Why I’m not writ­ing off Trump’s wall just yet

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - OPINION - NIALL FER­GU­SON MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES

Milbank Fam­ily se­nior fel­low at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, Stan­ford

As so of­ten, South Park saw it com­ing. In “The Last of the Me­heecans” – which first aired in Oc­to­ber, 2011 – the ob­nox­ious Eric Cart­man joins the U.S. Bor­der Pa­trol, only to find him­self fac­ing the wrong way as hordes of dis­il­lu­sioned Mex­i­can work­ers seek to flee the eco­nom­i­cally de­pressed United States back to Mex­ico.

Un­daunted, Cart­man makes it his busi­ness to stop them leav­ing. After all, with­out Mex­i­can labour, the U.S. econ­omy would grind to a halt.

Very of­ten, the Trump pres­i­dency feels as if it’s be­ing writ­ten byTreyParkerandMat­tS­tone, the comic ge­niuses who cre­ated South Park more than 20 years ago. In this week’s episode, Don­ald Trump/Cart­man shuts down the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in re­tal­i­a­tion for the Demo­cratic Party’s lead­ers’ re­fusal to ap­prove the bor­der wall he cam­paigned for in 2016.

The net re­sult is that the gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees re­spon­si­ble for con­trol­ling the vastly larger flow of peo­ple into the United States through air­ports don’t get paid. Des­per­ate to end the shut­down, for which he is be­ing blamed, Trump­man de­clares a na­tional emer­gency un­der leg­is­la­tion that per­mits re­di­rect­ion of Depart­ment of De­fence con­struc­tion funds, pro­vided it’s for the pur­pose of mil­i­tary de­fense.

Trump­man’s at­tempt to use DoD money to build his wall is chal­lenged and struck down in the courts, but he goes ahead any­way only to run into a short­age of con­struc­tion work­ers. The episode ends with the ar­rival of the “car­a­van” of Cen­tral Amer­i­can asy­lum-seek­ers (last seen in the Novem­ber midterms episode), who grate­fully ac­cept jobs to build Trump­man’s wall.

Few, if any, com­men­ta­tors have had pos­i­tive things to say about this episode of South Lawn (yes, that’s the area be­hind the White House where Ma­rine One, the pres­i­den­tial he­li­copter, takes off and lands). On Morn­ing Joe, Steven Rat­tner of­fered a few killer facts. First, as in South Park, the num­ber of Mex­i­cans seek­ing to cross the bor­der il­le­gally has plunged 92 per cent since 2000. The ma­jor­ity of peo­ple ap­pre­hended at the bor­der these days are from dys­func­tional Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­tries such as Hon­duras, El Sal­vador and Gu­atemala, and most are now fam­i­lies or un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren.

Sure. But does that make Nancy Pelosi right to call ex­tend­ing the ex­ist­ing bar­ri­ers along the U.S.-Mex­i­can bor­der an “im­moral­ity”? Should we agree with newly elected Con­gress­woman Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez that Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment has “sys­tem­at­i­cally vi­o­lated hu­man rights” on the bor­der, whereas peo­ple try­ing to cross the bor­der are “act­ing more inanAmer­i­cantra­di­tion­thanthis Pres­i­dent is right now”?

Im­plic­itly – and at times ex­plic­itly – the Amer­i­can left is ar­gu­ing for open bor­ders. You don’t have to be a Trump sup­porter to re­gard this as folly.

Since an­cient times, walls have prin­ci­pally served to keep cit­i­zens or sub­jects safe by ex­clud­ing all kinds of in­vader. Jail walls aside, walls to keep peo­ple in, rather thanout, have­been­less­com­mon. They came to the fore in the Cold War, when to­tal­i­tar­ian regimes from Ber­lin to Py­ongyang were forced to fence in their pop­u­la­tions to pre­vent them from vot­ing with their feet.

The no­tion of a world sans fron­tières was al­ways a hope­lessly naive one. It was easy to be against walls when they were im­pris­on­ing East Ger­mans and North Kore­ans. It is a lot harder when the world’s most ob­jec­tion­able regimes make al­most no ef­fort to con­tain their cit­i­zens be­hind bor­ders.

All over the world, peo­ple are on the move from messed-up coun­tries – and there is re­mark­ably lit­tle to stop them. Ac­cord­ing to a Gallup sur­vey in 2017, more than 700 mil­lion adults around the world would like to move per­ma­nently to an­other coun­try. Of that vast num­ber, more than a fifth (21 per cent) say their first choice would be to move to the United States. The pro­por­tion who name an Euro­pean Union coun­try as their dream home is higher: 23 per cent.

Cart­man rarely has the last laugh in South Park. But the de­noue­ment may be dif­fer­ent in South Lawn. If the choice is be­tween open bor­ders or de­fen­sive walls, then his­tory sug­gests that walls – and those who build them – will win.

A con­struc­tion crew in­stalls new sec­tions of the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der bar­rier on Fri­day in Ti­juana, Mex­ico.

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