A Tale of Two Donalds
‘Walls work, and walls save lives’. That’s a fragment of wisdom from President Trump’s very long State of the Union address on Tuesday night. He was referring of course to his plan to build a wall on the southern border of the USA with Mexico. According to him, the large caravan of people moving towards the border includes ‘ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers and human traffickers’. They threaten American security, stability and prosperity, according to him. Stacey Adams, gave the rebuttal speech for the Democrats, the first African-American woman ever to do so. She countered that: ‘America is made stronger by the presence of immigrants – not walls’.
Ironically, at almost exactly the same time, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, suggested that there was a ‘special place in hell’ for those who had led the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union ‘without even a sketch of a plan’. He is clearly very upset with those leading Brexiteers who seek to build new walls within Europe.
So - Trump building walls, Tusk trying to bring walls down. Wall-building seems to be a central issue of our time. Trump claims he is ‘protecting American interests’. Tusk and his supporters claim they are ‘welcoming’. They claim that the collapsing of tariff walls by the EU has done much to bring peace and stability to a continent with so much recent history of conflict. Trump ‘protecting’ with his wall. Tusk ‘welcoming’ with his abolition of walls. ‘Protecting’ and ‘welcoming’. Both in themselves can be good activities, right?
But those shut out by Trump’s planned wall would say that they are bearing the cost of the wall by being deprived of the opportunity to better themselves and in some cases connect with their families inside the U.S. Those who are reluctant to be ‘welcomed in’ to the EU by Tusk would say that the cost of membership of the EU would mean loss of sovereignty and identity. It’s difficult! Establishing national boundaries and how to mark them is always controversial.
Boundary issues are just as common in family relationships. Some spouses or parents or children build personal walls of self-sufficiency and hide behind protestations of adequacy. ‘I’m alright,’ they say. ‘I’ll deal with things. I don’t need any help.’ Or, ‘I’m building my wall to ‘protect’ you from the burden of ‘carrying’ me or my challenges.’ And then there are the ‘welcomers’ – the ‘mergers’. People who just want everyone to ‘be united’ regardless of the cost to individual freedom. And then there are those who are uncertain or unwilling to find and know themselves. They tend to blur boundaries and hide within the family. They are likely to rely on their more high-profile relatives to give them identity. Building impenetrable walls keeps people out, people who could help and enrich the lives of those behind their self-built walls. Too much merging in families robs people of their identity. The family and the wider world is deprived of the enrichment which follows from living together with mutual recognition of difference.
The American poet, Robert Frost, discusses all this in his poem about boundary-building, ‘Mending Wall’. The poem shows two people disagreeing and yet co-operating and acknowledging their differences as they build a healthy boundary between their properties.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
We can only hope that the two Donalds and their opponents (and the rest of us) will learn to cultivate skills to protect identity while promoting community. It’s all about becoming less set on establishing our own power and better at cultivating the skills required to discuss matters with those to whom our behaviour would be ‘like to give offence!