By Geo Rabadan
The Allegory of the Cave was written in The Republic in 380 BC. At the conclusion of The Allegory, a philosopher leaves the wall and comes to realize that the shadows do not constitute any meaningful semblance of the truth. In 2016, over two millennia after Plato’s writings, Donald Trump and the American political right would like to have us metaphorically chained to a literal wall, hoping the general public will buy into its narrative that the shadows are cast by the dangers of crime and terrorism, ultimately to elect a racist liar as the most powerful man in the Western world.
The reasons for immigration are complex and numerous, but despite the economic and historical value of mixing cultures and ethnicities, the act has come under ever-increasing scrutiny in recent times. As author and reporter Tara John noted in her essay “This Is Why Border Fences Don’t Work” for Time Online, “Around 40 nations in the world have built barriers on their borders with 65 other countries since the fall of the Berlin Wall.” In the upcoming 2016 American presidential election, the nominee for the Republican Party, Donald Trump, has made immigration his best-known talking point, referring specifically to the erection of a border wall between the United States and Mexico to stem the flow of crime and acts of terrorism on American soil. While his remarks on illegal immigration have made him very popular, sweeping him into the forefront of the Republican National Convention, the notion of a politician using racist and xenophobic rhetoric to place himself in a position of power is also not a new one. The Donald’s idea for a border wall to help “Make America Great Again” could prove detrimental for American society if it were to come to fruition, legitimizing a new era of racial tension.
While large amounts of racial tension already exist in the United States between ethnicities and communities, much of these tensions exist within individuals, patterned on the psyche by personal memories of discrimination and awareness of the protests and riots that are happening on an increasing basis throughout the country. A border wall crosses over from emotion and action into the physical, an expensive monument to the progress that many people in this country refuse to work towards. A large part of John’s article deals with borders and walls in a historical context, comparing the prospect of a wall on the southern border of the United States to “the French Maginot Line–a defensive system built in the 1930s that the Nazis merely avoided.” The Nazis rose to power propelled by a rhetoric that blamed Germany’s problems on others, like Jewish and Polish people. Without making the direct comparison to Hitler, John notes that the viewpoint of Donald Trump and politicians like him in right-wing European parties “comes down to national identity.”
This past July, journalist Jennifer Rubin pointed out in her blog for the Washington Post that “Numerous studies going back more than a century have shown that immigrants—regardless of nationality or legal status—are less likely than the native population to commit crimes or to be incarcerated.” The data is at odds with the scare tactics that the American Right uses as tinder in the fires of conservative hearts across the country. She continued, “It is hard to deny that targeting Hispanics, making up phony facts about them and labeling them ‘criminals’ is anything but rank racism.” By now, the nationalistic remarks that are blanketed upon scared, confused populations by their elected leaders could be considered a time-honored tradition.
Migration, as it refers to people, is a fundamental and recurring plot point in the narrative of all human history. As humanity evolved from tribes and cave dwellings to the first fence posts marking one person’s land from another, so did civilization evolve into countries with distinct governments and borders. Today, the movement of large groups of people is known distinctly as immigration, and the word conjures countless images and histories. As it evokes the Statue of Liberty welcoming immigrants in to the United States in the early 20th century, so does it evoke thoughts of Syrian refugees fleeing the clutches of ISIS into Germany and other European nations. It is disingenuous to paint the strife and sacrifice of those forced to leave their homes as a malicious act.
Trump’s proposed super-wall has fallen away from the forefront of the news cycle, for now. The specter of Trump’s “locker room talk” about using power and wealth to sexually assault women loomed large over Sunday night’s presidential debate. The nature of political peccadilloes predicts that the sting of his sexist language will eventually fade away. Time may erode the controversy behind his remarks, but the elements cannot wear away a wall as easily.