Who is a Wall for?

Joel:

You ask why Donald Trump should expect Mexico to pay for his stupid expensive, environmentally dangerous, economy-thrashing, community-disrupting, land-grabbing wall. Like, not just how would Mexico pay for it, but why in the world should Mexico pay for it.

The obvious answer has to do with Sigmund Freud and Donald Trump’s very fragile ego.

But I wonder if there isn’t something else too:

When a crime is committed, we expect the perpetrator to be punished and to make restitution. They owe us what they took from us: the cost of the broken window, the value of the shoplifted lip gloss. Sometimes–as with murder–we can’t be repaid, and so some argue for the death penalty: an exchange of life for life, though we know that this is a symptom of a sick society, not a remedy for it.

A US-Mexico wall isn’t about preventing Mexicans from entering the US illegally. (And, anyway, why should Mexico pay to prevent those from Honduras or El Salvador from entering the US? What does that have to do with them?) Undocumented border crossing has been falling for a long time, without a wall or the threat of it.

A US-Mexico wall is about punishing Mexico. For what? For the “influx” (also, “swarm,” “horde,” “flood,” “epidemic,” “rash”–these metaphors are not new) of Mexican immigrants who have “taken jobs” from Americans. Sure, it makes zero sense to blame Mexico for our love of cheap migrant labor or foreign made goods, our adoration of the super-wealthy who shape the economy so that profits go so disproportionately to people whose main objective is to make more for themselves and their stockholders by allowing workers to have less, and our acquiescence to the global chase for lower-wage workers. But if you are a temporarily embarrassed millionaire, you see yourself as closer to Donald Trump than to a migrant worker, and if you aren’t rich, it’s not because of the destruction of labor unions or the end of wealth-expanding domestic policies but because undocumented immigrants are robbing you at gunpoint, saying, “Ese gringo, gimmee your job.” Americans are accustomed to growth, growth, growth, and the stagnation and decline of the last thirty-five years causes us to lash out. Mexicans are easy targets.

A US-Mexico wall is also about establishing US dominance. In general, when citizens feel that their nation is in control of immigration, they are less likely to support harsh immigration policies. When they feel that the immigration situation is out of control, they push for harsh policies, even when they are self-destructive. This isn’t about fact but about feelings–which is good for Donald Trump, who lives in a fact-free universe but is very good at tapping into the fearful feelings of his supporters.

The fact that our policy makers rely on fear, not facts, is worrisome but, again, not particularly new.

Image result for berlin wall

Above, workers building the Berlin Wall, which separated Soviet-controlled East Berlin from the western part of the city, which was under the jurisdiction of the US, Britain, and France. US presidents have generally condemned the use of walls as a way to keep people inside their home nations because such physical barriers are odious to notions of freedom. 

You gave the example of a fence you might want to build around your home. You have no grounds to ask your neighbors to pay for it because it’s your fence. You want it, so you pay for it.

That argument makes sense if you are a person who takes responsibility for his life. That is not Donald Trump. Donald Trump is deeply irresponsible–which is why he is always trying to dodge creditors, short-change employees, and play golf when he should be working.

Donald Trump sees Mexico like a neighbor with a nuisance dog; he wants his yard to be free from the holes the dog digs and the messes it makes, but he thinks that the neighbor should do something about it. That’s pretty reasonable, I think–when we are talking about dogs.

But despite the rhetoric coming out of the Trump administration, we are talking about people, and they, unlike dogs, are free to move about.

Here is the problem with the wall that should frighten Trump supporters: He thinks that a country should be able to build a wall to prevent its people from leaving. In fact, he thinks that country should be required to do so if the neighbors complain. (Or maybe just if the neighbors are the US or if the people being locked in are brown skinned.)

I have a US passport, which means that the US government isn’t stopping me from going almost anywhere in the world. We have historically derided those who refuse to allow their people free movement–from East Berlin to North Korea. Yet those who believe in FEMA-camp conspiracy theories are okay with the idea that a country should be able to literally lock its people in?

Locking people out is one thing–stupid, inefficient, economically short-sighted, fear-monger, wasteful… Locking them in is quite another. It’s the way of dictators. 

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