Trump’s Folly: the Delusion of a Working Wall

Despite the Democrat inspired laws on Sanctuary Cities and the Border being so bad and one sided, I have instructed the Secretary of Homeland Security not to let these large Caravans of people into our Country. It is a disgrace. We are the only Country in the World so naive! WALL

Just a typical Donald Trump tweet, filled with hyperbole and random capitalisations. The threat of invasion looms ever closer, it seems. The President’s obsession with building a country-wide wall along the Mexican border to ‘stop immigrants’ has not diminished since he ascended to the highest seat of power.

His plan is not a novel one; Hungary and its Eastern European neighbours have erected barriers topped with razor wire to stem the tide of refugees arriving from the Middle East for instance. But the idea sits uneasily with what America is supposed to be: the land of the free, the land of immigrants?

There is symbolic potency in Trump’s grand vision – however muddled – but what will it actually achieve? Looking at history, the omens are not promising for the President and his chest-thumping brethren.

Trump inspecting prototypes for his wall

The East-West Divide

Never has a physical barrier carried such ideological weight as the Berlin Wall. Constructed almost overnight in 1961 by the Soviet-backed East German government, it became the defining symbol of the Cold War: Capitalism vs Communism. Good vs Evil.

It was perhaps also the greatest propaganda misfire of the Soviet regime. As soon as the Wall went up those yet to decide on their allegiance in the Cold War – and you had to pick a side – veered towards the West. How could you physically separate a people? It looked like a horrible retribution for World War Two (WWII).

That more than 5,000 defectors successfully crossed into West Berlin during the existence of the Wall also speaks to its strategic failure. When the first boulders were hauled down in 1989, the world rejoiced.

The ultimate symbol of division: the Berlin Wall

One can imagine parallels with a Trumpian wall; the brutal eyesore, the separation of families, the ideological statement of exclusivity and isolation. One can also imagine it being hauled down; ad hoc, with ropes…Saddam Hussein in Texas. 28 years is a long lifespan to emulate.

If Trump really is seeking to avoid the ideological and symbolic connotations – and it’s difficult to see how he can – then what of the practical elements? Will his wall dam the flow of illegal immigrants, of drug traffickers and fugitives from justice?

The Chinese Experiment 

From the 7th century BC until the heady days of the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese embarked on an engineering marvel that continues to wow visitors to this day. The Great Wall of China stretches some 13,000 miles, specifically built to prevent invasion from the windy steppes to the north.

It was not built as a single entity, rather in stages and as it was required. In addition to its primary purpose of defence, the Great Wall helped control the flow of trade, administer taxes, emigration and immigration. Trump must be an admirer.

But policing a 13,000 mile stretch of property had its obvious logistical difficulties, even for a country as populous as China. The invaders were not repulsed – indeed the Mongols would conquer China and create a dynasty – and as sections of the Great Wall fell into disrepair and the costs of reconstruction became increasingly prohibitive, the border pores opened up.

The beauty of China’s Great Wall draws 70,000 visitors per day. How many will visit the ruined facade of Trump’s monstrosity in 50 years’ time?

Trump’s Wall

Trump’s wall will be a tenth of the size and, if he gets his way, he’ll have the money and manpower to ensure that its construction is sturdy and its posts constantly manned.

But so what? Border guards can be bought, as they are now. Who can truly stop corruption when the riches of the Cartels are in play? The costs of loyalty will be astronomically high, the endemic paranoia of Trump’s administration always likely to fear betrayal.

Trump sees his wall as a symbol of American power and prestige. Some would argue that China’s Great Wall demonstrated a civilisation of incomparable strength, at its zenith, with the resources and the tenacity to engage in such an undertaking.

But a wall is essentially a defensive measure. It is a sign of weakness, particularly where America is concerned. There are no armed invaders lurking on the borders. Should such an unlikely scenario ever occur than the US military could destroy it without even having to travel to the national boundary.

Trump’s proposed wall is far from unanimously popular: protests of sprung up across the country

Ultimately it is a move of insanity; an expensive, divisive, symbolically damaging and egocentric waste. Yes, illegal immigration is a problem to be tackled, as is the trafficking of narcotics. But this should never happen. It makes no sense. History should warn him. His wall will be torn asunder by the next generation. It is not America. It is foolish and angering and it will fail in every sense of the word.

I leave you with Luc Besson:

It’s always the small people who change things. It’s never the politicians or the big guys. I mean, who pulled down the Berlin wall? It was all the people in the streets. The specialists didn’t have a clue the day before.


Quedar Bien: Costa Rica Looks Beyond Divisive Election to Unite in the Name of Progress

One of the more divisive presidential election campaigns in Costa Rica’s recent history has ended with victory for centre-left candidate Carlos Alvarado. He won a run-off with right leaning evangelical Francisco Alvarado by a surprisingly convincing margin.

Carlos Alvarado has promised a ‘government for all’

A couple of months ago I wrote about the forthcoming run-off and the potential repercussions of a pro-gay marriage ruling by the regional human rights body, which Costa Rica would be required to abide by. The two Alvarados had centred their campaigns on very different stances towards the ruling, Carlos backing it in the name of progress and liberal equality, Francisco vehemently opposed on religious and traditional grounds.

As it transpires, it seems that economic stagnation and rising crime levels played a greater part in deciding the outcome of the election. Carlos Alvarado, who has government experience as a Labour Minister, was seemingly the more trusted candidate to resolve these issues.

It also says a lot about the history of social and religious expression in Costa Rica, not to mention tolerance. Whilst a predominantly Catholic country with a strong church attendance – like much of Central America – it is not one where religion dominates every sphere of life.

A derelict church in San Jose: March 2018

Like most New World territories, Costa Rica was the scene of fervent attempts by the Spanish clergy to proselytise in the name of God and the Catholic Monarchs. As elsewhere success was limited, with indigenous belief systems proving difficult to supplant.

This perhaps accounts for the persisting influences of Amerindian spiritualism and occultism in Costa Rican religion, reflecting the Ticos’ ‘inclinations towards fatalism, their insistence on individual freedom…their indifference to authority’.

Spanish missionaries failed to completely detach the natives from their indigenous beliefs

Costa Rica was noted for its poor church attendance during the 18th and 19th centuries, religious expression and practice taking place on a much more personal, private level. There was a tolerance for Protestant interlopers that was uncommon in the Spanish Empire, and the Catholic Church remained a poor institution with only minimal political influence.

Whilst the Church grew in stature in the 20th century, permeating parts of Costa Rican society with its rural outreach and educational activities, non-interference in one’s personal beliefs remained paramount.

Ricardo Jimenez Oreamuno, three times Costa Rica’s president in the early 20th century, was an atheist. In many other Catholic-majority countries this would have been, and remains, unthinkable. Even American presidents are expected to have a church affiliation and express unflinching belief in the will of the almighty.

Ricardo Jiménez Oreamuno

Jimenez, however, espoused a ‘balanced liberalism, extremely compliant with all religions and political views’. How could the state, or the church, enforce a particular belief system on the individual?

This sentiment has persisted to the present day. Catholic festivals may be an essential feature of Costa Rican life and religious iconography remains prevalent. Yet freedom of belief trumps all.

Commented a San Jose taxi driver:

A good Catholic is one who stays on the good side of God and doesn’t get too involved with anyone, especially in discussions of religion, which may lead to arguments. 

Religion acts as guide and succour to those who want it; it remains an essentially personal endeavour, not to be belittled or manipulated by man or institution.

It all plays into the Tico notion of quedar bien (to get along), a desire to avoid confrontation and maintain friendly relations with all whenever possible. Criticism of others and their beliefs is to be reserved to the private sphere.

This mindset was very much reflected in a recent visit I paid to the country. Expecting to encounter locals spewing vitriolic tirades against their unfavoured candidate, the presidential run-off was not mentioned once. Nor was politics more broadly, nor religion.

Such an approach is not restricted to interactions with foreigners, but with fellow Ticos. Yes, people from both sides took to the streets to celebrate and bemoan the decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) and express their feelings towards either candidate. Yet the distasteful outbreaks of abuse and violence that such passionate topics can engender in other countries were refreshingly absent.

Celebrating the decision of the IACHR in San Jose

The call by Carlos Alvarado for the country to unite and face their challenges together is likely to be heeded, even for those opposed to gay marriage. A more relaxed and reserved people you’ll struggle to find and a more refreshing approach to public life it is difficult to imagine.


Biesanz, M et al. The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica (1999)