an election.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus probably took a more direct stab at it than some by saying on his Facebook page, “The United States and Mexico have a productive economic partnership that is especially good for Texas and San Antonio. The people of our state benefit greatly from trade with Mexico and from our cooperation on issues such as homeland security and counter-terrorism.”
And? And? Did you mean to say something, Mr. Speaker? Or were you just practicing for your future career as a substitute teacher?
It’s the wussing out. It’s so transparent. If Straus’ geography lesson doesn’t work, you halfway expect him to say, “Mr. President, you know Cruz called you an orange-head. He’s standing right over there.”
And it’s not as if they don’t know better. If any one of them needs an example, he needs look no further than Republican Congressman Will Hurd, whose district stretches from San Antonio west to El Paso along 800 miles of border with Mexico.
Hurd, a former CIA undercover officer, voiced his objections to the wall in an op-ed for the Washington Post this week:
“In fact, building a wall from sea to shining sea would be the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border … Building a wall in the middle of a river or at the top of a mountain would be a waste of taxpayer money.
“Building a barrier through hundreds of miles of desert on the border is useless if you do not have Border Patrol agents available to respond to challenges to the barrier.
“The president has said that he will ensure that Mexico pays for the construction of a border wall. Mexico is our friend and partner. Our national security depends on working together to ensure the integrity of our Southern border.
“While chasing terrorists as an undercover officer in the CIA, I learned a few life lessons, such as: Be nice to nice guys and tough with tough guys; and make sure your friends trust you and your enemies fear you.”
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
That approach is what I call taking it to the man. Hurd isn’t afraid to tell Trump not merely that his border ideas are misbegotten but that they are dangerous and potentially extremely destructive.
Why would you have to explain that to a president of the United States? Somebody needs to draw him a picture – exactly what Hurd is doing.
Look, I’m going to take this back to middle school. The main pantser on the playground usually is not the sharpest pencil in the box. You kind of have to speak a language he can get.
That’s exactly what Hurd is doing, while the rest of them are all too wussed out to say anything because of their Tea Party heebie-jeebies. They are hostage to the ultra-whacko right. Therefore, so are we. What a situation.