Walls Don’t Work

Relearning History’s Oldest Lesson in the Age of Trump

The present government shut down over simply one word –WALL—is so ridiculous that it belies belief, particularly when one considers the dismal track record walls have offered through history. Even Trump’s newest Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney said a wall was not the way to manage or control our borders.

The world’s first known fortified wall was constructed more than 4,000 years ago by Sumerian rulers to fend of the Amorites. Those nomadic tribes simply walked around the wall, and within 100 years the Sumerians were vanquished.

Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Romans to protect Britannia from barbarians to the north, worked well in its day, preventing an invasion and possibly facilitating the collection of taxes, but failed to stop the fall of the Empire that erected it. (Let’s hope there’s not a larger lesson there!)

Even the Great Wall of China, thousands of miles of imposing stone built 25 feet high, was ineffective as a defensive barrier, bypassed by the Mongols in the 1500s and broken through entirely a century later in the fall of the Ming Dynasty.

Trump’s wall, of course, isn’t intended to stave off armies seeking to destroy us, but desperate and destitute “invaders” seeking a better way of life. The Berlin Wall provides a helpful example here. Nearly 100 people died trying to cross it – most shot by East German guards – but thousands more circumvented it, by climbing over (and evading the guards), tunneling under, or even flying above it. 

It is widely understood, perhaps even by our President, who appears to not truly understand much, that a wall across our southern border won’t do much to stop illegal immigration. It doesn’t even pretend to address the largest source of the problem: people entering the country legally and failing to depart when their visas expire.

It’s also widely understood that there are much better ways to enforce border security – cameras and electronic sensors backed by mobile interdiction teams, for example.

Good arguments, to be sure, but entirely beside the point.  Trump doesn’t want a wall, he wants a fight. Trump was rocked by right-wing media howling when it appeared he’d sign a funding bill without money for a wall. And he believes that his intransigence in support of a lost cause makes him look strong with his base. As Mueller circles, resignations mount, and the stock market tanks, Trump desperately needs a win, and losing a fight over wall funding is as close as he can get to one in the new political environment confronting him.

The real question is why the Trumpists that constitute his base are going along with the charade. They seem sincerely concerned about (largely illusory) hordes of “invaders” sweeping across our southern border. The $5 billion that Trump’s not getting could prove effective if spent in other ways. But Trump’s hold on this segment of the population is complete, and moderate Republicans are a vanishing breed. What’s left is Trump’s party, through and through and, like him, they value the fight more than the outcome.

Unfortunately, we can expect much more of the same over the next two years.


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