Bringing The World Home To You

© 2021 WUNC North Carolina Public Radio
120 Friday Center Dr
Chapel Hill, NC 27517
919.445.9150 | 800.962.9862
91.5 Chapel Hill 88.9 Manteo 90.9 Rocky Mount 91.1 Welcome 91.9 Fayetteville 90.5 Buxton
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Commentary: If Trump Builds His Wall, We'll Be 'Trapped Inside With Him'


President Donald Trump signed an executive order this week to make his promise of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border a reality. Much of the talk since has been about the logistics - where would it go exactly? Who would pay for it? Well, writer Peter Behrens has been mulling over other questions. What does a border wall mean for America as a country and for America as an idea? Behrens is an immigrant. His father was an immigrant, too. And this week's news had him thinking back to a conversation he had with his own son over the Christmas holiday.

PETER BEHRENS: We were flying back to West Texas. My son, age 10, claimed a window seat. And as we angled down over that sere and wrinkled landscape west of the Pecos, another river spun into our view - our Rio Grande, their Rio Bravo. And my son, looking down, said, is the wall there? Can we see it? At school, he'd been hearing a lot about the wall. As a part time West Texan, he'd been across the river a few times and was aware what an insensible notion the wall was and how rank with meanness.

But a lot of strange things have happened lately. He hadn't been in Texas since the election and figured the wall might have gone up in the meantime. I reassured him it had not. We are both anti-wall people instinctively, my son and I. And I believe we inherited that attitude from my father, who fled Frankfurt in late August 1939 courtesy of a British passport, and crossed the un-walled Dutch frontier, heading for Rotterdam and eventually a ship for New York. My father died in Montreal one year before the Berlin Wall came down. The day it did, I watched those events on television, and I wept thinking of him and how much he would have enjoyed watching a wall tumble, a wall disrespected, a wall instead of the people it contained being for once and forever humiliated.

I grew up in Montreal. The Canadians aren't talking of a wall, maybe they should be. Maybe they'll need one. With an unusual degree of restlessness here, with fierce language on all sides, ferocious inequalities and a social contract that sometimes seems to be disassembling, perhaps the Canadians will decide they need a wall of their own. And if they do, and if we allow the president to build his wall, we'll all be trapped inside with him. And the United States, concreted up on both frontiers, will be a nation stopped in its tracks. The day America is at last secured behind its wall on permanent psychic lockdown is the day when the American story, apparently up until now unbounded and open-ended becomes, at last, a narrow one.


SIEGEL: That commentary by writer Peter Behrens. His most recent novel is "Carry Me."


More Stories