Saturday, February 2, 2019

Mr. Trump's Wall

               This essay appeared on the Opinion Page of the Springfield News-Leader on February 8, 2019

I seldom stray into politics but it seems clear to me that walls have held a fascination for some recent poets and presidents—or perhaps it was simply the situation in which each found himself that raised an interest in walls. Everyone of a certain age will recall the Berlin Wall that separated East Berlin from West Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Berlin was in what was then East Germany controlled by Russia after WWII. The Russians built the wall to isolate the French, British, and American sectors of West Berlin. The wall made it an island of Western culture and democracy in the midst of Eastern totalitarianism. The allies supplied the citizens of West Berlin through an airlift running around the clock. The Russian purpose in building the wall was to force the allies out of Berlin, but it also stopped the free exchange of ideas and passage between East and West Berlin. In 1987 a Republican President, Ronald Reagan, delivered a speech at the Brandenburg Gate near Checkpoint Charlie in the American Sector; it contained this famous line: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Mr. Reagan, apparently, saw the Berlin wall as highly effective, but ideologically negative. Two years later the citizens of Berlin, both East and West, tore it down. In this case, to quote a line from Robert Frost: “Good Fences did not make good neighbors”—which begs the question do good fences ever make good neighbors?

            Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall,” begins this way:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.*

The poet, at that time, was a farmer in New England and every spring he and his neighbor walked the stone wall separating their properties in order to mend it. Frost doesn’t see a need to have a wall because his neighbor’s land is “all pine” and his is “apple orchard” and he opines “My apple trees will never get across/and eat the cones under his pines,” but his neighbor rather stodgily replies “good fences make good neighbors.” Frost, exasperated, wants to get his neighbor to think about the function of the wall: “Why do [walls] make good neighbors? Isn’t it/Where there are cows? But here there are no cows./Before I built a wall I’d like to know/What I was walling in or walling out,/And to whom I was like to give offense.” But his neighbor woodenly says it again: “Good fences make good neighbors.” Mr. Frost, apparently, regarded his shared wall as unnecessary, while his neighbor regarded it as an ideological necessity.

What about Mr. Trump’s wall? He regards it as absolutely necessary for he finds an immigration crisis on our admittedly porous southern border, which is aggravated by illegal drugs pouring in from Mexican cartels. In his view only a wall can effectively resolve the crisis. There is no denying the problems on our southern border, but closing off the border with Mexico with a wall will send an inflammatory symbolical signal to the world exactly opposite to that of the Statue of Liberty on our eastern shore. The Liberty statue once symbolized new beginnings for white Europeans in the 1800s and later. On its base one finds these words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore…” The signal that Mr. Trump’s southern border wall will project to the world is otherwise, however. It will say: Stay away we don’t want you brown-skinned people here. Over time his wall will come to symbolize intolerance, bigotry, and racism. Eventually it will take its place among some of the darkest moments in the history of our democratic republic: the internment of Japanese-American citizens and Alaska natives during WWII, and the internment of American Indians during the 1800s. Ms. Pelosi may not be far wrong when she calls Mr. Trump’s wall “immoral.” At least it must be admitted that Mr. Trump’s wall does not seem inspired by the better angels of our nature.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

*Edward C. Latham, ed., The Poetry of Robert Frost (New York: Holt, Reinhart and Winston, 1967), 33-34.

16 comments:

  1. Good afternoon Charlie,

    You went to great lengths to insert incredible negativity into a wall at the southern border... To you, the wall is a symbol of hatred and racism. To others, it symbolizes something else. It is up to each individual to decide what the wall does or does not symbolize- if it symbolizes anything at all. Maybe it's just a wall. Period. Can a wall just be a wall? In this day and age, the obvious answer is no it cannot... thanks to highly imaginative analogies and comparisons to other historic walls, like the ones you listed. (which you never establish as having any similarity to the one at the border- other than the fact that they are a physical barrier) It is no one else's fault for your reading such deeply negative and dark meanings into it. That is a reflection of what is in your heart, not Donald Trump's. How one interprets such things is a reflection of one's own inner state.

    Asserting your position as being on the side of "morality" smacks of self-righteous fundamentalism, in my opinion, and is completely unnecessary. It contributes nothing to solving any problem other than making your side superior. (There are no gold stars being given out for morality anymore, those days are over) Others may or may not agree.

    Many thanks, Elizabeth

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    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      Since this is a site that promotes open dialogue, I would want to hear what a wall at the southern border means to you. As stated below, I usually prefer bridges to walls. I see it as usually a preferable image for raising children.

      I think we both know that reasonable folks would gather together all the experts in border security that could be found and have them put together a plan of action that would take advantage of all known useful methods with explanations of why they're useful. That work would then be placed into law by our congressional representatives and signed by the president.

      Gene Stecher
      Chambersburg, Pa.

      Gene

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    2. Thank you for your honest question Gene. I am happy to have an intelligent, non-emotional discussion on border security. I am a native Texan and the only member of my family who moved away from Texas when I got married. I've lived in Missouri 25 years now, and the other half of my life was spent in the Lone Star State. We moderates in the middle are weary of the extremists turning border security into a race issue. It's so old now. No one is suggesting that a wall at the border is the be-all, end all solution to preventing drug cartels and human traffickers from crossing illegally. Yes, there are families who seek a better life in this country and they are free to do so at legal ports of entry. No one disputes their right to do so legally.

      A physical barrier is not a symbol of racism and is not inherently evil. It is a piece of steel or concrete. That's it. The intentions of those who erect such walls can and have been evil in the past. However, those evil intentions of past dictators have nothing to do with the intentions of honest hard-working Americans who simply want a secure border. Those comparisons are laughably dishonest and uniformed.

      A wall is one of many deterrents that border agents are requesting to help keep our country safe from gangs, human smugglers, and drug dealers. It's matter practicality and common sense. Making it into a moral issue is a waste of everyone's time and energy. Seeking to build a wall for border security does not make someone a racist. Period.

      Reading evil intentions into the motives of the President is a favorite pastime of many extremists and I'm sure it will continue for the rest of his term in office. I get it- they think he's the devil incarnate. Thank you- duly noted. I hear it on a daily basis, and I yawn. What's new? In the meantime, problem solvers are seeking middle ground to come up with answers to very tough and complicated issues- I'm used to ignoring the screams of the morality police. The more irrelevant they become, the louder they yell... I'm sorry, but I'm not in the mood for another lecture on morality from the same people who stand silent with regard to third-term abortion, and after-birth abortions taking place in New York, Virginia, and Rhode Island. I guess the only rights that the morality police are interested in protecting are those of unborn babies from any country other than the United States.

      Thank you as always. Elizabeth

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    3. Hi Elizabeth,

      Good to hear from you. Not sure, however, that your reply was non-emotional. But if I understand your post correctly, your take on the wall is that it responds to "the intentions of hardworking Americans who simply want a secure border," and it reflects the "practicality and common sense of border agents who name it as one of many deterrents to help keep our country safe from gangs, human smugglers, and drug dealers." You mention that "problem solvers are seeking middle ground to come up with answers to very tough and complicated issues," and I agree, but I'm not clear in what sense or form you might consider the wall or barriers of some sort middle ground.


      I would like to see the concept of "bridge" incorporated into whatever plan is developed. A bridge gives a view to the other side but can also be controlled from either end. The control can also be extended to those who hold out jobs for and hire uncredentialled folks - there would be no jobs for illegal folks to seek if those who hired them were arrested and tried.


      My thought is that there have always been physical barriers at some points along the Southern border, and both parties over the years have voted for such barriers; it seems that we need a clearly delineated plan for how and where such barriers can be most useful.


      I've always lived in Pennsylvania. It's a puzzle to me why many politicians, according to numerous news outlets, who live in border districts do not give strong support to a continuous wall. As a native Texan I'm hoping you can help me with that one.

      Gene Stecher
      Chambersburg, Pa.

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    4. Thank you Gene for your thoughtful analysis of my strongly held views on the subject. Be assured that I share your desire to see a bridge incorporated into whatever plan is developed- at first, I thought you were saying that a bridge is the only thing you supported and no border security. I certainly do not wish to see a closed border, but at the same time I cannot advocate completely open borders either. I have a family member who owned a ranch in Laredo for many many years. (She is now deceased) During the 50s and 60s, I'm sure there were some bandits (as they were called back then) who trespassed onto her property at times. But during the late 80s and 90s, it really became a severe problem not just for her property but the entire community. So much so that she had to move to a different part of Texas for her personal safety. (She was a widow) Would a wall have solved her issues? I can't answer that... Some ranchers are in favor of it, others are not. Like everything else, resources are very limited when it comes to security. I certainly don't know if a wall would have kept her property safe, but I do know that the reasons politicians do not give strong support for a continuous wall is because of limited resources and differences of opinion on how to allocate them.

      Your concept of a bridge being incorporated into border security is something I would most definitely support. It is safer for families to have more access to more ports of entry where they can safely apply for asylum- without having to separate families in holding cells. Again, that takes resources but if we are doling out resources for a border wall... I definitely think we should allocate an equal amount to making ports of entry safer and easier to access.

      A wall is necessary for long stretches of unmonitored areas along the border where technology and manpower is unable to protect. Human beings cannot possibly surveil the entire length of the border and need some additional deterrents that at least slow the flow of illegal activity. Like you said, coming up with a clearly delineated plan for how and where such barriers can be most useful is what is most needed at this time. So since you live much closer to DC than I do- why don't you go down there and tell Congress to get their act together?? Put that on your to-do list! :-)

      We need more reasonable people like yourself bringing both sides of the aisle together... Again, thank you for engaging. Elizabeth

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  2. Hi Charlie,

    I've been excavating in my basement this past year, and this morning came across a badly damaged gospel fragment, apparently
    of Matthew 2:13-23:

    "...(angel)...flee...Egypt. Stay there...Herod...(hunt down)...child...night...for Egypt. Tried...(could not)...wall.
    (returned)...death warrant...family...(hidden) by friends...Joseph killed (in one) narrow escape...Herod dead (Mary takes Jesus) to Nazareth...(grows up) in obscurity."

    Love the quote on the statue of liberty. I'm a fan of bridge building! "When you take the log out of your own eye, then you'll see clearly to remove the speck from your neighbor's eye."

    Gene

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    1. Tell us more about the nature of this fragment you "found" in your basement.

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    2. Hi Charlie,

      The fragment is fake news and self-deception, but it gives an emotionally satisfying reason for why Joseph is never heard from beyond Jesus' infancy. In other words, its a political statement meant to attract men to the Jesus movement who grew up without fathers.

      I'm sure that it would not be hard to find modern parallels espoused by our leaders.

      Gene Stecher
      Chambersburg, Pa.

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    3. Gene,
      I saw it as an excellent parallel to the plight of those in lands forced to flee because of the brutality of the leaders and the dangers those facing policies who are seeking refuge today face. Though the Nile and the Tigres-Euphrates were historically places that during drought folks sought relief, seems like the drought today includes a moral drought in the land of plenty, these days, just as in the parallel.
      Dennis Dean Carpenter
      Dahlonega, Ga.

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    4. Hi Dennis,

      Yes, my family had a rather "interesting" discussion over the holidays about Jesus and his family being refugees, which is where the idea for the fragment came from.

      Gene

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  3. The wall? Nativists would turn back the clock to the early thirties (1929-1934) when over 400 thousand Mexicans were “deported,” 200 thousand of them USA citizens and 64 thousand without legal proceedings. It wasn’t until WWII when much of the work force was involved with the war effort that the border opened again to supply workers. Morality is only important, it seems, when it benefits self-interests, or as Mark Twain wrote, “History shows us that Moral Sense enables to perceive morality and how to avoid it...” (Following the Equator).

    The majority of the many Latin Americans I taught were of mixed descent. Their ancestry was Native American long before the fearful began constructing physical boundaries . Those I taught were generally the hardest workers, the brightest, who didn’t demand an entitlement but who had a thirst to become part of the USA, like those who came from Eastern Europe or Asia.

    Nativism is based on ethnocentricity and racism. Unfortunately, our president exploits that to its fullest. The wall is a metaphor for racism. I am old enough to remember a poultry plant I worked, summer of ’72, having signs specifying “colored” and “white” bathrooms. These were the “walls” of segregation. The president’s wall is the same imagery, fit for fearful paranoia, but not for a healthy society.

    Dennis Dean Carpenter
    Dahlonega, Ga.

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  4. Oh, Charlie! You nailed it! The Wall and why I can't be in favor of Mr. Trump's Wall. You said just what I feel about this whole controversy. Thank you for your gift of words. g.

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  5. One looking for morality in Trump needs a good lantern into the night.

    Edward R. Smith
    Lubbock, TX

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  6. Re: Mr. Trump's wall...

    Charlie,

    Duly noted you "rarely stray into politics", but politics is one of my favorite topic of though and discussion. Politics is certainly more important to the well being of all Americans than other subjects widely discussed such as sports, arts, entertainment, sex, or even religion. Politics is in some respects the lifeblood of government influence into the lives of all Americans..both for good and bad, and perhaps fifth in importance only to Ethics, education, Science, & engineering. Any reluctance to enter into discussion of politics seems cowardly and naive and maybe ignorant.

    With this opinion stated, I must add that any thoughtful analysis of border walls or even immigration in general is misguided if not correctly seen in the minds of our Presidents and Congresses; both political parties included.

    Immigration is a subject correctly seen by both political parties as relatively easy to accomplish whatever object our government decides to pursue. Clearly both the current and historic policy objective of both political parties of our government is two fold: 1. To allow a free flow of cheap labor into the U.S. labor market, and 2. to champion immigration policy by each political party in such a manner so to obtain the favor of each's constituency. There is no desire to actually change the current and historic policy of allowing a free flow of cheap labor.

    Jim

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    1. Good Morning Jim,
      I regard Mr. Trump's insistence on a wall (he has never clarified the length except to say it will be on the Southern border) as politics at its worst, and his threat to declare a national emergency and thus by pass congress is an attempt to get around the separation of powers. At that point the issue shades over into ethics for me. I expect that he will declare a national emergency.
      Cordially,
      Charlie

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  7. Charlie,

    I agree with your Feb. 10 assessment of Mr. Trump's insistence for a wall, and it is consistence with the two objectives stated in my Feb. 7 comment, e.g. 1. allow the continued free flow of cheap labor into the U.S. labor market and 2. champion this issue with his voter base. All past & present Presidents and members of both political parties in Congresses know the solution to controlling illegal immigration is to simply enforce the present laws regulating the hiring of undocumented visitors. The enforcement of these laws would be expensive, though far less than walls & such, but it would penalize each political parties' primary contributors, i.e. $$$$$. Do $$$$ sound familiar with politics?
    Have you noted the large numbers of undocumented workers that are employed by Trump's companies and homes?

    Jim

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