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.
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.
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/
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.