Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man. Anything built by man, can be destroyed by him.George S. Patton
A nation’s story can be traced in its art. For many, France is defined by the Eiffel Tower, its steely resilience tamed by precision engineering into a latticework so graceful it defies gravity. Similarly that French immigrant, the Statue of Liberty, symbolizes the promise and power of America. Positioned at America’s gateway with chains at her feet and a light held aloft, she embodies a nation brimming with righteous confidence.
What work of art or engineering defined East Germany? The Berlin Wall.
No one remembers the old Communist bloc for Sputnik or universal health care. What we remember is innocent civilians gunned down as they tried to flee to a better life. Overshadowing every message or intention of the Communist world, the Berlin Wall was honesty in art. At the point where the “People’s Republic” met free people, that system produced gray concrete misery, a monument to oppression that sears the eye. Art is truth.
Losers build walls. For much of Rome’s history the city had no functioning walls. It was defended by its ever-expanding projection of power; military, economic and diplomatic. Its residents scrambled to build walls to forestall defeat as its other modes of power collapsed. Do walls work? Sort of. Walls can buy a little time, a breathing space in which a people can reorganize. However, walls usually fail because they constrain their builders as much as their targets. Once a culture starts pouring its resources into walls, it has little energy for growth. A wall is a symbol of failure.
America lacks a single problem which might be solved with a wall on our border. Donald Trump’s “artistically designed steel slats” are the perfect symbol of our time. Our border crisis is a fantasy conjured out of racist paranoia. We are a nation at the peak of our power, with greater achievements still in sight, in great need of new immigrants to join our efforts. Yet we elected a seething wormtongue who denigrates our accomplishments and lies about our condition. America right now is richer, more powerful, and more envied than any nation in human history and our President wants to wall us in and retreat like a frightened child.
Close the southern border entirely, and we’ll be no closer to affordable health care, good-paying low-skilled jobs, or safer streets. In fact, closing ourselves off will make all of our remaining problems worse while spawning new ones. Trump’s wall is a monument to cowardice, the symbol of a generation too ignorant and narcissistic to bear the burdens of global leadership bequeathed on them by their worthier predecessors. Monstrous, futile, and above all simply stupid, Trump’s signature project is the artwork his bed-wetting followers most deserve. If they succeed in building it, a better generation will tear it down in due time.
There was an age when Republicans believed in America. It’s no accident that this was also a time when men like David Duke and Roy Moore were Democrats and Elizabeth Warren was a Republican. Ronald Reagan dreamed of an open border with Mexico and an earlier generation of Republicans loved it. This isn’t some notion he scribbled down secretly in a journal. It isn’t a quiet longing he muttered to a biographer. Reagan actually said “open the border both ways” on the campaign trail in 1980. He said it the middle of a Republican primary, amid of a national immigration panic over waves of refugees arriving from Vietnam and Cuba.
Reagan, like Republicans of the era, embraced an expansive vision of America, an optimistic and confident understanding of our place in the world. Reagan saw our border as an obstacle limiting the reach of a colossus, not a castle to protect vulnerable cowards. The man who stood at the Berlin Wall and taunted a dictator believed a world with fewer barriers was a world Americans would dominate. That was the Republican Party I joined as soon as I was old enough to vote. That Republican Party is dead and its zombie corpse is wreaking havoc.
At the point on a map where white America meets its brown future, our fears are spawning a wall. The ugliness emerging from the stark beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert is the darkness inside us. For the moment, that darkness is ascendant. Art is truth.
Anything built by man can be destroyed by him. In time, we will build the next American Century over the crushed artifacts of a failed generation. We will not let America descend into a nation of walls.