Something There Is that Doesn’t Love a Wall

Donald Trump shares the stage with a grieving African-American father at FreedomFest 2015.

Donald Trump made “The Wall” a yuuuge part of his campaign for president from the very beginning. In fact, FreedomFesters were treated to a preview in the summer of 2015, shortly after Trump announced his candidacy (thank you, Mark Skousen) when he made an unexpected appearance on Saturday afternoon. In a road-test of what would become his stump speech, Trump trotted out an African-American man from southern California whose son had been killed by a Hispanic man in the country illegally. Three and a half years later, a fight over money for Trump’s wall has partially shut down the federal government.

I’ve traveled around the world a good bit, but I haven’t seen many walls. Lots of airports, with bored or surly immigration and customs officials. In southwest Asia, a few shacks on the side of roads as they crossed the frontier. In northern Thailand, back in the day, I briefly considered swimming across the Mekong River to Laos, but the river’s current deterred me.

One exception: The Berlin Wall. In 1983, I passed through that monumentally ugly symbol of the Cold War into West Berlin after a more than week-long train trip across the former Soviet Union. The West had never looked so good—Mercedes taxis on the streets and shops bursting with food and fashion.

The Wall between Nogales and Tucson. Photo by Marc Beauchamp.

I thought of the Berlin Wall last month when some friends we were visiting in Tucson took us to their favorite restaurant on the Mexican side of Nogales, La Roca, carved into a cliffside. Over lunch of garlic shrimp, mochomos (deep-fried shredded pork) and micheladas (a mix of beer and spicy tomato juice), I compared the ugly wall topped with concertina wire that bisects Nogales to the one that once divided Berlin.

“That was to keep people in,” one of my friends chided me. I had to let that sink in. But somehow it didn’t. To me, it seemed all the same. When I shared this conversation with Skousen he said, “A wall that’s built to keep people out can also be used to keep people in.”

To enter Mexico all we had to do was stand in line briefly and go through a turnstile.

On the way back, however, we had to endure intrusive questions by U.S. border agents sitting at computers looking up our data. “What were you doing in Mexico?” “Where did you go?” “Why aren’t you using your passport?”

What business is it of our government what we did in Mexico, whether we had lunch, got a crown and a root canal at one of the dental clinics catering to medical tourists, or filled prescriptions at one of the many low-cost farmacias?

On our way back to Tucson, on the main highway about 20 miles north of the border, we had to go through another border checkpoint. Another potential delay, more questions, presumably pictures taken of our car, license plates, and who knows what other invisible surveillance to scan for drugs, money or other contraband.

I thought of FreedomFest after this experience at our southern border, specifically a documentary I saw last July at the Anthem Film Festival, curated by Jo Ann Skousen.

The World is My Country tells the largely forgotten story of Garry Davis, a Broadway song and dance man, who after the horrors of World War II renounced his U.S. citizenship, created his own “World Citizen” passport, staged acts of political theatre at meetings of the nascent United Nations in Paris, and, was denied entry to European countries because he lacked official papers, lived for a time on a bridge between France and Germany. In Europe in the late 40s Davis became sort of a minor folk hero to some. In the U.S. he was probably considered a curiosity, a crank. FreedomFest regular Doug Casey, whose favorite movie quote is “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges,” knew Davis and was sympathetic to his cause.

And yet Davis had a point. Why should we as individuals be held hostage by our government? We don’t choose our parents or the nation of our birth.

In our increasingly global economy, goods and services are widely and efficiently traded with mutual benefits to all. Why shouldn’t people be able to move almost as freely as goods? Wouldn’t they benefit? Wouldn’t we all, on balance? The Ethiopian famine, I’m told, was largely caused by artificial borders that prevented the people from migrating to where the food was. Walls.

It’s hard to talk about this topic because it flies in the face of pretty much all of human history. It’s like expecting fish to intelligently discuss intelligently the water they’re swimming in. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” wrote Robert Frost in 1914, observing the way nature breaks down the rock walls men build to delineate their properties.

Unless I badly misread it, the history of the world has been the history of governments using force to mistreat their peoples and warring with other governments that mistreated theirs.

Then in 1776 came a profound change. The founders of our republic created a government that, at least at the outset, was premised on the idea of leaving people alone. Obviously we’ve lost ground since then.

And today with all the talk of tariffs, border walls and nationalism, we risk taking a giant leap backwards in the name of making America (or Hungary or Germany) great again.

Let’s imagine what would happen if border walls came down around the world, literally and figuratively, and people were truly free to vote with their feet (and their dollars, since it takes money to move). Without force, what could governments do? Maybe they’d have to compete with one another to create more humane laws and offer more freedoms, friendlier economies and less oppressive and confiscatory tax systems.

Border Wall at Brownsville, Texas.

But if walls came down, wouldn’t desirable countries like the United States be overrun?

Not if we limited access to “free” government programs like food stamps, medical care and housing, or better yet, phased them out entirely for both immigrants and the native born.

As for criminals and terrorists who enter the country: There will always be some, even if we built 20-foot-high electrified walls with moats filled with piranha and crocodiles, (and we produce enough of them right here). They should be dealt with according to our laws, imprisoned or deported.

Why shouldn’t I hope that my daughter’s children will live in a world where they can travel, live and work wherever they fancy?

You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one to imagine it. John Lennon could’ve been channeling Thomas Paine, a fellow Englishman and arguably the real father of the American Revolution.

It was a quote by Paine from his “Rights of Man” that became the title of the documentary about Garry Davis: “Independence is my happiness, the world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”

Two hundred years later Beat poet Gary Snyder captured the essence of a borderless world in “For All”:

“I pledge allegiance to the soil
of Turtle Island/
and to the beings who thereon dwell/
one ecosystem/
in diversity
under the sun/
With joyful interpenetration for all.”

My thoughts after I saw a wall on our southern border? It was ugly and an affront—a symbol of failure, as a prison is. And it made me ask, can’t we do better? As libertarians, we should be shouting not for longer and higher impenetrable walls but for more open borders, more trade and a more free and connected world in all its marvelous forms.

Freelance writer Marc Beauchamp lives in far northern California. Among his former jobs he worked for the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Kyodo News Service in Tokyo, Forbes magazine in Los Angeles, the Nasdaq Stock Market in Washington, D.C. and an electricity company in Hawaii.

FreedomFestForum is a publication of FreedomFest, the “world’s largest gathering of free minds,” held at Paris Resort Las Vegas July 17-20, 2019.  For ticket information, go to www.freedomfest.com.

5 replies added

  1. John Harris January 6, 2019 Reply

    Brilliant, Marc. I agree in every respect.

    Why have only libertarians realized that the wall obstructs freedom of movement in both directions? That it is ugly and exemplifies weakness and cowardice? That it cannot possibly achieve what Trump and its other proponents promise, even if their objective were moral, which it isn’t?

    What happened to the Republican opponents of eminent domain? About 97% of Texas is in private hands. Virtually all of the border properties along the Rio Grande will have to be condemned and expropriated. The “border” is owned by about 4,900 individuals and businesses, almost none of whom fences their properties along the river. Why would they want to obstruct their access to the river? And why would they go to the trouble when the river is constantly shifting its course? What will be done about the countless rivers, tributaries, streams, gullies, and washes that intersect the Rio Grand? The wall, if built, must span them, somehow, without obstructing their flows.

    The river actually follows a jagged course. On many properties, in some places Mexico is north of the U.S. So if built, the wall will often need to be hundreds of yards if not miles from the river. How will people access their dwellings, barns, fields, paddocks, boat ramps, and other facilities? How will police and fire trucks get through the wall to serve the people and properties stranded to the south of it? Or the military or border patrol for that matter?

    Thus far, the relatively few property seizures have bypassed due process and customary valuation procedures. How is that right? Who could possibly have a greater interest in the border lands than the people who live there? Some of those properties have been in the same families since before Mexico was Mexico. How can anyone put a fair price on their loss?

    There are lakes along the river. How will they be walled?

    Why would a country $22 trillion in debt, counting just U.S. Treasury securities, spend what will have to be hundreds of billions of dollars building a wall instead of removing the tens of billions of dollars in welfare benefits that entice immigrants in the first place? For all practical purposes, we have lined the border with pots of money every hundred yards or so, and next to every pot is a southward-facing “Come and Get It” sign. Anyone can find web pages hosted by our federal and state governments, filled with advice for immigrants in securing those welfare payments. But instead of removing the pots of money, our best idea is to build a wall that provides no protection whatsoever against the millions of people who enter the country legally but then remain illegally?

    And finally, how did so many people fall for the idea that “illegal immigration” is even in the top fifty of economic and political problems afflicting our society? If people really want to get exercised about something, especially the Republican and evangelical types screaming so loudly for the wall, how about all of the children born out of wedlock raised on lifelong welfare by single moms? That’s a recipe for crime and other socially-destructive behavior that brown-skinned immigrants will never come close to replicating.

    Never mind that Trump refuses to sign a budget bill that lacks money he promised a million times Mexico would cough up to pay for the wall. And the people he deceived cheer him for it.

  2. N. Joseph Potts January 13, 2019 Reply

    Nations are much the same as street gangs. You better be in one, if only just to protect you from the others.

  3. John Otradovec January 13, 2019 Reply

    Its estimated we have 22million illegals, its probably more, to which feds provide billions in bennies. My state MD and 7 others provide 1 billion each. probably more. We still fund most Latin countries. Soon you run out of other peoples money,

  4. John Otradovec January 13, 2019 Reply

    The Communist Party ,formerly Democrats, and Soros uses the illegals and drugs as continuation of their planned destruction of USA ,started by Hillary/Obama, financed by Soros, who just put $18 billion in his Open Society Org, His solution Communism

  5. Sam January 24, 2019 Reply

    This idelogical, naive argument against border barriers is devoid of any detailed insights into what is actually required to effectively stop people from failed societies from illegally entering more successful and desirable nations.
    Apparently the author is unfamiliar with the concept of the social contract. Why on earth would a citizen pay taxes, toil, and fight wars if necessary to create the conditions for a decent stable country for their families if anybody from anywhere is free to march in, assert their “right” to be here, take up space on the highway , and dilute their vote?
    With de facto open borders as they now exist, the nation our ancestors built with blood sweat and tears will be overwhelmed by desperate immigrants until equlibrium is reached with the lowest common denominator.
    I think I’ ll pass on that much freedom.

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