THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
I find it ironic that nobody in the Republican Party appears to remember their own St. Reagan’s exhortation to the USSR in 1987, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”, referring to the Berlin Wall that separated East and West Berlin. That wall was a symbol of a decayed and dying ideology that had strangled the Soviets for decades, immiserating its citizens by shutting them off from the West, from competition and modernity. As Reagan said, “…The wall cannot withstand freedom” – or the challenges posed by freedom. The Berlin Wall was the physical manifestation of the Iron Curtain, while in West Berlin it was known as “The Wall of Shame”. Walls like this symbolize the desire to assert power over those on both sides of it. They are the antithesis of democracy and the cudgel of authoritarians.
The exalted words of Emily Lazarus in 1883 in her poem, “The New Colossus”, are inscribed at the foot of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. These words were as aspirational then as they were inspirational because only the year before, America had enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first federal law that limited immigration to America from a specific ethnic group. Historically, we have teetered between our national ideals of pluralism and equality – and the natural impulse to regard those who appear foreign as threats to our personal safety. This struggle to overcome the insularity of tribalism has been both the backdrop of our nation’s evolution and the author of our most admirable ambitions. It is our tableau vivant.
So, is Donald Trump’s harebrained idea of a wall on our southern border yet another episode in this epic ideological struggle? Or is it something else entirely?
It is crystal clear to most of America that Trump’s justification for his wall has no basis in objective reality. Factual data refutes the notion that we are being overrun by hordes of people intent on destroying us and our way of life. But we appear to be reluctant to openly discuss the motive that drives Trump’s obsession with the notion of The Wall. Trump has artfully nurtured a siege mentality among his activist followers – a sense of victimization, paranoia, lack of confidence in government, and fear of the other. As Simón Bolívar said, “They mistake pure illusion for reality, license for freedom, treason for patriotism, vengeance for justice”. It has cultivated a mulish refusal by Trump’s supporters to exercise cooperation, and it has forced his party to reject the very foundation of political discourse by refusing any form of negotiation in Congress. And this in a 242-year-old democracy premised upon the ideal that informed debate and compromise yield optimal governance.
Trump’s actions with his base, and his current extortion of our Congress through his government shutdown, are nothing if not a direct attempt to subvert democracy itself. His speech at the Republican National Convention depicted an America being crushed by bad government; and at his inauguration, he amplified this posture with his reference to “American Carnage”. His newspeak was astonishing to hear at the time and was in direct contrast to the reality of the sustained economic recovery and the years of decline in crime during the Obama years. And to many at the time, his statement that “I alone can fix it” was redolent of the message of past demagogues seeking totalitarian control of European nations during the 20th Century.
Trump’s wall is indeed symbolic; it is an effort to weaponize racism by the state. And its racial ideological underpinnings are what noted political scientist, A. Sivanandan, described as fascism’s breeding ground. Trump’s ideas are those of other totalitarian regimes such as the USSR. And with the recent disclosures concerning the FBI investigation into his presidential campaign, it is now clear that his rhetoric regarding press freedom, voting rights, and institutionalized corruption are identical to those of Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
So, at minimum, the question we should be asking is: what kind of wall is Donald Trump trying to build? Is it the Wall of Shame, as West Berlin’s mayor, Willy Brandt, called the Berlin Wall? Or is it a metaphorical iron curtain intended to protect a plutocratic class of oligarchs who eschew the very principals that made America great in the first place? Perhaps we should consider that the ideology represented by Trump’s wall – not its physical manifestation – is the real state of emergency that we currently face.
Image: Wikimedia Commons, photo by Nancy Wong
Deborah Long is a Principal at Development Management Group, Inc. and founder of several non-profit charitable organizations. If you find her perspectives interesting, controversial, or provocative, follow her at: https://www.facebook.com/debby.long.98499?ref=br_rs