Trump’s border wall as a platonic ideal

We’ve heard a lot about the border wall in the last week — especially since Donald Trump has shut down the government until he gets funding for it. The messaging around the wall reveals that to Trump and his administration and his followers, it is a philosophical worry-stone, not a physical construct. For Trump to let go of the wall, he would have to let go of himself.

Take a look at this odd press release from the Department of Homeland Security — in particular the sections I’ve highlighted in bold italic:

Walls Work

Release Date: December 12, 2018


DHS is committed to building wall and building wall quickly. We are not replacing short, outdated and ineffective wall with similar wall. Instead, under this President we are building a wall that is 30-feet high.

FACT: Prior to President Trump taking office, we have never built wall that high.

Once funding was provided, DHS began construction of border wall exceptionally quickly, in some locations in as little as nine months from funding to building- a process that commonly takes two years or more in other parts of Government. By the end of FY2019, DHS expects to have construction completed underway for more than 120 miles in the areas it’s most needed by the U.S. Border Patrol. The pace of construction has picked up as initial limiting factors like land acquisition and funding have been addressed.

Does this wording seem odd to you? Most normal English speakers would say “building a wall and building it quickly,” and “short, outdated, and ineffective sections of wall with similar walls.” The lack of an article in front of wall makes it seem as if a native Russian speaker (“moose and squirrel”), The Incredible Hulk, or someone else who has difficulty with articles had dictated it.

This seemed like a one-off oddity until DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen started talking the same way about the wall in Congressional testimony.

The DHS has subsequently updated its press release to make it sound like a normal person talking about building a wall, rather than building wall. But it is clear from these two items that “wall” is not just a thing to the Trump administration.

Consider other words that don’t take articles. You can say “I am committed to freedom” or “It’s the power of love” or “We must have security.” If “wall” is in the same category as “freedom,” “love,” and “security,” then it is an ideal and therefore needs no article. You need “wall” because wall is a fundamental quality of the American condition.

An alternative explanation is that “wall” is something that you get pieces of. This would be similar to “I would like to buy a pound of sugar” or “I need six feet of ribbon.” In this interpretation, “We need wall” really means “we need lots of miles of wall.” It’s still odd.

But I like the platonic ideal explanation. Any border wall is just an imperfect reflection of the ideal “wall,” which we should all revere and aspire to as fundamental quality of America. “Wall” is now entrenched in the minds of the Trump administration as a quality of life, with moral attributes that go much further than a physical object.

This discussion took a turn for the bizarre when Trump tweeted this graphic of what he means by “wall,” which is “Steel Slat Barrier.”

These are “artistically designed steel slats,” rather than concrete.

Let’s be clear, though. This is not a wall. This is not “wall.”

This is a fence.

But since it must obey the platonic ideal of a wall, we will call it wall, even though it is actually a fence.

Even Senator Rand Paul found this ludicrous, and tweeted a picture of his own idea of what it would take to deter border crossings:

Of course, it might still be vulnerable to attack by Pomeranians.



Why they say “wall” instead of “a wall.”

If you are building a wall, you might ask some questions.

  • Why do you need $5 billion dollars, when you said all along that Mexico would pay for it?
  • When you tweeted “Our new deal with Mexico . . ., the USMCA, is so much better than the old, very costly & anti-USA NAFTA deal, that just by the money we save, MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL!”, what do you mean? Does a trade agreement actually pay the US government? If so, why do we need more money from the government? If not, why conflate the two sources of funds?
  • Why is this so important that it’s worth shutting down the government, including the Division of Homeland Security, which won’t be funded because you rejected a funding bill that passed the Senate 100-0?
  • What makes you think Congress will be easier to deal with on this issue once Democrats have control of the House of Representatives in January?

The reason is that this President and his administration see “wall,” not as a priority or a policy initiative, but as a religious belief. They believe in wall. They will do whatever is necessary for wall. Wall is more important than funding the government. Until wall is begun, America is at risk. And build it out of steel, but never call it a fence.

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  1. In using the term as a mass noun (wall), not as a count noun ‘(a wall), Trump may have hoped to suggest that wall, like road, track, and canal, is infrastructure measured by the mile. And infrastructure is something both sides claim to support.

  2. I’m gonna go way out on a limb now, and play devil’s advocate.

    Let me begin by saying I do not believe that wall will cost a billion dollars. You’ve heard of the Government’s $100 hammer? Having said that, . . .

    Those who are in hysterics about the wall, are also in hysterics about Climate Change and rising water …

    Now let me ask you another question that relates to common sense: When the water rises over the wall and begins to flood, which would you believe to be the smart and long lasting solution : 1) hire people and buy equipment to bail the water out back over into the ocean as it floods into the city? or 2) build a sea wall strong enough and high enough to handle rising sea waters BEFORE the waters flood? Okay, I figured you’s say that.

    Wasn’t it interesting how the Democrats, including today’s ring leaders, voted for a $10,000,000,000 (THAT’S ten billion with a ‘B’) wall in 2006, but now, when the need has quadrupled, and the scope has expanded to the entire border, less geographic barriers, do the Democrats NOT want a $5-billion wall or no wall at all now?

    Or is this just about Trump? In today’s world it seems everyone would do anything to go against Trump. Would they have built a wall for Obama? You know, he voted in favor of a wall when he had the opportunity to vote on it?

    Today, the Democrats want to throw $5-billion down the toilet just because you don’t like Trump? Does that make sense? Let that sink in.

    …. go fact check this little history refresher :

    ** The Secure Fence Act of 2006 **

    The Secure Fence Act of 2006, which was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President George W. Bush, authorized about 700 miles of fencing along certain stretches of land between the border of the United States and Mexico.

    The act also authorized the use of more vehicle barriers, checkpoints and lighting to curb illegal immigration, and the use of advanced technology such as satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles.

    At the time the act was being considered, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer were all members of the Senate. (Schumer of New York is now the Senate minority leader.)

    Obama, Clinton, Schumer and 23 other Democratic senators voted in favor of the act when it passed in the Senate by a vote of 80 to 19.

    Originally, the act called on the Department of Homeland Security to install at least two layers of reinforced fencing along some stretches of the border. That was amended later, however, through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008, which got rid of the double-layer requirement.

    [end quote]

    Are you still with me? Most Democrats have wandered off somewhere by now. Fact check if you like. Remember our sea wall metaphor

    People are denying those historically correct events, and explaining them by saying, “Well that’s really nothing like Trump’s wall…” or “… but Trump’s wall is a lot worse” or “… it’s gonna cost too much and shouldn’t be in the budget!” and so on.

    One undeniable fact you cannot argue : from a business or real estate point of view the wall is a far better solution than any of the other “resources’ solutions offered because it’s a one-time cost. Any good business man worth his salt will say BUILD THE WALL. The “resources” solutions prices are guaranteed to keep rising and rising, and are ongoing into perpetuity. Resource costs will NEVER end. So, the other alternative could end up costing a a hundred billion dollars, or a trillion dollars. If 5 billion is too much, what is a hundred billion? Worse yet, nobody can predict how many lives will be lost — both U.S. border personnel and illegal immigrants! How many children separated from their parents? A correctly constructed wall (able to carry technology) could last a century, kill no one, endanger no one, and solve immigration issues — that assuming we haven’t asphyxiated ourselves by then.

    I’m still hoping someone comes up with the smart answer.

      1. Correct, Debbie . . . . thank you . . . article says :

        > Obama, Clinton, Schumer and 23 other Democratic
        > senators voted in favor of the act when it passed in
        > the Senate by a vote of 80 to 19.

  3. Switching to “wall” seems to be a PR tactic that enables POTUS to segue — without admitting error — from the original concept/promise of the physical wall to “some wall-ing of some sort.” “Wall” seems to be an abstract term now, to represent anything Border Protection says they need (or anything given to them).

    This WaPo article:

    “The stalemate also highlights the distance, at least in language, between Kelly and Trump over the president’s signature promise — to build a wall.

    “To be honest, it’s not a wall,” Kelly said.

    When Kelly led Homeland Security in early 2017, one of his first steps was to seek advice from those who “actually secure the border,” Customs and Border Protection agents who Kelly calls “salt-of-the-earth, Joe-Six-Pack folks.”

    “They said, ‘Well we need a physical barrier in certain places, we need technology across the board, and we need more people,’” he said.

    “The president still says ‘wall’ — oftentimes frankly he’ll say ‘barrier’ or ‘fencing,’ now he’s tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it.”

  4. Blah, blah, blah. Semantics. Wall, fence, barrier, berm, at the end of the day we’re talking about the SAME THING.

    * Walls, fences, etc., funnel people to the intended gateways rather than random crossings
    * Walls, fences, etc., indicate forcible entry
    * Walls, fences, etc., are a one-time cost.
    * Human resources, equipment, etc., costs go on forever, or until a wall is built.
    * There have been ZERO recorded deaths of children while entering legally through a gate
    * There have been ZERO recorded family separations while entering legally through a gate
    * Entering the country across open range is inherently dangerous
    * The MOST effective defense against climate caused sea rise are sea walls.
    * Democrats voted for a “Fence” in 2006 (Including Obama, Clinton, Pelosi and Schumer)
    * The Vatican has a 40-foot armed wall. All enter through legal gates
    * The EU paid for a FENCE to prevent the entry of illegals from the middle East

    I’m finding it very difficult to argue against a physical barrier to entry into the US. While emotions, and media driven hysteria all point the other way, logic and good business sense says there’s little else that will work as well as a wall.