Trump: All About Borders
“The unparalleled advances in scientific discovery and technological innovation of the 20th century, which made possible exponential increases in the killing power of weaponry, had also contributed to the erosion, and ultimately the near dissolution, of the boundaries between military forces and civilian populations.” [Dominance by Design, Michael Adas]
The blurring, if not the dissolution of boundaries, of borders has much to do with “the Trump phenomenon.” Boundaries and borders are crucial human artifacts, so crucial that they can be made to appear “natural.” So, when boundaries or borders are blurred, it often feels like a violation – e.g., as happened to Americans on 9/11 – and such violations can shake people’s confidence in what they take to be “the natural order” of things. So exposed, so violated, people are fearful and angry. And they seek the safety of those who promise to restore the boundaries, the borders that, for them, defined and thereby made sense of their world.
Not coincidentally, Trump’s rise to prominence began with his promise to restore the border separating the United States from Mexico, a border that had, allegedly, become so porous that rapists and other criminals passed through regularly. And not only would Trump restore this border by building a wall, but he would make Mexico pay for the wall.
However outlandish Trump’s stance might appear to be, it is by boundaries or borders that Trump took his stand and acquired his popularity, his power. Along with restoring the U.S.-Mexican border, Trump opposed those trade deals, like NAFTA, made by mainstream Republicans and Democrats because they led to loss of American jobs which “went overseas,” went beyond our borders. From the standpoint of these disappearing jobs, it was as if there was no border, no boundary preventing American jobs from “moving overseas,” as if these jobs were “flowing” out the country all on their own.
Similarly, Trump’s critique of the Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq in 2003, as well as his criticism of other U.S. military actions abroad, also reflects his concern with restoring America’s boundaries. American blood and treasure have been wasted in Iraq and elsewhere, as if the body politic itself were hemorrhaging. The integrity of that body depends on there being boundaries, which must be restored or “death” will result. And it is “staying home,” respecting our borders and boundaries, that will stop the bleeding, just as erecting a wall along the Rio Grande will keep the nation unsullied from without. Borders and boundaries require both keeping undesirables out and staying home, “minding our own business,” taking care of our own.
That Trump is concerned with securing, fortifying our borders helps to explain why his “over the top,” “beyond the pale” rhetoric does not disturb his supporters. That his rhetoric “crosses the line” of socially acceptable speech is redeemed for his supporters because it is in the service of reasserting, reinforcing other, more important lines, other more important boundaries or borders. Just as Sarah Palin’s “going rogue” oddly appealed to conservatives, so too Trump’s “border crossing” rhetoric is redeemed for his supporters by his essentially conservative goal of restoring the nation’s integrity by restoring and respecting its boundaries.
And speaking of Trump’s supporters or others who sympathize with but don’t openly support him, it is a mistake to see them as racists, sexists, or hate-mongers. Some of them may be such, but that is neither how most of them see themselves nor how they act. They respond favorably to Trump, some openly and others covertly, because they feel disoriented, feel adrift, as a result of their perception that there are no borders, no boundaries, at least none that are sustainable. And they feel this way for many reasons.
For despite “exponential increases in the killing power of [our] weaponry,” the United States’ “homeland” is no longer inviolable, as it seemed to be with the triumphalism that followed the end of the Second World War. The Cold War, Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, the 60s, black power, Watergate, the Iranian revolution, Islamic fundamentalism, and, above all, 9/11 brought our vulnerability to the fore, made it so real that it could not even be erased by the collapse of the Soviet Union or the de-radicalization of what was once called “Red China.” In the midst of such changes, which seemed to reflect or to threaten the loss of all boundaries, that Trump has gained the popularity he has seems unsurprising insofar as he is addressing real concerns, concerns that can’t be met with promises of “hope” or vacuous slogans like “Yes We Can.” And because these concerns are real, they are misunderstood if they are seen as merely ghosts inhabiting the minds of the uneducated or the unsophisticated. Trump is “real,” and he hasn’t gone away because the human need for boundaries, for borders is real and it isn’t going away.