As a candidate, President Trump made his case against Latino immigrants by calling them criminals and rapists that came across the border to do harm to Americans. His primary solution and one that resonates with his base was to build a wall across our southern border and have Mexico pay for it.
A revealing sideline to this was an interview of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Press Secretary, by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, where she tried to make the case that we need a wall by saying that almost 4,000 potential terrorists are coming across our southern border. In doing so, she upped Kirstjem Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security’s own figure of 3,000.
Both are lies that Chris Wallace immediately sought to correct by pointing out to Sanders that those numbers have to do with travelers into our airports and not the border. The effort to try to prove something with “alternative facts” points out the desperation and the length some will go to advance an anti-immigration agenda and at the same time, justify a government shutdown.
The truth is that historically and symbolically walls have been used to preserve political power for those that build them. A wall is also a metaphor for choices about where we are and where we want to go.
The most powerful physical example of this is the Great Wall of China where successive regimes sought to build and extend it in order to protect the power and continued viability of their dynasties. History tells us that all of that work did not stop the Manchurian Manchu Qing from invading and taking power in 1644.
The series of structures that eventually were woven together to make the Chinese wall were designed to keep immigrants from the North out. In a sense, the Wall was an insulating and protective instrument as well as a symbol of the political power of the reigning state.
The wall has also been a device of an invader. Roman Legions were famous for building forts with vertical and pointed logs to protect the troops against attack after entering hostile territory.
There is also the Berlin Wall built by East Germany. I was stationed nearby when the Wall was built in order to keep citizens in and foreign ideas out.
Right after the Wall was built, President Kennedy came to West Germany and Berlin to offer spiritual and political solidarity with those held within and recognized the price of freedom for those living on the outside. Years later, President Reagan came to Berlin to demand that the Soviet leadership “tear down this wall.”
American Manifest Destiny is littered with walls as immigrants moving West many times sought the protection of military forts constructed for reasons similar to those of the Roman armies. Today, keeping out other immigrants appears to be the primary reason for the possible construction of the Trump Wall.
Just like the America First movement in the 1930’s, there is a demographic slice of the country bent on finding ways to keep things as they were. “Make America Great Again” is a call to a time when color was considered a privilege and human and civil rights were optional and exclusive.
President Trump is in a face-off with Democrats over funding for a wall he could not get when his party was in control. He needs to win in order to look strong.
It looks very much like we are on to 2020. Hold on to your seat.