President Trump’s pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border raises two interesting questions about borders themselves and about border crossings:
- Why do the rich consider borders sacred when poor people cross them without permission?
- And why do those same rich not consider national boundaries sacred when they cross them even against international law?
First consider borders themselves. They are completely arbitrary.
I mean, in historical perspective, current demarcation lines dividing countries are totally artificial and changeable. Many of them, for instance in Africa and the Middle East, were drawn up in a field tent by basically ignorant imperial generals.
The colonial outsiders’ overriding interest was stealing the resources of the areas in question. So they formed alliances with local chiefs, called them “kings” of their new “nations,” and drew those lines I mentioned describing the area the nouveau royalty would govern.
But the colonial conquerors did so without knowledge of traditional tribal habitats, shared languages, or blood connections between families their random lines separated. As a result, from the viewpoint of the groups divided, the problem with borders is not that people cross them, but that the borders cross peoples.
Closer to home, that ironic crossing phenomenon is best illustrated in the cases of Texas, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. Before 1848, all those states were part of Mexico. Then following the Mexican-American War (1846-’48), the U.S. border crossed Mexicans in those new states and they suddenly became foreigners in what previously had been their own country.
In 1848, ordinary Mexicans viewed the entire process as highway robbery. So their descendants often speak of contemporary Mexican migration to “America” as a Reconquista – a justified re-conquest of lands stolen from their forebears.
Nevertheless, 170 years later President Trump wants to solidify America’s unlawful annexation of huge swaths of Mexico by building a wall along this relatively new line of separation. His argument is that borders are sacred, and that people who cross them are “illegals” and criminal. But that just raises questions about his rich confreres’ attitude towards borders.
So let’s consider that second point.
Fact is: The rich disrespect borders in two principal ways, one “legal” and the other completely otherwise.
So-called legal border crossings are claimed as a right by international corporations. According to its free enterprise principles, Wal-Mart, for example, has the right to set up shop wherever it wishes, regardless of any resulting impact on local merchants, farmers, or suppliers. Thus capitalists claim license to cross into Mexico in pursuit of profit. They legalize their border crossing by signing agreements like NAFTA with their rich Mexican counterparts.
Meanwhile, workers (the second key factor in the capitalist equation) who are impoverished by “free trade” enjoy no similar entitlements. For them, borders are supposed to be sacrosanct, even though the boundaries prevent them from imitating the rich by serving their own economic interests – in their case, by emigrating to wherever the availability of good wages dictates.
Workers everywhere intuitively recognize the double standard at work here. So they defiantly cross borders without permission.
The other disrespect for borders on the part of the rich is more insidious. It takes the form of their own defiant transgression of international law by crossing borders to drop bombs on poor people wherever and whenever they wish, without formal declaration of war. (Imagine if poor countries claimed that right vis a vis their wealthy counterparts!) In the so-called “war on terror,” borders have become completely meaningless.
The point is that we “Americans” need to re-examine our attitudes towards borders and border walls. Borders, after all, are not sacred to the rich. Never have been. So why should rich corporatists expect workers and refugees from the wealthy’s destructive and illegal border-crossings to respect boundaries the elite have drawn so arbitrarily and violated so cavalierly?
Mr. Trump, tear down that wall!