The Politics of Donald Trump’s Border Wall

Okot Nyormoi

*Okot is the author of the novel Burden of Failure. He is also the Co-Editor of the Nile Journal

How come a super power government got shut down? Over something as banal as a border-wall? A brief look at history may explain the vulgarity. It may also help explain the consternation the rest of the world feels at the American shutdown.

Border walls are nothing new. They were fairly common in medieval times, built around castles and city states to keep out the enemy. In the 20th century their use gradually declined as new weapons rendered them useless.

In recent times however there seems a resurgence in the construction of border walls and border fence.  Asia leads the way. Followed by Europe, Americas, Africa, and Australia in that order. The longest of the border wall was always the most famous, the China Wall, actually one of the largest manmade objects ever. While it lasted, the Berlin Wall, put up by the Soviet Union following World War II, was arguably the most notorious border wall ever erected. It became the ultimate symbol of a divided world.

Israel and India have built notorious border walls of their own. Apartheid South Africa was never far behind. Its high voltage fence killed hundreds of people fleeing conflict. Egypt built the Gaza barrier. The two Koreas had a barrier erected between themselves shortly after their own war. Walls are sometimes constructed for the purpose of controlling migration.

Most countries have faced the problem of receiving people fleeing conflict and seeking refuge in another country. Over the years the United States has received millions of immigrants from all over the world. In the beginning they were mostly from Europe. America prided itself not without reason as the most immigrant friendly country in the world. The US saw itself as a beacon of hope, freedom, and liberty for many around the world. The US has in the past been gracious enough to acknowledge the great contributions immigrants have made to American society and American life. Yet today there is so much anger in America against immigrants and against immigration generally.  

To unravel this paradox, one must look at the history of power relations in the United States. In America power belonged to the white male of European descent. Excluded were the rest. African-Americans, Native Americans, Latin Americans, Asian Americans, and for sure Women. But lately the excluded have penetrated the corridors of power. The election of Barack Obama 2008. The almost successful candidature of Hilary Clinton. Thus did the US come to confront its own shadows. The illusion of a liberal democracy in which all were welcomed. The Trump border wall has put paid to this American self-deception.

Although the goal to make the US a more inclusive and perfect union is now accepted by a growing majority of Americans, it has not been well received by a resentful and significant 38% of Americans who bristle at each new gain made by the formerly excluded. White supremacists and Euro American nationalists cannot stomach the thought that in the not too distant future, whites will cease to be the majority population in America. This kind of phobia is by no means eased by the growth of militant Islam now on the rampage across the world.

The Republican party relentlessly stokes this potent American fear of foreigners. In recent years the Republicans mobilized themselves under the Tea Party, the new rightwing of the Republican Party. And at the 2016 presidential campaign, they found at last their champion. Donald Trump was a simple man, and was as crude as they come. Balustrading under the banner of “We shall make American Great Again”, Trump broke the old rules that in the past shielded the American notion of a free and open society. To Trump and his supporters, the proper American ideal, is one in which power resided with the white male who was Christian and was of European descent.

Having gained control of all three branches of government, Republicans sought to selectively limit immigrations. Under the pretext of keeping out terrorists, Trump attempted to impose an anti-Muslim ban. Trump openly declared his preference for European immigrants. In the same breath he expressed scorn for those who come from what he called shithole countries.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Trump denounced the entire Mexican population as rapists, murderers, drug smugglers, carriers of diseases to the US. Once elected, Trump promised, he was going to build a wall to keep these hordes out. And he was going to have Mexico itself pay for the wall.

On getting to power Trump went into action, ordering for what amounted to a brutal and inhumane crackdown on asylum seekers at the American/Mexican border. In stark violation of international law, Trump ordered the separation of children as young as 5, from their parents.

Trump fumes

The President’s action provoked a storm of outrage across America and the world. Defiant and unrepentant, the President has since demanded a whopping $ 5.7 billion to pay for the construction of his wall. Congress offered him the lower figure of $ 3,7. True to character, Trump refused. And so the American shutdown continues, to the embarrassment of many in America, to the sufferings of many more, and to the bewilderment of the world. 

*President Trump has since relented and the American government is working again.