He arrived on the political scene in 2015 already promoting a future “great, great wall,” even if it was originally no more than a “mnemonic device” invented by his handlers to remind him to bring up the issue of immigration on the campaign trail. Okay, so what? And so what if the original great, great wall to which he was surely referring — he even spoke about it during the campaign — can’t really be seen from space, not with the naked eye? (Parts of it can, however, be made out in a photo taken in Earth orbit by a Chinese astronaut.) I’m referring, of course, to the Great Wall of China.
The Donald Trump of China, the Emperor Qin Shi Huang, ordered its construction in the third century BC from walls already in existence, although the final touches weren’t completed until the Ming Dynasty in the seventeenth century. And what lessons might be drawn from its long, long history? As it happens, they’re not likely to thrill President Trump, not when the original structure and the myths about it are so impressive. It was, of course, built to keep out those the Chinese thought of as “barbarians” from the steppes of Asia, just as The Donald wants to build his concrete — or is it steel, or slats, or fencing? — edifice to keep out of the United States those he considers the “barbarians” of the present moment, those his own country has had such a hand in uprooting and displacing.
In fact, an answer to that question about lessons isn’t hard to dig up: just ask the emperors of the Yuan Dynasty (originally outside-the-wall Mongols) or the Ching Dynasty (originally outside-the-wall Manchus) how successful that wall really was. So if Donald Trump ever gets his monumental wall built, will he succeed where the Chinese failed? Check out the blitz of fortifications (often using far more modern technology than President Trump has on his all-too-concrete mind) already built on the U.S.-Mexico border in today’s post. That chronology, 1945 to the present, offered by TomDispatch regular Greg Grandin, author of the soon-to-be-published The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America, should make you wonder about the effectiveness of any kind of border fortifications — if, that is, you weren’t The Donald.