All In All, It's Just Another Brick
Trump wants to build a barrier against an imaginary violent threat from very real climate and economic refugees. To do this, he will happily steal support from American disaster victims creating domestic climate and economic refugees. When poverty drives them to crime and violence, they will be vilified as those coming from beyond our borders are now.
The logical arguments against President Trump’s wall echo about twitter and the op ed pages of the legacy press ad nauseum. In short, unrecorded southern border immigration has been on the decline for a decade with our largest improperly documented population coming from overstayed visas. The criminality around which immigration fears are stoked proves to be far less prevalent amongst undocumented immigrants than the general population. The expense cannot possibly be justified or recouped.
The political arguments have become similarly familiar. The President’s authoritarian desire to have it his way or impoverish both federal workers and those programs that employ them must not be rewarded. Any ‘win’ we allow Trump further emboldens his base and encourages his misbehavior.
None of these arguments, however, strikes to the heart of this issue. None of these arguments touches the subtextual, visceral, true reason that this wall must be the one against which democrats, progressives and indeed caring Americans of all stripes must be willing to make a stand. It symbolizes the worst in us.
A nation built on illegal, genocidal immigration and the slave trade has, over the years, stumbled toward ever increasing human decency. We have outlawed the sale and ownership of human beings. We have amended our constitution to extend rights and freedoms to those once oppressed and we have striven to create the possibility of social equality for those we once ostracized. We spoke of ourselves as a shining city on a hill and in our most self-congratulatory moments have believed our own press, thinking ourselves a Utopia of sorts, achieving a willful blindness to our shortcomings.
So convincing did we become in our generosity of spirit, our openness to those in need, our reputation as a place of safety and succor for the desperate that France made a gift to us of a huge monument to our decency, emblazoned with the words of Emma Lazarus. This statue, a symbol of liberty that greeted immigrants as they arrived by boat, welcoming them to a new home, stood fast against the rising smoke when the Twin Towers fell, reminding us all that the spirit of freedom for all remained intact even as the symbols of Capitalism collapsed in a billowing slag heap.
When President Obama took office, a wave of optimism rolled across the land. It felt to many as though old prejudices might be fading into the sepia tones of historic memory, as though the worst impulses of a nation that wants to be better might at last become obsolete. We did not know how many Americans still held onto resentments and fears that would lead them to rage against such progress.
Racists and regressives took comfort in the notion, widely publicized and oft repeated by our current elected leader, that President Obama could not be a legitimate holder of the office. Claims that he was not born here loaned a false standing to the bigoted refusal to accept a black man in the highest office in the land. By pretending not to believe that he was born in Hawaii, his most vocal and terrified opponents could justify claiming that he was not a real American without acknowledging their unspoken, perhaps unconscious belief that nobody of dark skin is as American as they.
Now the man who gave the Birthers’ ideas airtime, the man who began his campaign with a broad stroke painting of Mexicans as criminals and rapists, with an afterthought nod to the idea that “many of them […] are good people,” wishes to build a wall between our nation and one of the two it directly borders. He is willing to shut down the government that serves us in order to keep them out.
We object to this idea not for reasons of logic, though those reasons serve as valid talking points, supported by fact. We object to this idea not for the ludicrous economics of funding something so big and costly at the expense of far more pressing needs.
What we most object to underneath all the political wrangling and brinksmanship of this battle is that a wall represents exclusion. It effectively replaces the Statue of Liberty with a Statue of the Old Grumpy Guy who symbolizes ‘no vacancy.’ It says, “Our empathy stops here.” When Trump Jr. voiced support for this wall by comparing it to the barriers that make zoos safe, his implication shocked those who disagreed with his premise. Humanity does not stop at the edges of a nation.
The symbols at our borders define us as a nation. This symbol, this wall would forever alter the very soul of America.
We wish to think of ourselves as a beacon of hope. Beacons lead people in. We wish to think ourselves a shining city on a hill. A shining city cannot also be a gated community. In truth, the symbolic statue at Liberty Island means nothing if her promise will not be kept.
People do not come to America because we invite them with cast bronze. They come because they see opportunity, an end to their hunger, a society that cares enough to evolve, to grow, to incorporate the ideas and highest ideals of those who come to work within it. People come because for all our faults and all our lingering flaws we seem to be moving in the right direction. At our best, America, like those immigrants who arrive, seeks to better itself.
This Wall, this ineffective, expensive defense against a fabricated enemy represents us at our worst. Immigrants do not endanger our way of life, our jobs, our loved ones, the safety of our homes. Immigration is not a threat. Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery.