Opinion

Trump discovers the real wall

The president's wall is a monument to American idiocy and ugliness

On Tuesday, President Trump acknowledged, seemingly for the first time, the existence of some 580 miles of extant fencing along our southern border. These makeshift defenses, he added, have proven more than capable of holding back the non-existent foreign hordes intent upon carrying bubonic plague to various Houston-area Bed, Bath and Beyond locations.

This frank and unwonted admission was a victory for all who, regardless of their prudential views on the subject of immigration, consider the "impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall" folly. Proponents of severe immigration restriction should be among the first to acknowledge that expending further resources upon such a project will not advance their cause. The leadership of the Democratic Party agrees. As Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi observed in their contentious exchange with the president on Tuesday, no expert in the area of border security believes that a wall costing some $21.6 billion is necessary or desirable. The majority of drugs are smuggled into this country by means of subterfuge at official points of entry. This is not the finding of the "fake news" media but the official conclusion of John Kelly when he served as head of the Department of Homeland Security. Our "makeshift Walls & Fences" are enough.

None of this matters to the president. He continued to insist on Tuesday that he is willing to shut down the government in order to secure funding for this project. Why? Trump does not wish to build his wall because he believes that its fabrication will lower rates of drug overdose or bring about a general lessening of crime. He talks a good deal about "border security," but the wall is "very important" to him simply because construction, his father's business before it was his own, has fascinated him since boyhood. His imagination as a child was haunted by dreams of one day erecting skyscrapers in Manhattan. He has already achieved this. To construct a contiguous series of impregnable fortifications across the 2,000 miles of our border with Mexico would be among the most spectacular feats in the history of building. The wall is a private fantasy. It is also fundamentally childish.

I am not totally allergic to these sublime considerations. The image of a vast monument whose ruins will stretch from Brownsville to San Diego, worshipped by primitive shamans and providing shelter from the elements to birds and beasts thousands of years after the United States is a dim memory is, to me, an appealing one. But this is also the best argument against the wall. Who would wish to bequeath the spirit and the trappings of our age to anyone? The private imagination that has conceived the border wall has already given us the disemboweled Rubik's Cube on Fifth Avenue. In place of earth, brick, stone, and wood he would offer transparent, electrified glass 30 feet in height as far as the eye could see.

Trump's Great Wall, unlike that begun by Qin Shi Huang more than 2,000 years ago, is a purely aesthetic rather than a civic or military undertaking. Its construction would further no meaningful interest save his own. The pharaohs had similar ambitions, and the world still delights in their monuments at Giza. It might be possible to defend the border wall if there were any likelihood that it would aspire to something like Egyptian grandeur or longevity.

It would not last half a millennium. It would stand for a few hundred years, perhaps less, as a reminder of the ugliness of the American imagination, her narrowness, her cruelty, her greed and philistinism, and her denial of her imperial destiny as the humane capital of the Western hemisphere before the glass is swallowed into the desert. These are not themes which any of us should desire to prolong. Conceived in purely aesthetic terms, it is chiefly on moral grounds that the wall should be dismissed.

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