Trump’s not fucking about, is he? We’re not even a week into his Presidency and he’s issuing orders left and right with the purpose of delivering on his campaign promises. I suppose this is what happens when you don’t elect a career politician, they actually do what they say they’re going to do. Contrast this with the UK and its procrastination over leaving the EU. Had Trump been in charge instead of Cameron the Channel Tunnel would have been dynamited by the end of June last year.
The wall along the border with Mexico is an interesting one. I will hold my hand up and say I didn’t think he would actually do it, but it’s looking as though he was serious about it. Unsurprisingly the usual suspects are outraged but, again unsurprisingly, the reasons as to why are somewhat vague. Some seem to be confusing a physical barrier with a metaphorical one: Mexico’s President has said “Mexico doesn’t believe in walls” which certainly explains a lot about their building standards. Symbolism is important and a giant wall between two nations doesn’t look good on the face of it, but this hasn’t come out of a clear blue sky.
Countries tore down their physical borders and stopped shooting people who crossed them illegally on the understanding that the authorities on both sides would put in place a process of crossing it legally and each would make at least some effort to ensure this was adhered to. For years it has been the policy of the Mexican government to completely ignore this, and even to actively encourage Mexicans to illegally enter the USA. It’s not as if the Mexican government has been particularly pleasant or friendly towards the United States either, this is not Canada we’re talking about. A cornerstone of Mexican domestic policy is to rail against their neighbour to the north and lay all their troubles at the feet of America. Now they might have a point if they base their criticism on the carnage that America’s ludicrous War on Drugs is causing in Mexico, but if this is their concern then they should come out and say it instead of whipping crowds into a frenzy with chants of Yankee Imperialism if somebody suggests they should reform their oil and gas sector, for example. The wall, if it ever gets built, will be simply be the product of decades of incompetent and dishonest Mexican politicians and the refusal of their American counterparts to address the issue of illegal immigration. When the Mexican president says his country offers “its friendship to the American people and its willingness to reach accords with their government”, US citizens are entitled to ask why this has not extended to policing the border properly and discouraging its citizens from crossing it illegally.
They might also be forgiven for asking why having an impermeable border is an impediment to diplomatic relations. Why is the Mexican government so upset that illegal border crossings are about to be made more difficult? Could it be that Mexico sees the remittances its diaspora sends back home to be an important source of income without which they might have to start running their country a bit better?
There are a couple of similarities with the wall built by the Israelis along their border with the West Bank between 2000 and 2003 when they were faced with seemingly endless suicide attacks. There is no doubt that the wall has made the lives of Palestinians a misery and that the routing has hived off some land which probably doesn’t belong to Israel, but its opponents mainly concentrated on the symbology and the seemingly outrageous idea that Israel might effectively control who enters its territory. I got the impression at the time that for a lot of people, especially the idiots in the West, their real complaint was that it would work, and Israelis would be less prone to being murdered in cafes by suicide bombers. Many called it an “apartheid wall”. Thankfully the barrier did drastically reduce the number of suicide attacks, which are now quite rare in Israel proper.
The other similarity is the argument over whether the Israeli security barrier was a wall or a fence. Those calling it an apartheid wall used to post pictures such as this:
Whereas a lot of the barrier looks like this:
There are already articles on the practicalities of Trump’s wall. It’s hard to see how it will be completely concrete with no sections that are just fencing. What will be interesting to see is whether those who emphasise the wall part of the Israeli barrier to criticise Israel will emphasise the fencing sections of the US-Mexico barrier in order to claim that Trump has failed. The BBC will be worth watching in this regard, as will others.
It certainly won’t be pretty, and it’s going to be expensive. Trump has said Mexico will pay for it, the Mexicans have said they won’t, and proposals have been made to pay for it using the proceeds from tariffs on goods coming into the US from Mexico. This is a stupid idea: Americans will end up paying more for their goods and Mexicans will be poorer and thus more likely to try to come to the United States to find work. I think what Trump is trying to do is make it clear to his Mexican counterpart that the reason this wall is needed is partly due to the policies of his government and his predecessors, and that their attitude towards the US border needs to change. Hitting the Mexicans financially is one way of getting this point across, but I still don’t think tariffs are the way to go. I’d prefer to see the Americans cough up for it themselves and be done with it. They could always scrap a few dozen useless government bureaucracies if money is the real issue here.
In principle I don’t have any problem with a wall across a border, particularly if not having a wall has meant the border might as well not exist. I find myself in agreement with this statement:
“A nation without borders is not a nation,” Mr Trump said. “Beginning today the United States gets back control of its borders.”
However, I think the wall will ultimately fail. A wall in itself is not enough to prevent people illegally entering the USA: as the Soviets learned in Berlin, the physical barrier must also be accompanied by the means and willingness to dispense lethal force against those who try to cross it. The Israelis do this to some degree, which is why they call it a security barrier and not a border marker. Whatever people say about Trump and his supporters we are not about to see machinegun nests and minefields sprouting up along the US-Mexican border and the bodies of men, women, and children rotting on the barbed wire as a warning to others. Even if the wall somehow presents an impenetrable barrier, the migration will shift to the sea and America’s long and often remote coastlines. If America wants to keep illegal immigrants out then they need to make life so damned tough for them once they are inside that few will want to come. Then you’d not even need a wall but a simple fence, rather like the one they already have. The problem is that Americans don’t want to do this: either they find the cheap labour too attractive or they lack the political will to see illegal immigrants treated harshly, or both.
That said, the willingness to build a wall and attempt to secure the border is a sign of hardening attitudes. When this option fails, we can expect to see them harden further still at some point in the future. This doesn’t just apply to the US: if we carry on along this trajectory it will eventually become permissible to discuss using lethal force along the borders of European countries to keep undesirables out. The recent scenes of thousands of grown men charging the fences in Hungary and Slovenia while European politicians say nothing is going to shift the Overton window towards bigger fences, walls, and eventually minefields, machineguns, and pogroms.
Trump’s wall is a symbol of the utter farce that has been immigration policy in the West for the past decade or more, and of the failure of what passes for politicians in those countries. But it is merely a sign of the direction we are travelling in, and those same politicians seem unwilling to acknowledge that and do something about it. There may come a time when Trump’s divisive, controversial, and much-criticised wall is seen as a reminder of how benign and peaceful things used to be.