Specters along the Interstates: Mass Incarceration and the Geography of Fear

What seemed a terrible corrosion of public discourse before the mid-term elections is difficult to attribute to any single cause, person or a single election cycle.  The ominous staccato of alarms at the arrival of improvised pipe bombs sent by mail to prominent Democratic party figures and Trump critics were readily visualized across the nation as a disruption, the degree to which the man who had sent them, Cesar Sayoc, existed in a hermetic world of Trump slogans made the map of destinations less relevant in comparison to their relation to the toxic tweets our nation’s President has directed to immigration as  a threat to the national security.

Raising the specter of criminals and aliens–and profiling all refugees as criminals for crossing the border illegally–as an invasion of our territory, even if no members of the Caravan had approached the border, the Commander-in-Chief allowed it was not ‘conceivable’ the Caravan did not terrorists from the Middle East among their midst–and exposed the nation to a disconcerting word salad of apparent free associations in which “caravan after caravan” would be invited to enter the nation should Democrats gain majorities in mid-term elections, foretelling “a blue wave will equal a crime wave” in late October in clear attempts to disconcert and disorient in a haze of heightened paranoia in time for Halloween, not protect our national security.  But the specters that he provoked and elicited are not only empty charges, but permeate our society, fears of subjects that are often perhaps not cast in such openly political terms of oppositions between parties–“a blue wave will equal a crime wave; and a red wave will equal law and safety,” but exist in our landscape.

They exist in the huge diffusion of mug shots and Most Wanted images that jump outside of the confines of Reality TV as something like click bait–online images that have migrate to billboards or into the separate sections of small print newspapers–and instill a fear of the violence of those operating outside of the law, and are mirrored in how the us v. them categories existed in growing numbers of imprisoned within our borders, and the fears of fugitives stoked in billboards, and indeed in the growing epidemic of incarceration that feeds the idea of the criminal, and indeed of an expansive category of criminality, that has haunted the United States, and is perhaps magnified as an interactive spectacle both in the growth of Reality TV shows as “America’s Most Wanted” and the digitized billboards promoting the apprehension of fugitives along the interstates–and the fears that Donald Trump promotes of “murderers and rapists” at our borders, now with terrorists as well in the mix.

 

The repeated invocation of national security concerns, to argue those seeking asylum constitute threats to the nation, stand to change the United States from a place to seek sanctuary, ordering 5,000 troops–and perhaps up to 15,000–to the border with Mexico to bolster Border Patrol forces, and add more concertina wire, as he tweeted to refugees the “you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process” and called their approach in no uncertain terms “an invasion of our Country” for which “our Military is waiting,” before Halloween, sending more troops to the borders than as are stationed in Syria and Iraq combined.  This military mobilization set the national atmosphere on edge on October 31, 2018, focussing our military presence on the border in a way no Commander-in-Chief has ever done.  The alarm that we should all feel at the bulking up of a military presence in a zone that lacks any actual combatants suggests a sick hollowing out of the value of military missions globally, not to mention military morale.

 

United States Troop Deployments on US-Mexico Border (expected) and in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq on October 31, 2018; other numbers from June 30

 

The civil disruptions that had occurred within the country were taking up most of the media, but were hard to map, even though they were bound up so tightly in delusions and fears that spun from the border.  Cesar Sayoc was accused of mailing poorly improvised DIY pipe-bombs that were thankfully badly improvised, and found before they arrived in the hands of their destinations or exploded; but fears spurred by their arrival at multiple sites across the nation echoed maps of “sprees” of terrorizing pipe bombs in the past.  This time, they revealed the terrifyingly captivating nature of alt-right discourse even as they seemed destabilize the nation by attacking individuals.  Even if they didn’t explode, the sequence of bombs revealed tears in our political and civil space–and of a politics of demonization, targeted at how Trump had designated  dangers to the state, and of fear more than hope or civic involvement as we knew it.

The rash of violence that we couldn’t help but map to try to make sense of it, and it was viewed as a national wake-up call and emergency that it was–

 

 

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–unfolding over a series of days in one week, either because of the vagaries of the U.S. Postal Service, or the actual intention of their maker–which seems beside the point–as the impression that they created of a plague of violence, tapping into the repeatedly foiled plots of terrorist attacks, ranging from teenage with contact to Al Qaeda to the twenty-one year old accused of planting twenty-four pipe bombs which would form, connecting their dots, a smiley face that would stare back at the viewer, whose smile was to arc from Colorado to North Texas to Tennessee.  If the latter used a map to plant pipe bombs in mailboxes that would create a giant “smiley face” so that the map would stare back at the nation, the map stared back as a staccato punctuation of the civil fabric, even if they did not explode or injure anyone.

 

Cesar's bombs map USA

 

Their progress raised alarms and confusion as to the uncertainty about what was to come, and if the illusion of civil peace could be sustained.  The planned set of attacks that seemed to destabilize public discourse was born out of Donald Trump’s head–who else links George Soros and Tom Steyer with Cory Booker, Eric Holder, Jr., Bill and Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Jr., Maxine Waters, Michael Moore, Kamala Harris and Robert DeNiro?–even as they seemed to tip an already uneasy nation over a brink of whatever decorum remained.  They seemed to threaten to rend the very fabric of the nation, on the eve of the midterm elections, as the arrival of  sent pipe-bombs planted alarmist messages and reminded us of the increased escalation of oppositional rhetoric in United States politics, as these anonymous acts of terror created a terrifying instability of our civic space.

There was twinned let-down of tensions and a terrifying realization as the man who sent them, holed up in a white van in Florida so covered with Trump-Pence stickers aptly characerized as a MAGAmobile–whose inhabitant seemed to have spent the last two years in the virtual world of an online campaign, drawing sustenance from the ideological slogans of Trump’s campaign.  Sayoc made bombs that failed to explode, probably from downloaded instructions, in a van with windows were so fully covered in garish divisive slogans they had effectively obscured any relation to a real world.  The pipe-bombs spun from the frenetic identity of an online discourse, allegedly used in the subsequent massacre of Jews, a mass-murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue, driven by fears of immigrants and the promotion of immigration as if both were dangers in danger of “suspected terrorists” destabilizing the state.   Trump has erased all integrity when with recognizable narcissism he described how both both of these tragic events served to “stop a certain momentum” going into the elections, as the acts of “two maniacs” he energetically disowned, as if they had shifted attention from the impact of GOP theatrics when they only shone a light on the dangers of Trumpets rhetoric and re-examination of his tweets  in relation to the nation’s psychological health.

 

1. The bombs’ destinations may be a bit revealing, even if maps couldn’t capture the tragedy, or reach the violence Trump’s oppositional rhetoric plants in our civic space.  The pipe bombs were sent where media hubs of its coastal states, which President Trump has indulgently attacked as “elitist,” in an attack on cosmopolitanism and coastal elites–and the mapping of such regions to members of the Democratic party seen as especially dangerous to the nation.  The geography of the bombs was less striking than their destination for the coasts–the eastern seaboard, but also the western in California–coastal sites in “blue states” that Trumpists have distanced from the heartland, sewing divisions in the nation.  The sequence of a week of pipe bombs was terrifyingly followed by a terribly  violent attack killing and maiming members of a Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue before Shabbat services, allegedly after crying “All Jews must die,” as if mainstreaming the need to defend the ‘nation’ against immigrants seen as terrorists.  Joseph Bowers’ social media post on his intentionally unmonitored Gab–“I can’t sit by and watch my people getting slaughtered”–used its alleged protection of “free speech” to ready himself to open fire upon innocent congregants.  The killings mapped the distortion of reason on a platform that wanted ideals of free speech, promising to “promote raw, rational, open, and authentic discourse online,” and would defend the best response to hate speech as more speech.  Even though the two men had never met–and didn’t know of one another–they were triggered and animated, as Noah Berlatsky notes, by a common manufactured fears of migrants, and an antisemitic attribution of assistance for immigration and animosity to globalist Jews, and left the a good part of the nation mourning or in shock.

 

Memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were killed. Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

 

Unmonitored platforms may create alternate worlds, but cannot radicalize, even though no platform for attention of such heinous attacks should exist.  No space should allow calling for violent acts or promote the fostering of violence.  And as I traveled outside Berkeley, CA, where the absence of civility in the nation is at times hard to map–I was struck by the proliferation on the side of freeways of strikingly analogous oppositional rhetoric is evident in the proliferation of specters of fugitives, frozen in mug shots placed in digitized billboards, as a broad expansion of our notions of criminality:  by advocating a public sort of retributive violence, the specters that increasingly haunt the interstate in such digitized billboards allow drivers to enter versions of “America’s Most Wanted,” the old television show FOX created and endured so long on air, while behind the wheel.  The direct engagement of such an oppositional rhetoric of danger seemed outside the political world–it was from a federal law enforcement agency, after all, but triggered a deep sense of unease that is echoed in the fear of outsiders and rampant criminality at our gates:  as Vice President Pence intoned quite surreally and without any proof that it was all but certain terrorists were among the Caravan of central American refugees and migrants approaching to seek asylum in racially charged terms–“It is inconceivable that there are not people of Middle Eastern descent” who would “not be in this large throng” approaching the border, in defense of Trump’s outrageous claim“Middle Eastern” people will emerge among the migrant caravan if you “look with cameras” and his instructions to the press to “take your cameras, go into the middle of the Caravan, and search” for MS-15 gang members, Middle Easterners.  In these ungrounded assertions, the danger of refugees was linked to those who the President, as Rebecca Solnit wrote, had pushed the nation, but also Bowers and Peyoc to focus on.

Driving to an airport in Newark, NJ, I couldn’t but think of the new means of civic involvement–based on fear–that has spread in the nation, as the face of a glassy-eyed fugitive from the law jumped out from other surrounding signage, as if the digital billboards of wanted criminals drew attention to targets of public wrath and danger,–their identities were obscured by their felonies, as the terror of their crimes seemed a means of striking fear into my heart, as it suddenly seemed as if the space through which I was driving outside Newark was considerably more dangerous than that of Manhattan, and that I had to escalate my guard as I had entered a new space. I was struck by the prominence of such haunting billboards of haunted men and women shortly before the spate of bombings prompted reflections on how such a corrosive political discourses began,–or could be blamed for the rise of such horrific acts of violence in  public life–and the odd relation they created to criminality and to the law, or the project of federal law enforcement and the role of the state.  The billboards stake out a notion of civic involvement and participation by identifying and apprehending federal criminals that eerily echoed the demonization of  dangers to the nation–the deepest “we” and the broadest “collective”–that the arrival of criminals, whether they be concealed in groups of refugees, or among those who sought asylum, or were those guilty of crossing the border “illegally” and were hence felons as a result–indeed, true national threats–that has been the logic of sending troops to the border, and protecting our frontiers.  But these posters invited citizens to search for similar dangerous faces in their memories, and to direct attention to the fearful presence of fugitives among us, and indeed likely to be seen in their own states, perhaps lurking right off of that very interstate.

The rhetoric of civic engagement was terrifying as the elevation of a new notion of national security.  Can one look at an origin point in the direction of a redefinition of criminality, outside the court of law, in the register of Reality TV as much as in reality.  The mug shots of most wanted and images haunt not only the freeways, but the mug shots that come to constitute entire sections of newspapers, as if to grab attention of audiences against their online competitors?  The emergence of set the scene for arrival of Donald J. Trump and the intensity of his almost baseless baiting by his personalized taunts about immigrants, ICE, and deportations, and the threats of gang violence, rapes, murders, human trafficking, and terrorism that have haunted his demonization of immigrants, refugees, and the approaching Caravan. For the images of fugitives that haunt the freeways seemed an invitation to participate in an ongoing form of Reality TV, as much as to invite citizen participation in law enforcement, expanding an elastic category of criminality as a sort of place-holder for all to see.

 

EastCoastRapist.com

It is comforting that it was at the borders, however, that we saw borders broke for Beto in Texas, even if he narrowly lost the state, and that the candidates spewing anti-immigrant pro-border platforms in Arizona failed to capture the sort of attention we had feared.

 

TX for beto?

 

 

 

But the prominence of the haunting images of faces of fugitives posted on the freeways, and the image of clear and present dangers that they personify and promote, seemed to create an eery reality at a remove from reality–a dram of Reality TV, in which the designer of a President who spent many years of thought dedicated to Reality TV ratings as a way he could better compete, seemed to haunt his own discourse of opposition, and his irrational obsessions with the dangers of criminality that needy hopeful immigrants in the Caravan are contaminated by, and indeed by the fears of contamination of the nation that Trump has so willfully sought to promote, as if to over-ride and obscure the choices that were at stake in the impending mid-term elections.

 

EastCoastRapist.com

 

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Global Giuliani

The national trauma of September 11, 2001 returned to haunt the confirmation hearings of Judge Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court, as he described them as having changed American jurisprudence and the orientation of America to the world, as if involuntarily transporting his audience back to his presence in the Bush White House that fateful day of an attack on the United States– as a new precedent for protecting the United States from future attacks that necessitated increased Presidential power–whose testimony tried to transport us back to the very day, as if to prepare us for the commemoration of its soon-approaching anniversary.

Brett Kavanaugh, who then served as President George W. Bush’s staff secretary and legal counsel, described in great detail his own surprise at learning in the West Wing how hijackers flew a plane into the Twin Towers, as if to transport us back to this moment; Kavanaugh remembered how he had been urgently instructed to “get out, run out,” and claimed to stand “bewildered” among colleagues in nearby Lafayette Park, trying to make sense of the new constitution of the United States in the world, as if to make sure we understood his reactive stance to the terrorist attack.  Kavanaugh sought to appeal to most Americans’ fears and illustrate his own integrity, hiding his agency in affirming the President’s right to authorize torture in the name of protecting the nation.

 

 

In short, the day changed his life as it did ours.  The many sites of 9/11 commemoration nationwide may have indeed made reflection on the terrorist attacks a common shared experience for Americans–indeed a more recent common point of reference in our landscape not only in over seven hundred memorials across the nation, many naming names of former local residents, others including steel remnants from a tower or welded steel debris.  Monuments extend from Shanksville, PA to Phoenix AZ, Bayonne NJ, Beverly Hills–where a twisted column of the WTC facade rests atop a base shaped as the Pentagon, atop a foundation housing copies of the US Constitution  and Declaration of Independence, and Gettysburg Address, as if a time capsule preserving foundational documents of the nation, Indianapolis, Laguna Beach, Boston, Grapevine TX, Palm Beach FL, Naperville IL, Cashmere WA, Valhalla NY, and sites far closer to the former World Trade Center, like Staten Island, Jersey City, where so many memorials are clustered.

The growth in recent years of a considerable number of “transnational memorials” that lie outside of the United States’ sovereign bounds, moreover, suggests the global context and profile that commemoration of 9/11 has assumed.  The proliferation of transnational memorials that are recently counted at as exceeding a thousand, that try to place the event in perspective by often offering and incorporating fragments of the WTC original steel as relics of the lost building.  The clustering bears witness in a sense to the impact of the event on the United States, they suggest the regularity with which population centers–predominantly in the northeastern cities, to be sure stretching from Washington DC to New England, but reaching broadly to the midwest–responded to the traumatic impact of the attacks through sites where citizens engaged in commemoration of the terrible and still terrifying event.

 

 

The efflorescence of over seven hundred 9/11 monuments across the nation respond to the broad need for sites of mourning and remembrance, so often mobilized in national discourse and so often unable to be sufficiently monumentalized in ways that might be able to encompass the single tragedy:  one is even able to unite the memorialization of sites on a hike along the September 11 Memorial Trail, in a sort of religious itinerary of introspection, linking the memorial of Flight 93 in Shanksville, former site of the World Trade Center in New York, and the Pentagon, as if in a new road of sorrows or via Dolorosa of one hundred and eighty-four miles, and connect three sites where terrorist attacks struck the United States.

 

 

 

In such a national landscape, so deeply saturated with sites of commemoration, the evocation of the reactions to the events as they occurred within the White House could not but be especially compelling.  During extended confirmation hearings, his confirmation marked by multiple vocal protests, Kavanaugh explained carefully and apparently reassuringly how after the events of 9/11 he had “thought very deeply” about the need for expanding executive powers in order to help protect America from further ” 9/11-style” terrorist attacks.  If the terrorist attack truly “changed America, changed the world, changed the presidency, changed Congress, changed the courts,” as Kavanaugh assured viewers, leading President George W. Bush to act as if every day were September 12 in their wake, and forcing the nation to do its best prepare for the eventuality of a future deliberate attacks of terror–

 

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–as if to illustrate he met the needed deliberateness sought in a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Was the reference truly reassuring?

Kavanaugh’s quite conscious decision to transport the nation to the days of the Bush Presidency were more than a weird time-warp than a trip down memory lane, occasioning his evocation of Bush’s vigilance to prevent any future attack–which hasn’t yet occurred in over fifteen years, although the specter loomed large as it was resuscitated in the 2016 Presidential election to great effect.   The night before the attack, as it happened, Kavanaugh had gone on a date with the fellow staffer who he would later marry, Ashley Estes, and the nominee was persuasive in describing how 9/11 had defined his career and sense of self, as well as how the confirmation hearing was reported to the Alt Right, as if to normalize Kavanaugh’s advocacy of potential racial profiling as a reasonable response to terror.  The canned nature of the recollection during U.S. Senate confirmation hearings broadcast on national television suggested a clearly planned strategy of performing for public audience by evoking the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as if they formed part of a glorious national past in which he played a prominent part:  the myth of personal heroism picked up in Alt Right media seemed plan to illustrate his character to Trump’s constituency.

 

 

image.pngThe Patriot Brief (September 11, 2018)

 

Whether or not September 11 constituted a watershed in American jurisprudence, or seemed such in the eye of the hurricane, the attack on the World Trade Center propelled New York City’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani, to the global stage where he quickly became a global protagonist–and the act of global terror had the side-effect of bequeathing him to the world.   For the globalized event elevated Giuliani, then at the end of his mayoral tenure, into a global hero.  New York’s Mayor Giuliani was not only famously trapped in the towers for fifteen minutes, years after he made the third tower–against the advice of his own Director of Emergency Management–into a Command Center, preferring the prominent place of such a site to the suggestion of Brooklyn, but creating an improvised executive response center to the terrorist attack at the site, preferring the stagecraft of coordinating city departments with state and federal authorities from the World Trade Center to draft and announce citywide anti-terrorist measures, and defined the public face of the city on radio and television profiles over the course of the day, as the nation sought to get clear bearings and orientation on what had happened and what that meant.

Proud of the newfound prominence guaranteed by quick taking up a secure place at the World Trade Center ruins, Giuliani became America’s mayor as he proudly announced as if from a brotherhood, “I was at Ground Zero as often, if not more, than most workers…. I was there working with them. I was exposed to exactly the same things they were exposed to. So in that sense, I’m one of them,” and revealed in his appearance on the cover of Time as Person of the Year in 2001, explaining that as soon as he had word of the attack, he left the midtown hotel where he was lunching for the site where he remained for sixteen hours since the Twin Towers crumbled and fell, and Rudy stayed tall–even replacing the monument of the World Trade Center as aller than the Empire State and embodying a needed “tower of strength” whose black-suited figure seemed to similarly dominate the global skyline as a new form of superhero.

 

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The magnification of the status of Rudy Giuliani into something of a global superhero was a bit of a major casualty of 9/11.   Mayor Giuliani had indeed arrived quite quickly, before the second plane hit, moving as most were mesmerically transfixed to television screens replaying the first collision for hours over that morning, to watch men and women fall a tower, in time to see the south tower implode, and be nearly trapped inside the makeshift command for ten minutes in the nearby center he established as a temporary site of government that seemed a site of resistance to terror, in ways that were broadcast to the world.  As time froze for most of us, he was a man of action.  Inhabiting the site and granting repeated interviews, as the nation and world tried to process the terrible event, Giuliani worked to comfort families of the missing and visited the scene of attack to try to contain its apocalyptic proportions, turning to read Winston Churchill the night after the attack, after taking off his mud-stained shoes, taking comfort in the stoicism of the British leader whose sentence–“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat“–evoking London of the Blitz, as if to draw some comfort as well as to inflate his own heroism.

And although September 11 was also the day of the primary to chose his successor, Giuliani almost consciously used it to pole-vault to the global stage, becoming not only the comforter of the nation, mourner-in-chief (“the number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear“), and a global emblem of hope–if not a public politician–who no doubt gave the comparison to his biographer to Churchill during the Blitz– “What Giuliani succeeded in doing is what Churchill succeeded in doing in the dreadful summer of 1940: he managed to create an illusion that we were bound to win“–in the hopes to enshrine his improbable ascension to the role of “Greatest Mayor Ever” in posterity, and indeed to presidential material.  Meanwhile, Donald Trump boasted that the destruction of the Twin Towers made one of his buildings at 40 Wall Street the tallest in the city, securing funds intended for small businesses affected by the disastrous attack, and receive $150,000.  (Trump himself a bit less hastily followed Rudy in granting interviews at the site of the destroyed towers, hoping to burnish his own status against the terrible tragedy.)  But Giuliani cited Trump’s support for New York City–as given “often anonymously”–in his endorsement for the Republican nominee.

Global Giuliani emerged in the following years, leading up to his improbable and ill-fated Presidential run of 2008, as if in a planned roll out of Giuliani’s new career that profited from the global news of the attacks, which both mirrored a recent globalization of news media and a globalization that promoted news to global attention and continuous news coverage, in which Giuliani had so prominently starred.  Giuliani Partners used the charisma gained after the terror attacks to rebrand “America’s Mayor” on a global stage, promising to transform any cities willing to hire him on contract to promote them to global cities,  from Central America to the Middle East and pedaling promises of a release from fear.  The new millennium offered one of the oddest episodes of the aftermath of globalization and as a traveling salesman whose snake oil was the promise of global prominence.

The questionable role Giuliani adopted from Mexico City to Belgrade to Sao Paolo to Kiev, posing as crime crusader able to transform any city that approached him with a plan to transform to a “global city” to meet intangible demands of economic development desired in the new millennium.  And, indeed, the recent revelation of mystery trips that the “world’s mayor” took to Russia from 2004 and former Soviet states in the Caucasus, as guests of businessmen and powerful politicians, which have  speeded up and expanded in the Trump Era, sponsored by the Russian-American TriGlobal Strategic Adventures, have led him to be defined a courier to the United States President, suggests a parleying of his self-forged public identity into an ability to cross borders, national frontiers, and become an odd figure in globalism, as an advisor on issues from cybersecurity and technologic breakthroughs to law and order, at the same time as he departed from the Greenberg Traurig firm.  The ties that Giuliani built to Peru, Belgrade, Iran, Russia, Ukraine (Kiev), as a global diplomat, often through people with high ties to Russia’s government–and claims to have visited eighty countries in one hundred and fifty state trips..

For Giuliani convinced much of the world that he was particularly suited to confer useful “advice” through a new firm that traded in duplicity, Giuliani Partners and its subsidiary, Giuliani Security and Safety (“GSS”), who claimed to promise the ability to guarantee “a comprehensive range of security and crisis management services” in a globalized world.  Rudy paradoxically promised the ability to transform cities to “world-class cities,” using the lingo of globalism and transformation as if the baptism by fire lent him skills and requisite expert a promising transformative abilities to achieve the inherently utopic promises of becoming a global city; he became something of an agent of globalization, based on his centrality of the global event of 9/11 that had once affectingly and movingly crossed all national borders, as he promised he resolution to resolve fears of crime, revitalize markets, or offer immediate transformations of civic space for elites.

Working in cities from Puerto Rico to Colombia to the Middle East, Giuliani moved close to power, freely trading his own claims to end fear and lending his newfound prestige on global media.  He toured with Peruvian law-and-order presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori in 2011, helping her to project a crime-fighting image on the campaign trail, and accepted the task to convert Rio de Janeiro into a “global city” in time for the Olympics in 2016.  Giuliani sold himself on a global market as a crime-fighter able to reduce crime in its favelas, serving as a “security consultant” able to promote “zero tolerance” policies he allegedly pioneered, despite utter lack of familiarity with the scene on the ground in Peru or Brazil, let alone Belgrade.  The promises remind recall how globalization is tied to the denial of personal liberties or freedoms, from the false narrative of “zero tolerance” Giuliani championed as of his own creation in New York to the removal of individual liberties that he made a selling point of the crime-fighting plans, irrespective of any knowledge on the ground; his firm pedaled the same rebranding of the mayor from Mexico City to the prepare Rio de Janeiro to become a global city in time for the 2016 Olympics, as Giuliani the person moved among police forces surrounded by armed security and armored convoys while showing little local familiarity with a location’s specific social dynamics–the Giuliani brand sufficed and was indeed all that was needed for the policy recommendations, guarantees and policy assurances he would provide.  (Giuliani’s considerable global ties may well have led to fears about potential conflicts that his own Senate confirmation hearing would reveal–undoubtedly prompting numerous red flags for Reince Preibus or Don McGahn–even before questions have surfaced about his violation of existing federal foreign lobbying laws.)

 

image.pngGiuliani arrives in Mexico City to meet with local police (20013) Victor Caivino/AP

 

For over fifteen years, Global Giuliani has branded himself as an itinerant savior, drawing liberally from an accumulated media bank of 9/11 in his continued television appearances for a huge range of constituencies.  Giuliani brokered ties across the globe, irrespective of local dynamics of power.  He preached to the government of Qatar’s emir and police force to corporation behind the Keystone XL, TransCanada, and  in Iran with opposition group (briefly cited by the Dept. of State as a terrorist organization) Mujahedeen Khalq (M.E.K.) or to TriGlobal Strategic Ventures, a group promoting development in former states of the Soviet Union, where he consulted with many Russian oligarchs to promise”business solutions . . . in global markets,” and a company tied to Russian’s state-owned petroleum pipeline firm Transneft.  (Giuliani met with none other than Russia’s foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov back in 2004, as well as the chairman of Magnitogorsk Steel Works).  He has worked widely in Latin America in the Dominican Republic in 2012, the same year he worked in both Ecuador and for Raul Molina in Panama in 2013, Tijuana,Mexico in 2014, Guatemala in 2014, and Puerto Rico, before his work in Brazil, promising global status by trafficking in consulting deals tied to his reputation of being “tough of crime” and “experience with terrorism”–in the new parlance of globalism.

The many lies of protecting individual freedoms seem seamless with globalization, which talk tough while failing to protect and even to render individuals more vulnerable, and criminalizing others.  This is the vulnerability of globalization, the decline of individual liberties, the absence of security, criminalizing outsiders to the global city, and the peddling of assurance against the range of unprecise fears in which he has so broadly trafficked and promoted, responding to worries of globalism by provoking them, and by assuring audiences of their reality with false reassurances of his abilities to lead us out of their mess.

 

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Since September 11, 2001, indeed, the spread of memorials to the events of 9/11 has grown to the hundreds both in the United States and the rest of the world, as the event has become a site of morning and marked a sort of entry into a new globalized world, where the relation of one place to the dynamics of the rest of the world has changed, and done so on a global scale in ways that have inaugurated a widespread transnational commemoration of the events of 9/11 in many other nations worldwide–especially in Europe and Japan, where they echoed the alliances forged after World War II–

 

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–but also among American allies in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Israel.

The appearance of the global impact of 9/11 could not be clearly mapped to sites of Giuliani’s physical presence, or America’s allies, but suggest an intersection among them, including most prominently military allies–Japan; Australia; Kuwait; Afghanistan; NATO countries and member-states; Canada; Mexico–in a very partial map of the world, but one that suggests a new and important spatiality of 9/11, shaped by the limits and perhaps also the declining extent of American hegemony.

 

memorialmap.pngMemorial Mapping Project, interactive map of global 9/11 memorials

 

But the memory of 9/11 has continued to act as a fulcrum able to leverage Giuliani’s stature to superhuman size, as in the Time magazine cover, so that he appears to tower over the problems faced on the ground, and it was no doubt with this status in mind that Donald J. Trump, showing as parochial view as ever, assumed him in his legal defense team and as something of a spokesperson, so that he left his most recent perch at Greenberg Traurig with the assurances that he, Rudy, he would lead the Mueller investigation to wrap up but in a matter of weeks–a claim that few must have bought, save perhaps the Donald, and as events proceeded Giuliani transformed the leave of absence from the esteemed for what was announced as a “limited role” expanded to regular presence on daily talk shows to a “resignation” the firm accepted eagerly, even as Greenberg Traurig chairman Richard Rosenbaum allowed “a great deal of respect for the Mayor’s incredible career and what he has done for New York City and our country for many years.”  The acceptance of Giuliani’s resignation “in light of the pressing demands of the Mueller investigation” was ascribed by the former mayor to  the “all-consuming” nature of his role with the current President, but the large law firm was also perhaps ready to distance themselves from “America’s mayor” after his statements on cable news defending under-the-radar hush money payments was standard for a lawyer ran against firm policy, and the fame of in 9/11 had worn thin and become ever so tarnished in the light of his open courting of fairly questionable professional codes of ethics.

The powerful optic of 9/11 in public memory offers, after all, an optic by which to investigate the mechanics and lopsided dynamics of globalization, and the new spatiality of the new millennium.  So does the retrograde nature of the prominence of the events of 9/11 in Kavanaugh’s testimony to U.S. Senators and to the nation:  and it is oddly fitting, if also disturbing, that while Kavanaugh assured the nation of his competence in assessing the new nature of national threats as a result of 9/11, and seemed to promise continued readiness to measure the new sort of challenges that the United States would face in the future, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford–who would accuse Kavanaugh of aggressive sexual assault–in her professional work as a psychologist applied herself to investigating signs of post-traumatic stress disorder among children caused by the same attacks of 9/11–as well as depression among young adults, abilities of emotional recognition, and child abuse–while Kavanaugh worked hard to change the American legal system to face what he saw as the imperatives posed by future terrorist attacks.

Personal ethics, however, seem to have been swept under the table, in the light of the broad mandate for defending the nation against a global threat, as if needs for national safety sanctioned the absence of any ethics in a state of exception.  The terrorist strikes on 9/11 are evoked again as the basis for a state of exception, and sufficient grounds for extra-legal standards and behavior–even by a candidate for the United States Supreme Court.  It was striking that Giuliani was himself quick to promote the anti-globalist message, echoing fascist rhetoric, that identified none other than George Soros as the primary funder of anti-Kavanaugh protests that have beset the United States Capital in the days of the extended consideration of his elevation to the Supreme Court by the U.S. Senate, endorsing the anti-semitic message that none other than the Jewish-American hedge fund manager Soros was both the “anti-Christ” and funder of protests calling into question Kavanaugh’s suitability for the highest court to his 1753K followers–“Freeze his assets & I bet the protests stop,” tweeted one @genesis35711, in a response to the spokesperson of Judicial Watch who sought to assure the world that he would not be intimidated by unruly mobs of leftist protestors opposing the Kavanaugh nomination.

The claim of Soros’ involvement in the anti-American activities of leftists prompted assertions made by octogenarian Judiciary Committee Chair, Senator Charles Grassley, to “tend to believe” Soros was funding the protests, by funding the protestors who contested the nomination of Kavanaugh, later floated in Trump’s alliterative vision of “payed professional protestors who are handed expensive signs” who mask the real populism of his own candidacy, when Trump dismissed anti-Kavanaugh protests on October 5, 2018, as run by  carrying “identical signs” that were “paid for by Soros and others,” and which were in fact “not signs made in the basement from love!”  The essentially “anti-American” nature of such protests were the latest in a recurrence of the “paranoid style in American politics” traced by the late historian Richard Hofstadter as rooted in suspicions that are framed in a deeply religious politics, set at a remove from secular discourse, that spreads fear by claiming to map otherwise hidden subversive threats.

The recent, and particularly terrifying, pronouncement from the President’s lawyer taps into a global paranoia and that map “leftist efforts to destroy Kavanaugh” on a bogeyman of such Central European strongmen as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban.  For the tweet gave currency to assertions protests about Kavanaugh were seditious movements meriting federal charges, as if criticizing Kavanaugh’s politics and obfuscations were in fact attacks on American values, if not on American government.  Giuliani’s angry retweeting of a viscously antisemitic attack on Soros as a nefarious agent seemed Giuliani’s attempt to assume his role to defend against a globalist conspiracy theory that has been recently nourished in right-wing politics that paints a disturbing image of Soros as a sort of puppet master of unthinking masses, with deep ties to the political propaganda of a staple of paranoia politics casting Jewish financiers as malevolent external influences.  This image, long nourished by the image of Soros as a pernicious outside funder and donor to the democratic party of Obama and Hillary Clinton, and a foreign manipulator of domestic politics and of free choice, was extended to “leftist attacks on Kavanaugh” as if to unmask the interests at stake in actual objections.  The demonization of philanthropy within this vision of the modern evils of international banking almost echoes the image of an external attack on the nation–nourishing a paranoid vision of dangers that lurk beneath the surface of American politics, or as offshore risks, and claiming to unmask the rigged nature of our national politics with disturbing echoes to the propaganda of nationalist fascist regimes.  Caricaturing Soros as a puppet master in Alt Right media, in relation to Hillary Clinton or Obama, echoes the image of deep anti-semitic nature in the photoshopped images in Hungarian politics.

 

images-6

 

Indeed, the figure of Soros, his face juxtaposed beside a five-color map of the globe, focussed on central Europe and the Ukraine, unduly magnifies his power over a geopolitical map as if it can only be deciphered that the specter of Soros casts–

 

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–recalling the oft-tweeted image claiming to unmask Soros as the hidden master of the American presidential candidate of the Democratic party, Hillary Clinton.

 

George-Soros-Hillary-Clinton-emails-WikiLeaks

 

Giuliani was an apt figure to endorse this global remapping of such “seditious conspiracy against the United States”–terms evoked by how the right-wing radio presences who label Soros an external threat to the nation and charged “outside agitators” and “special interest groups” are engaged in trying to wrest democratic processes.   Senator Susan Collins adopted the sam terms in lamenting the  ability to “whip their followers into a frenzy by spreading misrepresentations and outright falsehoods” undermining American political practices.

The expansion of this pernicious paranoid strand in American politics returned in Susan Collins’ readiness to blame the arrival of “an unprecedented amount of dark money” to motivate anti-Kavanaugh protests, as if oppositional protests constitute nothing less than another foreign attack on American values, only waiting to be unmasked and mapped as a corruption and distortion of American values.  Such repeated insinuations of external influences suggest the widespread currency of the eerily revived a paranoid style of American politics that remains rooted in fear and distrust, during the Trump era, to underscore the need for perpetual vigilance to defend the nation that the presence of none other than Giuliani aptly embodies and incarnates, as he drapes himself in the backdrop of the American flag at even two decades of distance, and the image of a secure global politics that Giuliani has continued to assume.

 

image.pngRegis Duvignau/Reuters

 

The deep resonance the specter of 9//11 during the initial confirmation hearings, and within the ways Trump has sought to revive national fears of imminent terrorist attacks as a candidate and as President, attacking the poorly conducted nature of post-9/11 wars, focussing on undetected threats of terror.  From calling NATO “obsolete” for real terrorist threats, and raising the specter of “Radical Islam,” and “radical Islamic terrorism,” as actual threats to the nation, words have served to proliferate a gamut of dangers, perhaps coordinated with memes Russia’s Internet Research Agency put out on social media to “Stop Islamicization,” using the memory and trauma of 9/11 to shift attention from the geopolitics of Russian aggression.

And when Trump summoned rhetorical greatness, to evoke memories of the men and women who “boarded that plane as strangers, and entered eternity forever as heroes” at Shanksville, PA, he assumed his greatest rhetorical heights as a national spokesman, able  to shift attention from increasingly ingrown divisions of our union; in enshrining 9/11 as a formative moment for the nation, however his words oddly frozen in time was that claim, as he accepted the thanks of his Interior Secretary for “protecting our borders” as if to transcend divisions in the nation, even as he evoked the continuity of ongoing threats in ways that had clear implications for the importance of political divisions.

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Filed under American Politics, commemoration, September 11, Supreme Court, terrorism, World Trade Center

Mega-Regions, Super-States, Micro-States, Islands

Like a patient rising from bed to look in the mirror for superficial signs of illness  or searching for visual evidence of clouded thoughts after a hangover, we compulsively turn to data visualizations for bearings on our body politic, preoccupied by its bruised appearance and searching for visual distillations that tell the story of its apparent fracturing into red and blue.  Anyone reading this blog is compelled by the search for a rendering in iconic form of this sharp chromatic divide by which we seem beset, as if to mute its edges and suggest that a possible contexts of such stark political divides.  But how one can provide an account of the map–or map the meaning of these divides–has created a cottage industry of visualizations, images that serve both as glosses and counter-documents, against which to gainsay the meaning of the impasse of the most current electoral divide of 2016.

We seem to search for a sign of meaning in our body politic, if not  in our representational institutions, and to understand political divides less as signs that all isn’t *quite* all right, and the coherence can be found in how the democratic process balances local interest.  But most importantly, we seem to try to process deep concerns that the electoral map lied:  for if the electoral map is in some sense a powerful measure of our coherence as a community, it seems important to affirm where that coherence lies, if it does indeed still exist–and can be detected in a map.

And in the long aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election, it is not surprising, somehow, that we are still eager to understand or imagine what that “new America” is or what a new map might reveal.  Uncertain in our ability to question our representational institutions, we are pressed to ask how our electoral predictions “lied,” and whether the electoral map itself “lied” by serving to magnify the political voice and agency of a demographically diminishing region.  At a distance of two and a half years from Donald Trump’s surprising election as U.S. President, we continue to seek more refined district-by-distict distributions to pore over the stark chromatic divides, reading them as tea leaves for some sign of what will happen with the 2018 midterms, or as entrails to divine what to look for in our nation’s future.  And then we try to reframe the issue, and see what we can salvage about our actual divisions.

 

 

Come to termsNew York Times/Mapbox

 

Skilled at reading maps, and at detecting their distortions, we also seek to recuperate a sense that maps do not lie.   We pore over data vis to restore a sense of unity in an era when it seems we’re saliently divided by race, class, and religion, but are compelled to locate a sense of home in those divide, and seek a sense of balance and objectivity that can distill the intense rhetoric of deep-lying divisions.  For rather than suggesting or asking how an electoral map may lie  in ways that balanced a widespread sense of shock with a skepticism that that was our map.

And the continued skepticism and uncertainty in the meaning of the divisions of the electoral map lead us to try to dissect and parse their meaning, filtering and sifting their data within other data vis to illuminate, by new granularity and spectra, a broader spread of variables, in hopes to unlock the questions and overcome the challenges that our representational system pose.  We peek deeper into its red heart, as if in hopes to find the coherence or possibility for change in its red center, as if in a form of national introspection performed on the most superficial of registers, whose “truth” cannot even be gainsaid, hoping that it lies there, perhaps in the heightened distortion of electoral votes that distilled from district maps.

 

Red Center?.pngDetail of above

 

Do electoral maps lie more than other maps?  Any is something less like a reflection of actuality, than a puzzle, in which we can uncover not only telling traces among electoral divides  But the new configuration of space that the 2016 election bode, as well as the greater sensitivity that we like to think we’ve gained at measuring spatial configurations in meaningful terms.  The attractiveness of remapping the voter distribution may be a bit of a red herring and distraction from the magnification of divides elaborated in internet chatrooms from 4chan to 8chan, as much as above ground, but the searching for new signs in the entrails of the voter maps–a post-mortem on the body politic–carries as much sense as the foreboding that the representational institutions of states, counties, and other traditional geographic units might make less sense as a basis for structuring a truly representational democracy.

Seeking to stabilize current fears of a crisis of our democracy, we keep on returning to maps, insistently and repeatedly, as if out of trust for grasping how politics is shaped by deep-seated divides by finding a new way space is configured–as if that would help us understand the appearance of our divides.  And so, in hopes to digest the dilemma of representational democracy in we look for cartographical terms, to provide it with some grounding or objectivity, that offer some sense of purchase, other than by affirming the intensity of our divisions and to see that the institutions of political representation we’ve long trusted might make sense with the migration of populations to urbanized areas or the recasting of politics discourse in dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Perhaps, convinced of our increasing savviness to read the display of information in a colored sheet, we try to grasp the distributions of data as a configuration of space by which to grasp what happened in the 2016 election,  What is shown to lie in the deep splintering–does this take many by surprise?–across a body politic and economy afflicted by a politics of intense opposition seems suddenly normalized and explained by maps that normalize our divisions, and set them before our eyes.  But we have been poring over maps of the nation for years–or at least multiple election cycles–to be able to better process the tensions between regionalism and federalism in ways we might be able to come to terms with or effectively digest as presenting–and representing–an actual record of the status quo that is not so fragile.

 

imageColin Woodward (2013)

 

The representational system is oddly sidestepped, of course, by placing the divisions of a fractured electoral map in terms that see it as a lay of the land. The questioning of the fifty-state primary system–or whether our version of representational democracy best accommodates local interests in a fifty-state system–are not seen as being able to be adjusted  to balance regional interests or economic needs better, but reflect a lay of the land.  So much is suggested in by the growth of tribal senses of belonging that provide affective ties that lack in the state or even region, and span space in ways that online groups and news sharing seem to have filled an increasingly pronounced need for meaningful political involvement, in ways television once afforded a social glue.  The deep uncertainty and sense of social dislocation that defined the 2016 Presidential Election in the United States, manifested in the mistakenly salvific power of social media memes seem to have gained as a substitute for other forms of belonging, seems to find a resolution in the power of maps.

Of course, this was the third election cycle that we were divided by maps, and electoral projections, a division that Trump–and his allies, whoever they may be–only sought to exploit and reflect, or unleash with greater intensity by playing them for whatever they were worth in broad circulation.  Maps provided a form to counter that dislocation.  The rage for maps to comprehend an icon of the spatial promise of a United States has led, empowered by GIS, to an intense search for a more meaningful system of maps than that of counties, states, or congressional districts that the economic realty of the metropolis can no longer afford.  The role of GIS here is less instrumental than a sense at grasping for straws to identify the meaningful regions on the map, puzzling the potential for future unity in a terrain whose political processes and practices map poorly onto its divisions.

We were compelled just not to make sense in a fundamental way of the coherence of the political map, if it existed,  but to process what it means for a rearrangement of political constituencies.  If any map presents a puzzle that can be read for its argument, we compulsively returned to the past-time of glossing the electoral map as a way to find resolution.  We returned to data visualizations, especially if paradoxically, as a trusted form of post-traumatic healing, and continue to look to them to try to embody and diagnose our deepest divides, if not overcome those seemingly salient divisions.  Faced by a feeling of fragmentation we turn to maps to better grasp where these divides lie and to try to bridge their fractures.  We turn to maps, to prevent a sense of loss, or prevent the foreboding of a lost unity, and deep-seated fragmentation.

Whether maps can do so much reparative work is open to question, as is the power of maps to explain the deep discomfort at our social divides.  Since they are so salient, and oppressive, the thought goes, they must be able to be mapped.  The relatively recent re-imagining of the nature by which the United States are united led, during the heat of the last election, to a proposal of ordering districts around the metropoles that were foreign to if linked with them–Seattle, San Francisco/Bay Area, and Los Angeles and San Diego were his in this cartography of mega-regions where urban corridors defined the map’s meaning, as much as the regions in which they were nestled or situated, emphasising a metro-cartography of political identity keeping with the times.

 

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Dissatisfied with the state as a parsing or unit that was forward-looking, we accepted new geographical units as “megalopolis” to designate the sites that have superseded the city in this cosmopolite model of America, reflecting hubs where the large bulk of the GDP is located, and economic interests increasingly located, although this may neglect the extent to which GDP is linked not only to abstract able figures of income generated, but urban snarls, pollution, garbage production, and greenhouse gases and other forms of waste, using a variation on a five-color map to suggest the units of productive regional planning that might be able to better connect localities–or local needs and economic interests–with a federal government perceived as distant and removed.

 

1.  The notion of using the map to reaffirm a connectivity and continuity that seemed lacking provided a new way to ramp up our 2-D cartographical concerns less to foreground fractures than meaningful commonalities which could be acted upon as the borders between states seemed far less meaningful to suggest  economic connectedness, and indeed national borders seem less profitable fictions to provide possibilities for future economic growth–and indeed the state university structure provided a far less practical basis for public education, despite its value, as public universities seem more removed from educational opportunities or research funds, and others are somewhat vengefully recast as public employees, teaching mission be damned.

The map affords a prospect of tangibility and coherence, particularly compelling in its abandonment of the “state” or “county” as a unit of the polity, and appealing in its potential encouragement of a new sense of infrastructure–a term that provided such an appealing keyword way back in the midst of the  2016 American Presidential election–even if the New Map for America was presented for the lower forty-eight as a sort of forward-looking economic blueprint before the General Election, as if to orient us to a vision of the pastels of a future less brash than the red vs. blue electoral map, its regions far more recognizable, and decisively upbeat, from Cascade through the Great Lakes and Texas Triangle to the Southeast Manufacturing Belt.  The hope is to respond to a sense of dislocation by more meaningful economic units, and indeed an agenda to move forward advanced in Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilizationa hopeful manifesto to shift debate from territorial units and semantics to a vigorous statement of economic power.

 


New York Times/Parag Khanna

 

The shifting of attention to the divides in our electoral map to a the sorts of channels of connectedness Parag Khanna proposed were not to be–or aren’t yet, so strong was the localist and isolationist tide against them.  The cartographical intervention was a view of globalization that was sunny–and with an emphasis on affirming possibilities of connectivity, as opposed to the terrifying sense of an exposure of unraveling and intransigence that the formation of a Trump Train–rather than the sort of proposed High Speed Rail lines–were proposed to create as a new economic infrastructure for a nation that seems increasingly unsettled, and seems increasingly unsettled, and might be hoped to be healed by a remapping of its economic interconnectivity, rather than its divides–an image of interconnectivity that the election erased.

To be sure, the use of the map to affirm needed connectivity (and continuity beyond proximity) among states was long realized to lie in the potential of the map to create further connective lines of communication and economic development.  The promotion of surveying projects, from the railroad lines by Abraham Lincoln through areas of Appalachia in Kentucky and Tennessee, where the President realized the possible vitality of an economy not rooted or based on enslavement of populations provided a basis to encourage unionism.  Walt Whitman saw, in 1860, the nation as a great nation “of many nations,”  and Lincoln argued to survey the region to increase its connection, and offer a new basis to integrate the economic complexities of a union divided on an apparently intractable political debate.  The notion of mega-regions and economic corridors is not, in this sense, so new at all;  fostering economic interests has long been tied to the need to try to envision future possibilities in maps–a need that the 2016 Presidential election has undoubtedly necessitated, although the Trump administration seems dedicated to obscure that need.

 

2.  But if the model was conceived in the midst of a tense primary season that saw political splintering and a large fear of depression in a search for a politics of meaning, the fears of a distance from Washington, DC became the victors of the 2016 Presidential election, as we saw a new and apparently heightened red-blue division imposed on the nation that we have been still trying to wrestle or digest and place in political or historical context, and to parse meaning from a map that seems all too neatly clean-cut after all–unless the fracture lines were indeed that strong that the nation might once again divide, as if reporting on the electoral results were a sort of performance art.

 

Sea of Red

 

Blue America or Red America?

 

The fissures of red and blue reappeared again as what seemed a safe bet of a Clinton majority victory repeated, although newscasters and talking heads found it hard to say anything interesting about it, just three days from the 2016 Presidential election.  But the confidence of these electoral projections that seemed to give a fragile if solid coherence to a Clinton electoral victory, if one that would hardly unify the nation–

 

 

 

–but contain its increasingly evidence divides, rather abruptly ceded to a sea of red, where alternate projections failed to alter the depths of a geographic solidity of those voting for Trump, even if a majority of them seemed resigned that the election would not make a substantive difference.  As multiple electoral night watch parties disbanded with disillusionment, we were resigned to accept these divides, not knowing whether the geographical cleavages had either surfaced or crystallized in the actual electoral map, but suggested a somewhat surprising rejection of the status quo, and an eery sense of a red state continuity, as though we were divided regional blocks after all–

 


 

–and so we pored over visualizations of the nation’s new voting patterns that were increasingly and perhaps over-generously provided to stunned media viewers with a sense of collective trauma, to be processed only by reviewing endless cartographical parsings of the deep reds of the adjusted choropleth of 2016 revealed the coasts could hardly understand the intensity of the interior, seeming to reveal a convincing record of a deep-set urban-rural divide in a map of county-by-county voting trends.

The map of electoral votes was just as widely championed by Trump himself, of course, who not only seemed to have installed it in the White House, but to present his candidacy as victory over the interests that he proclaimed had “rigged” the election, as if it provided a demonstration that the process not so rigged.  (For Trump followers,  the championed results, in which the President “elect” exulted, might have in the “Fake News” of predictions of his electoral defeat, and the false predictions of their marginalization from the country.)  In an election when “rigged” seemed to have defined the 2016 Presidential election as it was used to invest emotions by different candidates, Trump had exulted in what applied equally to the economy, political process, and judicial inquiry as if applied to a “system” that he seemed to disdain, if only to recognize that the “hot term” he used became a basis to showcase his alleged outsider status.  But the electoral map provided, for all its distortion of population, an argument that the “rigged” nature of the vote and “system” was undermined by the electoral system–the same system that he may have called “rigged” at one time.  Trump’s claims for having “introduced the term”–“I’m the one that brought that word up!’–was in fact suggested to him by Roger Stone, who argued within two months after Trump descended his escalator to announce his candidacy, and recommend he base his candidacy on claims ‘the system is rigged against the citizens’ and that he is the lone candidate–did this offer any ideas to Bernie Sanders?–‘who cannot be bought.’”  Trump didn’t immediately adopt the term, but by the Spring of 2016, the term became used to insert himself into a corrupt system of which he could be the savior.

Trump ran so insistently and deftly with the idea to make it his own, treating it as a term to cathecting with his rallies.  He soon began to inveigh against the whole “rigged, disgusting, dirty [political] system” as being rigged, first the Republican primary and then the Democratic, discrediting the electoral process as a “rigged, crooked system that’s designed so the bosses can pick whoever they want” that revealed itself to be during the primaries to be “totally rigged to keep incumbents in power.”   Arguing that the word was his intellectual property, as he had used it before Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton adopted the term he claimed to merit authorship for having introduced into  the election, it cemented new constituencies in an age of increased income inequality, playing very well to an anti-establishment crowd as a new language of empowerment–so that the electoral map seemed to some a populist victory.

 

 

After insisting and bemoaning the extent to which the voting process was “rigged” during the primaries and into the general election by parties and elites, openly fostering distrust in the political process, the narrative suddenly switched when the electoral map–that map that so shocked the nation–was presented as a true victory that rather preposterously confirmed the success with which Trump had presented himself as not beholden to outside interests to a specific audience, as if it was a record of reality.  Enamored of the map of electoral votes’ distribution, Trump presented the electoral map as confirming a populist victory that occurred against all odds., at the same time as his skill at gaming a system of electoral votes.   He wanted the Washington Post to display the map on its front page, as if to announce it as a new reality, a hundred days into his administration, in a bizzarro illustration of his desires to run the press, asking reporters Aren’t you impressed by this map?¨–and regaling reporters with copies of the map as a testimony of reaching a broad audience of voters, as a source of pride and a deeply personal accomplishment of which he was the author, as well as a form of evidence he wanted the entire nation to be entranced–whose stark divisions he even had framed for the White House, as a confirmation of the extent of his appeal outside of coastal media elites.

 

imageThe Hill

 

The electoral map showed a defeat of the so-called “elites” on both coasts.  The majority of voters’ opinion mattered less than how divided we had become, over the next year and a half.  It was hardly a surprise to find these divisions, but their salience seemed a strong shift in political decorum.  As Trump’s Presidency continued, we mapped rise of hate crimes inspired by Trump, as if to conjure the sense his Presidency and rhetoric had changed the nation, and suggested a new meaning of the term “red state” based not on majority voting but confirming a sense of deep-seated anger against an “other” embraced by a good share of the nation, as if tolerance for violence not acceptable elsewhere.

 

 

 

The crisis in belonging seemed, in this red-hued preoccupation, almost about blood, and innate differences, and an anger that had been unleashed either on the campaign trail or its social media spin-offs and detritus, where suddenly the most marginal of voices, rarely recognized in print, began to circulate, and reached a large and strikingly contiguous electorate, from which “we” were actually removed.

 

image

 

 

3.  Which brings us to the deeper crisis of understanding how much of the nation seemed to rally around the idea of a need to garrison and fortify a southwestern border long left intentionally open, as if this would somehow Make American Great Again, and affirm its aging economy, persuaded they had been huckstered by international trade accords, as protection of the border gained greater reality than the civil liberties and rights of due process by which the nation was, for an actual strict constructionist, long defined.

The demand to think “beyond states”–plus ultra!–has been conceived not as a possibility of growing connectivity, but as resigning ourselves to deep divisions as if they were embedded in the territory in the revival of what were argued somewhat misleadingly to be “southern interests” or heritages, and accommodate and instantiate in a map that Colin Woodward has long argued reflects the dynamics of their original settlement–rather than economic development and local political cultures–as if to accommodate the “local cultures” of politics, such as they are, as fundamentally distinct economic patterns that transcend the division of states or economic development.

Possibilities of new sorts of economic interconnectedness be damned, Woodward would have us recognize the long shadows attitudes toward work and not toward race, education, gender, or religion cast across the political fracturing of the once United States, as if to suggest that the notion of being united was itself a bit of a big fraud, or a pretense needed to unite what were long fundamentally different regions, in a new fracturing that reflects eighteenth-century precedents as if to trace the differentiation of ethnic or racial stock in ways that he claims effectively map on our own political divides, and offer new tools to help us understand different points of view that even a Continental Congress was foolhardy to pretend they could ever adequately reconcile, so steeply do they haunt the current polity.

The oracle of Freeport, ME reminds us that “regional cultures” have existed since the era of the continent’s first colonization in ways that command attention, despite the burning issue of apparently recent hot-button concerns from terrorism or immigration, despite their salience in the political debate and their prominence in motivating sectarian hostility.  In a sense, the map may consolingly remind us that Trump has not appealed to “Make America Great Again,” but festered its deepest historical divisions and divides; its commanding division into colors of distinct hues a refutation of the idea that we are living in an era without intersectionality, where divisions deriving from historical priority trump any of the effects of economic inequalities and disparities of income.  It indeed seems to naturalize race relations that have gained ugly  prominence in recent years as being a world that must be accepted as “modeled after the slave societies of the ancient world,” where “democracy is the privilege of the few,” as if this were a tenable cultural position but demands to be appreciated as such.  Rather than describe racism, or race relations, Woodward lets us know that “black people confronted” dominant cultural norms, a formulation that strips them of much agency indeed–or denies it altogether, more accurately.

The quite flat five-color schema of 2013 was recycled in the news, perhaps, because of how it seems to erase the far more finely grained visualizations of the election that appeared in late July 2018 in the newspaper of record, five days previous, as if the precinct-by-precinct map of Ryne Rhola could be made to disappear beneath the far flatter overlays of Colin Woodward’s breakdown.

 

National Precinct Map.pngRyne Rhola/Mapbox

 

For Woodward’s map viewed the United States not as a composite of populated blue islands in a sea of chromatic shades of red that slid to scarlet expanse, but rather crisp lines whose constitution was defined in the eighteenth century, and perpetuated in the self-sorting machine that the United States has become, arguing that the affinities of each place attract their own political brand–a notion that Woodward emphasized in the new iteration of this map that adheres more closely to the national boundaries of the lower forty-eight.

 

New York Times/Colin Woodward (2018)

 

Forget any preconceived ideas of geographical mobility or migration, Woodward enjoins:  the map suggests the computational shape-sorter that the deep circuits of the United States’ history has defined.

That such divisions inform the breaking lines of the new “partisan landscape” hardly require a five-color map.  But Although meant to displace a divide between urban and rural, they may remind us that we are in fact living in an age that might be as easily cast–and we’ll return to this–as a trumping of the local, where states have faded away with the accentuation of local interests.  In ways that are filtered and refracted though the relative homogeneity of media markets and the traditions of certain areas of the nation where immigrants are indeed less openly welcomed or accepted may tend to the slogans of America First championed by Trump, and lines of gender are differently drawn.  Such regions might be less likely to be sympathetic in a deep way with a woman who reminded them, rightly or wrongly, of coastal elites, and accepting of the very caricatures of coastal elites that Trump, in a canny exercise of deflection and personal rebranding, managed to project on her–palling with Goldman Sachs; attending as Secretary of State to foreign relations and not the American worker–that the more removed regions would accept.

The divisions in the “partisan landscape” of the nation that Woodward presented are considerable and are economic–

 

Partisan landscape.pngNew York Times/Colin Woodward (2018)

 

–but curiously suggest the deep red remove of the very region of Appalachia that President Lincoln once sought to integrate better both economically and infrastructurally in the United States, but has sadly lagged further behind, and felt further removed from Washington.

And not only from Washington, DC, but from the complex of the news that is so demonized by President Trump as being an “enemy of the people” today.  For though it is never made precise who this collective is–“the people”–it is not the folks who read newspapers or watch the nightly news, but those who feel far less represented in them, and by them, and less familiar with them to less present to them–for the known density of reporters and correspondents appears an odd echo of the parsing of the lower forty-eight into “Yankeedom,” “Tidewater,” “Greater Appalachia,” “Far West.” and “Left Coast,” as not only different media markets, and different areas that are represented in the news–

 

local qotient reportersDept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics/Occupational Employment Statistics

 

employment correspondents 2017Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics/Occupational Employment Statistics

 

–but that feel alienated from its constitution of reality, because that stands at a remove from their lives and regions.  The existence of pronounced “news deserts” in areas as Appalachia suggest a fragmentation of our news economy that weakens local solidarity and opinion, and creates large voting blocks that are terrifyingly coincident with the paucity of local news sources, as Chisolm’s below burnt red interactive Carto data vis rather scarily reveals, as it invites and allows one to explore in even more fine-grained from over the lower forty eight.  The blanked-out regions of lightly hued regions reflect areas aggrieved areas by the absence of a diversity of local newspapers–institutions long identified with reflection on local political institutions and practices.  They are, in other words, afflicted with the absence of a plurality of avenues for the shaping of public opinion and political debate, and bound to rely one less active political debate.

 

Carto-News Deserts

 

The striking thinning out in many regions of Appalachia as well as the south of so-called “news deserts” is not a longstanding historical divide–the death of the local newspaper is

 

Appalachia News Deserts multipleAmerica’s Growing News Deserts/Columbia Journalism Review (2017)

 

–in which limited investigative reporting on local issues, discussion generated by print, and indeed informed local political decisions and checks on local power seems to create a vacuum into which rushes a new tribalism of largely symbolic issues.

 

 

The difference between these regions is not necessarily so continuous, or suggestive of nations, despite the startling continuity in “news deserts” and areas of the low level of occupational employment of journalists or correspondents that is its correlate.  Deep divides of terrifying continuity are at basis economically driven, and seem impossible to reduce only to cultural divides–or reduced to existing historical divides, so much as an erosion of local institutions designed to foster reflection on political institutions and discourse.

The increasing gaps in sites where only one newspaper–or no local news–exists will be made up for in new ways, but the growth of News Deserts from 2016 marks a change in the information economy, and a change in which the role of newspapers in constituting and encouraging the community long existed.  The rise of digital news outlets that have taken up the nourishing role traditionally and long played by journalism is promising, but the attack on the few remaining news sources that exist and on which folks rely stands as a new challenge, with the number of reporters covering local news having dropped in half since 2004, and some 1,800 newspapers–many venerable institutions in communities that helped make new communities–having folded in the same time, leaving all the tanned out regions with one newspaper, and the burnt siena dots counties with no local newspaper at all–areas reliant on other news sources and online information, according to Penelope Muse Abernathy of UNC’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, which points more deeply at the need for a new business model for local news, but also the increasing vulnerability of many counties–and many individuals–to the older, less educated, and poorer, farther from metropolitan areas in parts of Texas, the Dakotas, Alabama, Florida and Georgia, where our democracy may fracture.

 

Abernathy, 2018

 

The problems of an engaged citizenship through newspapers is not, of course, the only line of fracturing in the social body.

The increased divergence of the age at which women have a first child in different regions of the United States suggests a huge difference in life-perspective–or “life style”–which is clearly identified with those areas of denser presence of reporters, correspondents, and news reporting, suggesting a huge difference–and deep divergence–among the priorities, and negotiation of labor markets.  Although the different preferences for childbirth in the United States’ regions are not a big surprise for many women, the strikingly different age of women at birth maps onto the “regionalism” and regions of the United States in striking ways, unsurprising in an era when birth control and abortion are seen as the “issues” that define political divides–both around appointments to the Supreme Court and around what makes up privacy, personhood, and rights.  The pronounced oscillation around the age of a mother at her first birth is striking, not only in its divergence but the large span of the nation where birth is defined at twenty-four years of age, and what this mans for families and women’s work–and of female experience at the same time as the first female candidate became nominated by a major party–and the huge gaps this created.

 

Motehrs age at birth

 

New York Times: Birth Age Gap in the USA (2016)New York Times: Birth Age Gap in the USA (2016)

 

Does the puzzle fit together better now, looking at the relative number of reporters and correspondents employed and stationed in areas of the United States, and the remove of many regions–either apparent or real–from the media markets that exist, and the sense of alienation and remove of those areas  from actualities reported in the “news”?

Woodward’s “map”–updating or revisiting the divisions he had in fact foretold in 2013, just after President Obama’s second election as President, reprised for readers always hungry for a good data vis, that distilled confusion to stark lines of a 2-D paper map, called less “nations” (as he previously had) than “regions” which transmitted through the ages the spirits of their respective colonizers, in a complete revision of the image of the nation as a melting pot, economic integration and disparities of wealth be damned.

Rather than a melting pot having ever existed, the oracle of Freeport has it, distinctions between a Puritan legacy with assimilates others by championing a common good, the multicultural materialism of Dutch founders, the manorial society of the British gentry, quakers and pluralistic protestants of the midlands, and rigorous independence of the Scots Appalachians abut slave-holding southerners from the Barbados and Spanish-American periphery, shaping the nation’s fractured political present:  aside from some limited intersection of these realms, the melting pot not only never existed, but “deep cultural” values provided an optic that refracted every political event of the twentieth and twenty-first century, as if a deep memory of the mind that we will not escape.  The rigorous and purposive historical flatness of Woodward’s “map” seems a point of pride.

The schematic map recalls a study sheet for  high school U.S. history, claiming to reveal a landscape that lets scales fall from its viewers’ eyes.  Such radical essentialism–or deeply conservatory if not reactionary cartography–reminds us with considerable offhand pluck that we’re in fact far less mobile than we would like to think.  Rather than dig into the data in any depth, the map “shows” that we remain dominated by almost essential cultures that have been perpetuated by local institutions for all our championing of free will; we are, yes, really cultures, but cultures that no person can actually make.  Indeed, Woodward had originally cast the divides as separate “nations” that were both in evidence “today,” but revealed a deep geography of eleven nations in a 2013 map first published in the fall of 2013 as a guide to the “deep differences” into who he argued people in the nation sort themselves, as if into political preferences.  If a degree of self-determination surely remains, geography has the commanding upper hand, Woodward seeks to let us know, but his argument verges on an environmental conditioning by which the continent’s settlement runs against the idea of any  easy arrival at consensus:  indeed, “to understand violence or practically any other divisive issue, you need to understand historical settlement patterns” that defined the matrix.

 

Washington Post/Colin Woodward (2013)

 

Woodward responded to the stark fragmentation of the electoral map in 2012, to be sure, but has reprised his divisions again to explain the Trump phenomenon, and effectively raise questions about the midterm elections as if to suggest that no real deviation from a foretold story will occur.  And it is no surprise that the area of Greater Appalachia he has mapped, colored bright red in the image of 2013, which consciously riffed on the red state/blue state divide, without mentioning it.  Indeed, those “eleven nations” break into what look like voting blocks,–even if they are meant to remind readers that “lasting cultural fissures” were established by  “Euro-American cultures [that] developed in isolation from one another,” reflecting how “the American colonies were [first] settled by people from distinct regions of the British Isles” who we shouldn’t confuse.  Woodward presented his map as evidence of deep roots for the sectarianism we think of as modern, and “there has never been an America, but rather several Americas,” even if we all share one legal code.  Deadlock is natural on gun control or other issues,–but to appreciate that you “need to understand history” that political debate cannot alter.

When Woodward revived the twelve nations as divides as tools to explain a sense of regional divides to replace the truism of thinking about America in a rural/urban dichotomy, he wanted to go deeper than the big data of a district-by-district map and its information overload.  But leaving aside that his geographic divisions handily capture some of the largest cities and urban areas in the “Left Coast” and “New Netherland” region, the map seems deeply flawed in its use of voting preferences in an era when voter turnout is notoriously low–voter turn-out was not substantially lower than in other years, but hovered about 58%–and the areas where Trump surprisingly outperformed the previous Republican Presidential candidate in a majority of states–

 

image.png

 

The divisions map most precisely on regions that perceived their economic remove from the coastal elites with whom the Democrats have been wrongly identified.  Indeed, it is not surprising that the Greater Appalachia region that Woodward’s original 2013 map cast as bright red assumes a pretty monochrome hue when chopped out of the elegant Mapbox visualization, suggesting that that region played a large outsized role in the last election, or as much as Purple America, and occupies the heart of the area where Trump outperformed Romney in the 2016 election, reconfiguring the red-blue divide.  The deep crimson area, with scattered islands of blue to the east and north, where Greater Appalachia ends, suggests less a new nation than a remoteness,

 

Greater Appalachia.pngArea roughly corresponding to Greater Appalachia/Mapbox/New York Times

 

not only removed from broadband or access to health care, but relative per capita income rates in relation to the United States average, completion of high school, ethnic diversity, and women in the workforce and unemployment among young men–in short, a nation apart from the nation, less exposed to racial diversity and who the federal government had let down in its priorities.

 

Women in Worksplace, below average in tan.png

New York Times (2015), tan counties from below average; violet (above average)t

 

 

This was just the sort of area where Hillary Clinton would have the hardest time with her message, and possessed striking insularity.

 

 

Minority presence Appalachian Avg 2010U.S. Census Chartbook, 2010 (2011)

 

The trap of thinking in states may distort the above map, but the increased number of votes  seem rooted in “Yankeedom,” as well as “Greater Appalachia” and “Midlands,” than the logic of Woodard’s map would have us believe.  Of course, Woodward’s map might be more convincingly read not as a divide between rural and urban, but a heightening of the local, and a collapse of cross-regional collectives that once animated our politics and were known as parties, or groups that bargained for collective interests as unions.

For it surely takes into account the deep crisis in our democracy of a disconnect that many feel compelled to seek affective ties that are deeper than the remove they feel from Washington, and hard to find in a map.  It is saying something that even a year and a half from Trump’s inauguration as President, we continue to return, as if to find more information, to even more detailed parsings of the political map that might allow us to explore and, more importantly, come to terms with the extent of fracturing in our political landscape, where urban “voter islands” in Denver, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Chicago, Washington DC, Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston and New York are so strikingly pronounced–and try to understand what that heightened insularity can mean.

 

Ryne Rhola/Mapbox (2018)

 

We are asked to use the map to avoid being in a “political bubble,” and to explore the area that you “know”–no doubt where you reside, where everyone first turns in a map–as if to measure what you expected that you knew against the “extremely detailed map” of our political divisions, courtesy of Mapbox, where even the divisions in a reliably “blue state”–as where I live, California–can be parsed in greater detail, as if to gain intelligence of the political lay of the land, in time for the mid-terms, and to learn what districts you might to go to canvas or contribute to a political campaign, as possible on many partisan apps,

 

California.pngRyne Rhola/Mapbox (2018), 2016 US Presidential Election

 

The divisions in political or electoral preference seems hardly surprising, but the divides show up as stubbornly sharp in the Bay Area, whose insularity is long supposed and often championed, but where the directive to “explore” an area you “know” to see if you live in a political bubble seems all too apt.

 

Bay area

 

east bay alone with Danville

 

For the “areas you know” still seem ones that you can’t quite get your head around, too much like bubbles than regions, where fault lines of political opposition are located a bit more inland, but seem sadly inscribed on the land.

 


 

The maps remind us that, rather than live in nations, we seem to live in tribes.

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Filed under data visualization, infographics, news graphics, political geography, political preferences

Locating the Lost Moo Pah Soccer Team

We followed with intense interest and hope the gripping story of the teenage soccer team who had entered the dangerous complex of narrow caves in North Thailand.  We focussed on the possibilities for their rescue as we watched the narrow entry ways into the remote complex where they were stranded on rocky shoals, over two miles into the Tham Luang complex and over a mile underground.  Before the maps of the narrowing cave, we could only imagine the excitement of their entrance into the cavernous passage where they left bikes, and to imagine the conditions where the U-16 team waited with their committed Assistant Coach, as we tried to get our heads around the dangers  the team faced in the darkness, licking water from its walls over two weeks.

The deeply compelling story of the “lost” team attracted the global attention from their sudden disappearance, discovery by two divers, to their rescue gained huge interest and dramatic power, as we tried to move into the narrow confines of the cave themselves.  Despite the immense power of the human story, and the endurance of each team member of the Moo Pah, or “Wild Boars,” the global scale of attempts to locate the team so remotely stranded were as historic, as we all tried to place the “Lost Thai Cave Boys”–all of whom nineteen divers have now thankfully rescued or extracted from the torturously narrow cave, whose cavernous opening narrows into one of the most labyrinthine of complexes of as one progresses into its passage ways.  Lost both to sight, above ground tracking, and to global attention, the small group of soccer players compelled attention of the entire global media.  The intense bond that existed for the team–who practiced with their coach who understood the sort of haven he was offering to them all too well–created the sense of solidarity that, in the end, trumped the dangers of being “lost” to a state or to public view.

As they were lost to tracking, GPS, or other means of geolocation, the drama became one of the inability to map in an era when mapping technologies seem to have expanded throughout our lives.  While the lack of GPS or wifi made navigation or consultation of instruments used in mapping of little value, cross-sections of the deep cave from forty years ago provided only the roughest of guides to the torturous paths of often slippery ground that threatened to fill from southwest monsoon rains–sudden rains already pressed the team deeper into the caves.   As the teenage team was removed from all contact with the world, or abilities of geolocation, the rest of the world depended on maps to imagine the possibility of contact with the kids who were suddenly known, in a bizarre trending topic, as the ‘lost cave boys’ as if to foreground the increasingly uneven global distribution of technical expertise.

We needed maps to keep them in sight, as it were, and to imagine the very possibility of their survival:  even the most schematic maps of the caves’ dimensions, abstract cross-sections drafted thirty years ago, offered a sense of contact with the team that was removed from GPS, so far removed to be out of contact, for over two weeks over a mile underground.

 

29 coupessTham Luang cross-sections, Association Pyrénéenne de Spéléologie, Expeditions Thai 87 – 88

 

While the multi-national effort helped to guarantee the rescue effort was miraculous, it is also a testament to the sheer force of globalization that the former Buddhist monk who led twelve teenage soccer players–several of whom were stateless ethnic minors–became a compelling focus of international attention after being tragically  trapped while exploring a cave complex.  The young team, stranded two miles into a six-mile long complex, with limited food and air, were almost abandoned, until the surprising accidental discovery that the teenage members of the Moo Pa team–the “Wild Boars”–were all found alive with their Assistant Coach by a group of British underwater divers, apparently on holiday, exploring another branch of the vast flooded cave complex, who first photographed the team, smiling at having contact after ten days.  If not for the fortuitous sighting and discovery–and perhaps if not for the lit photograph the divers managed to take of them in the cave’s depths, they may well have tragically perished.  But what else is more emblematic of the globalization of the media than the ability to turn all attention to one spot in the world, that suddenly seems the only spot that cannot be otherwise mapped?

The happenstance discovery that was made a week and a half–ten full days–after the team members had after they disappeared was relayed around the globe, more a miracle of endurance as much as of modern technology, though the two were conflated.  Able to capture them by cel phones, the image of their survival in the darkness underground survival mapped an odd snapshot of globalization.  While the cave was visited several times by the Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the statelessness of the players or assistant coach who helped found the Moo Pa team was not mentioned.  As global attention turned to the cave, and divers arrive from the United States, Britain, Australia, Finland, and Canada, the search almost became almost a spectacle of state theater, as the Royal Thai Army undertook to map and track the location of the “lost cave boys” in the mountainous remote province, as global attention shifted to the Tham Luang caves, newly prominent in international headlines as an engrossing topic of social media.

 

s095716743June 28, 2018

 

M5SFALUCC4I6ROCRKMM4BD345Y.jpgJuly 7, 2018 (Rungroj Yongrit/EPA-EFE/Rex/Shutterstock)

 

 

The complex of caves in which the team members were stranded was abstracted from what was an area of widespread statelessness, divided between different warring factions, the possibilities of their rescue the focus of global attention.  Such a heroic narrative was able to conclude, for one, in a far more satisfactory way than a focus on borderline events, or the fate of the stateless along the Thai border.

 

1. The efforts to discovery the team had already attracted help  While U.S. Pacific Command had sent a rescue team to help in the search for the twelve players between twelve and sixteen and their coach, searching with Thai military using remotely operated underwater vehicles and heat-seeking drone, the absence of any indications in the complex Tham Luang Nang Non caves was puzzling.  The mystery of their apparent disappearance was broken by an unexpected image of the smiling soccer team, on a ledge deep into the cavernous complex of caves, taking refuge from rising waters, far beyond the gear and cycles they deposited near its entrance, and indeed beyond the “beach” where those exploring this branch of the complex pause to rest, some four km into the cave.  The flooded waters that had already begun to rise with the arrival of the monsoons that fill the cave annually, further imperiling the group.  (The rains may have been a bit early this year, due to climate change.)

As the Thai army worked hard to locate the group for two weeks, the embodied problem of achieving the remote extraction of the soccer players focussed global attention; being trapped on a ledge in darkness by rising water when you don’t know how to swim was the stuff of universal nightmares.  But the graphics of their rescue through the caves, now lit by lamps and accompanied by divers with head lamps and oxygen, provided a miraculous rescue narrative leading to their emergence.

 

rescue contact 1.pngReuters, Hope for the 13 (January 9, 2018)

 

The image of the smiling teens taken by British divers became something of a clarion call to expand  technologies and tools for their rescue.  While what is paramountly important is that the “Thai Cave Boys” are coming to light and to their families, even as the rains are beginning to fall heavily, the global spread of the news of their disappearance and accidental spotting and the massive media response that both triggered helped coordinate a rescue effort up to a thousand meters underground with oxygen tanks, headlights, a team of divers, ropes to allow steep uphill climbs of wet caves, once drained but in need of more pumping before monsoon rains intensify, and time for the team to take a crash course in diving; Dawn Cai successfully stitched together an elegant GIF of the trek to recovery that captures the confines of the remote cave, and the deeply embodied ways we all struggled to imagine the scenario we replayed in our minds, but this time casting the focus on the tools of rescue, from the position of rescue cable to the waiting helicopter and ambulances at the cave’s entrance to ferry the kids to safety.

 

 

The nail-biting drama of the survival of the boys for two weeks in the narrow Tham Luang Caves, two and a half miles deep into their interior and 800-1000 meters deep underground, attached global attention first as what a feared tragedy, resolved only with difficulty.  What became a nail-biting drama of the “cave boys”‘ fate was the focus of global media; the gripping difficulties of the teenagers suddenly involved multiple states, directing more attention than ever to a remote cave in North Thailand.

Looking at maps of the cave, the weird sense that we had in following the story that this could be a site anywhere–a cave that often seemed eerily disembodied from its environment or a specificity of place, or its location in the mountains near its border with Myanmar, site of thousands of the over 400,000 stateless refugees, displaced ethic minorities, stateless not yet granted asylum by Thailand, an area beset by drug trafficking, human trafficking, and malarial outbreaks.  The relatively retrorgade region of the Golden Triangle divided between the Shan State North and South and United Wa–has become a site for high-tech mapping, however, as if to affirm the unity and control of a region divided by different local internal conflicts–and contested boundaries the had created refugee flows.  The fact that it was normal for most children in the region to be stateless–as many of the soccer players were–made it all the more paradoxical and complex that the appellation of the team as “Thai”–and the involvement of the Thai military–were assigned a dominant role in mapping and locating the team in global media, as if the responsibility to track and locate them devolved around the nearest state to claim responsibility over the area–even if the players themselves lacked nationality.  The

 

5.-Myanmar-Fragile-Link-Conflict-Map

contested boundaries.pngAsia Times (Chiang Rai province divided by United Wa and Shan state armies)

 

–which were determined the stories of the lives of the Assistant Coach and his charges.  Ethnic strife was obscured by the tools of tracking the boys’ location and safety.   The shift of global media attention to the lost boys seems to have led to efforts of the Thai Royal Army to create the impression that the team was safe–and the situation in Chiang Rai province controlled.

 

north-thailand-july-2011222

 

 

2.  The first sightings of the team fed a range of credible attempts to locate and extract the twelve kids from deep in the cave, past a rocky shoal known as “Pattaya Beach” and through its narrow openings, was planned:  we only had a sense of the depth of their location in the cave complex after the first sighting of the team that occurred ten days after their disappearance into the dark cave’s mouth.
Cave Entrace in BorderlandsPlanet Labs

alternate vis reuters caveReuters, Hope for the 13 (January 9, 2018)

 

The news of contact and communication  made global headlines, and served to reorient global attention immediately to humanitarian offers to assist in rescue efforts in an age when humanitarian impulses appear globally in short supply; the image of twelve young members of the Moo Pah team, wearing brightly colored jerseys, on a perch on a rocky ledge deep underground, relayed around the world, seems a partial miracle of the ability to capture imagery in almost all places, as well as a reminder of the challenge of ever locating them on the map.  If the terrifying nature of finding no response on your teen’s cell phone has long ceased to be purely a First World Problem, the alarm of loosing any contact with one’s teen seemed to foreground the terror of how quickly any trace of their presence had disappeared.

Despite the miracle rescue by which they were “found safe” inside the complex, as the monsoon rains were just about to begin, the mapping, and tracking the young Moo Pa team was a drama hard to get one’s head around that gripped the world, and lead to a huge exultation at the emergence of the first six players from the cave complex became a cause for global celebration, even as the former monk, the valiant Aekkopol Chanthawong who is their Assistant Coach, remains trapped with the rest of his charge and team, teaching them the virtues of stoicism and patience as well as techniques of breathing and meditation that had more than anything else to survive, presumably, kept them in good spirits and alive for over two weeks.  Helped in part by the recession of the waters, but also by the shallow breathing techniques that allowed survival in an oxygen-depleted caves, the dedication of Aekkopol to the boys he trained not only in soccer, but to dwell in the dark stands out.  The coach was practiced in long meditation retrains, and  arrived  as an orphan at the War Phra Thet Doi Wao monastery, only leaving training to be a monk after ten years.  Where his own advice about meditation and calmness a crucial importance to reducing the team’s panic, as well as the trust he had gained?

(Is the broadcast of plans to ordain eleven of the boys as monks as novices and their coach as a monk occurred after their rescue, lighting candles at Wat Phra That Doi Wao monastery, consolidating and combining the international broadcast of their rescue with a traditional Buddhist coming of age ceremony?)

 

beautiful-fine-artWat Phra Tat Doi Wao monastery, Chiang Mae province in Golden Triangle

 

The techniques of meditation and focus that he used, no doubt developed on meditation retreats with little food or water in the forests surrounding the monastery, were obscured by the focus on the range of technologies that were imagined to perform a rescue operation able to bring the boys from the cave.  While knowledge of the possibility of their rescue, the survival of the team fed their survival past ten days, their survival was the other story that was masked by the amassing of international efforts, helicopters, diving equipment and cables to find and extract members of the team from the cave complex, equipped with oxygen canisters and lights. What is celebrated as a high tech adventure rescue depends on the focus of the former monk who, despite his statelessness, has become something of a national hero–but also for the techniques of survival he imparted, more important than the anti-anxiety medications that the multinational team of divers brought when rescuing them.

The unfolding involvement of a global commitments to locate and extract the thirteen teens seems a modern counterpart to the myth of Princess Jao Mae Nan Nong who fled her parents with her love to the complex of caves after their forbidden love was discovered, and still serves as its protector.  Princess Jao Mae was said to have stabbed herself in the complex of caves where she had fled her parents with her lover, after he was killed by soldiers her father sent in pursuit, and her blood forms the waters that fill the caves, providing a powerful link between the caves and the afterlife.  The Princess’s spirit still is venerated as protecting those who enter the cave complex in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province; indeed the altar of the pink-robed Princess after the boys disappeared attracted attracted many offerings, incense, and candles with other offerings as raining and flooding slowed the search, and her role as a powerful bridge between the living and the dead and guardian of the caves in northern Tahailand gained power as a focus for hope of intercession.

The story of the fate of the “lost boys” became a parallel tale of the turning of global attention turning to the caves in Northern Thailand, to provide a different form of intercession as rescue efforts grew   The stories of Jao Mae shifted, to be sure, to new mapping technologies as the members of the team were located and found, as if in response to the efforts of collective prayer, and a variety of possible new schemes for locating and saving the lost team became a truly international affair, unexpectedly turning all attention to Northern Thailand for evidence of reasons to hope.  To be sure, the rise of an emphasis on technologies of tracking and mapping the caves may have displaced the prominence of breathing techniques and meditation practices that played a large role in the Wild Boars’ team’s survival underground for ten days.  “In the cave,” deep beneath the surface of the ground, as military soldiers combed the mountainside with maps, remembered the head coach Nopparat Khanthawong, the assistant coach had “taught the boys how to meditate so that they could pass the time without stress,” as they waited in the darkness, without food or any sense of the passage of time for ten days, in ways that “helped save their lives” by techniques learned asa novice fat Phra that doi wao temple where he arrived as a refugee orphan from Myanmar.  Aekkopol often meditated with monks of the temple and the surrounding forest for days at a time with only a small reserve of food.   And he was the last to leave the cave, shortly before the pumping apparatus that had drained the caves of rainwater failed.   Yet the entire affair and rescue was shown and described most often as an instance of modernization, supervised by the Prime Minister, in which the Royal Thai Army played a major role in securing the area, developing strategic approaches, as well as draining the cave.

 

3.  Tracking the site of the lost team had riveted global attention and indeed become a project of global mapping over the week plus since the tragedy of their June 20 disappearance unfolded in the news, from the first incredulous attempts to track their location in the torturous complex of underground caves to the more recent imagining of rescue attempts by diving, drilling, or any other means of extraction, as the under sixteen soccer team learned new techniques of breathing, meditation, and perseverance from their dedicated Assistant Coach.  We collectively communed with them, and contemplated their chances for rescue as we south to orient ourselves to the unfolding development of what we didn’t want to imagine was another human tragedy through our maps.  As we needed to believe they were alive–as they thankfully were–maps were an affirmation of their existence, and a logic of collective action.

Paper maps provided a surprisingly important point of reference above ground, as the position of the boys was considered and contemplated in previous days, as if to preserve or imagine a virtual tie to their remote location.

4728Pongmonat Tasiri/EPA

Despite the diminishing hopes of teenager’s survival after the first week they went missing, their survival of the children has become something of a test-case to find if there is any area of the world that cannot be mapped–and for rescue technologies, as well as a drama of locating hope underground in a darkening above-ground world.  For global attention to the video taken by British divers of the group of teenagers who were trapped by unexpected rains while exploring the complex with their Assistant Coach after practice, and the possibilities of international cooperations to locate the small group was nourished on social media, if it had already electrified much of the nation.  What was already a state concern of Thailand’s prime minister, Prayut Chan-O-Cha, the often unspoken if unseemly question of whether Thai soldiers and policemen had the necessary technology or skill to locate the lost team, as hope at their discovery gave way to fears of how to extract them from the cave, or return them through underwater passages,–either by drilling into the soil or squirreling them through often narrow caves.  But the fears of altering the structure of caves were balanced with the difficulty of navigating within its dark, narrow passage-ways.

What became a local exercise that the boys to explore the cave complex that the rising of the waters suddenly trapped them became an international affair, as the the world wide web focussed global attention on images of their fate, as a grainy photograph of a few smiling team members on a tablet became a cause for unexpected jubilation and offered a sort of technological reassurance even as their fate was unclear.  Images of relatives praying near the caves’ entrance with offerings of incense, garlands, and an eventual altar were balanced with images of high-tech mapping of the paths that the team took.  The utter joy one parent showed at the arrival of the image of team members on a tablet triggered a global effort to locate and save the team members believed lost, who truly seem to have shown more resilience than the rest of the world.  The sudden burst after the confirmation of their survival was a sort of miracle—they seemed healthy and even well-off while deep underground!–but the sense of a miracle was conflated with technology of the image relayed above ground.

The sudden alarm at loosing contact with one’s teen’s cell phone would have perhaps set off alarm world wide, even if the team was not found to be located at such a remote remove.  Is it a coincidence that in an era when few children are encouraged to wander far from home, or explore their local ravines and neighborhoods without worry, that the attention of the world was turned on the team stranded in the cave?  Most on the internet wondered what in God’s name the team was ever doing in the cave, or on the warning sign posted at its entrance cautioning about entering as monsoon rains approached.  The flooding of the cave where the team members were stranded was glossed as a tragedy, a race against time, and as an international challenge for sustaining hope, as the former monk became a true hero, teaching his team techniques of shallow breathing, meditation, and focus with self-sacrifice that gave them strength and perseverance in the face of terrifying danger.  He was the last to leave the cave, and soon after his departure the pumping apparatus that had drained the flooded caves broke.

 

Phra Rathet Doi TempleWat Phra That Doi Monastery, norhtern Thailand

 

The complex of caves in northern Thailand became something of a final site for nature, and struggling against natural forces, without wifi or GPS, even as the sense of why a team would go exploring the network alternated with worries rising waters complicated their rescue.   As an international effort grew, as new technologies were mapped onto the essentially quite human, all too human effort to locate and save the under-sixteen team and its dedicated Assistant Coach beneath the mountainous terrain.

 

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Hope transformed to preventing a terrible tragedy as possible rescue missions are contemplated or planned, and attempts to map their fate.  The difficulties of their extraction riveted global viewers to the fate of teenagers hailing from borderlands of Myanmar and Thailand, who were chosen for their interest in soccer, as forces from the Thai Army to Elon Musk to the former Navy SEAL diver who died in doing so have tried to understand how to extract safely, in what a real-life drama that dramatically surpassed the World Cup, and offered a narrative of international cooperation to save the teenagers feared lost, who were themselves stateless, as their relatives continued to bring offerings to the Jao Mae shrine venerated as able to bridge the cave and otherworld.  The story of the post-practice exploration of the complex by twelve U-16 teenagers aged twelve to sixteen–the age of my daughter–seems one of the technically difficult of situations processes, but most unfair as the story of a lost school group has grown as posted photographs of the twelve kids has provided a ray of hope, despite fears of future flooding of the caves by rains, and the perpetual threat of diminishing oxygen.

The complex’s narrow walls and rather torturous network provided what seemed the only remaining thread by which they could be saved or captured, and the specific difficulties of negotiating a rescue in the cave, after multiple divers had already tried to move along narrow passages to explore the caves, and unsuccessfully attempted to drain them with pumps, as the team was found farther into the complex–and up the hill–from where soldiers had earlier searched, and consideration of the place of Pattaya Beach–near where they were found, but in a delicate and narrow section of the caves.–and around the sections of the hill that soldiers examined above ground as they discussed the possible routes of their rescue.

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4.  While the cave entrance remained large fairly deep after its entrance, the problem of following and mapping the progress of the boys into its sections grew more concrete after it was discovered how deeply in they had travelled, just past the raised area known as Pettaya Beach.  And so we turned to the most apparent exact records of the openings of the torturous cave complex where the team and their Assistant Coach were stranded, to imagine our proximity to them in a time of need.

 

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THuam Luang spelExpeditions Thai 87 – 88

 

Tracked by the latest mapping technologies and relayed on media circuits since the news of their discovery erupted, the plight of members of  the Moo Pa Thai soccer team trapped in the six-mile long Tham Luang cave complex has been a focus of global attention and mapping efforts.   The mapping and remapping of the site is of course both a testament to the dire nature of the situation of a group trapped deep within the cave, with limited oxygen, as well as food, buoyed by the miracle of their discovery after nine days and were stranded after they began exploring the cave and the difficulty of drilling from above-ground or navigating the dark cave itself to locate the team of teenagers trapped within, suffering the stuff of nightmares, as well as the problem of extorting them while negotiating narrow often underwater passage-ways.  Despite their actual inaccuracy, the apparent exactitude of the cross-sections created an imagined tie to this otherwise multiply removed area of the world, neither satisfactory mapped or governed.

As rising waters threatened to fill the narrowest of cave walls, unable to accommodate air tanks, and attempts to pump water from the complex failed, mapping truly seemed the least of it as the extraction of the team faced the pressures of rising waters, malnourishment, and oxygen lack.  (Elon Musk boosted hopes by tweeting his team was developing a narrow child-sized submarine pod able to navigate the hairpin turns in the cave complex, as if the pod would quite miraculously be able to be constructed and arrive on time–and even travelled himself to the cave system, seeking to promote the value of his oxygen engine to the Thai team.)  The collective ensemble of efforts, spurred by the problems of locating a group of boys who didn’t know how to swim or dive as the waters ran into the cave complex, was a logical problem, in many ways, that demanded resolving problems of entering the cave underwater, illuminating the passage way, and guiding the boys out, as well, it seemed, as draining the water that had already entered from growing rains.

But the challenges of mapping their location, and the sense that they had traveled to a place so remote where they were not able to be mapped and tracked.  The problem in part created a level of tension that riveted the world.  The human drama of the young members of the Moo Pa team, became a subject nand symbol of national as much as provincial pride, as the problems of skills required to achieve their rescue became debated.  The discussion and debate seemed a parallel story in itself, even if the possibly deadly adventure of the group of teens was intensely involving.  The Thai Army that sought to ascertain routes of their rescue looked over maps of the cave’s veins that snaked under the mountain ranges, as if to plan the underground rescue–focussing on the cave complex they knew so well, but with less of a sense of how to extract the kids trapped within by drilling from above ground.

 

image.pngRungroj Yongrit/EPA-EFE/Rex/Shutterstock

Despite the actual insufficiency of maps, we have tried to map the incredibly narrow contours of the cave complex, as if to puzzle over how they might be located and saved, and somehow track their course along the narrowing width of the complex from its opening–as if to map the difficulty of the job to the scale of a five-foot tall teen–to craft a more experiential record of speleological cross-sections of the mines through which the teens had traveled. based on the first surveys of the cave of 1987 of its narrowing cross-sections, now assembled in a more interactive form, as if in a flip-book–

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tunnel leading to teamNew York Times Interactive

29 coupessExpeditions Thai 87 – 88

–that helped to embody the experience of being trapped in such narrow confines so deep underground where they were trapped.  The apparent accuracy of these speleological cross-sections was suddenly enlisted to create a sense of imaginary connections to the team whose fate we could not imagine, as if the insertion of a five-foot tall surrogate teenage icon helped capture the embodied experience of surviving in the cave and calibrate the difficulties of their rescue.

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Images borrowed from the largely structural maps of cavers who had explored the narrow Tham Luang complex–and from the exact field of speleology–the visualization sought to pose the options for rescuing the team members in the narrow caves where they were stranded, learning how to negotiate with limited oxygen and rising water.  The interactive map in the Taimes  invites observers to imagine their narrowness, but minimized the  complications of locating the team within the cave,–it elicited wonder at how the team had managed to climb so deeply into the complex as the water rose.

 

5.  But the “map” reamined oddly abstracted form crucial information about the underground setting–failing to  suggest the real problem of rising water and ground conditions, as while tracing the path of complex with accuracy, it strips a 2D sense of location from the  context of rising waters and difficult ground conditions in a cave from which water needs to be pumped.  But perhaps the point was to capture the compelling embodied experience of their in the remote cave.  The Interactive graphics nicely reproduced the difficulties of moving along and negotiating the narrow turns, some requiring kneeling, swimming horizontally, or crouching to pass  as if to experience the narrowing of its amazingly twisty course, as if in a video game, tracking the tortuously narrow course of the caves, through which the team progressed to try to avoid rising waters, in a nightmarish situation with all to real consequences.

But we were linked through the miracle of interactive mapping to pray for the futures of the teenagers, with their schoolmates and Buddhist monks who assembled at its entrance, as if to restore them to a map.  Even as we cringed at the near-impossibility of establishing their location, after already one diver who attempted to locate them lost his life, contemplating the entrance into the narrowing passageways of the caves and the team’s itinerary as well as the possibilities of their future rescue.

 

alternate vis reuters caveReuters, Hope for the 13 (January 9, 2018)

While watching forecasts for raises that can boost the already rising floodwaters, teams of divers have contemplated maps, and the rescue camp locate near the mouth of the cave provided only a possible site of salvation, in hopes that they could be moved there.  Is the cave’s mount a more apt site of prayer, or of recovery?

The misfortune of the soccer team had converted the mouth of the cave to the site of an altar that was sort of shrine, and a site of prayer for divine intervention, as worries  turned to what thin, depleted oxygen the team members might still have access during the two weeks after they disappeared, their bicycles found, partly washed away, near the cave entrance, while the classmates of the team-members participated in large collective prayers, and Buddhist monks gathered near the Tham Luang caves, juxtaposing the science of mapping their location with a perhaps more credible collective prayer.

 

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Were the major efforts in mapping not serving as their own sort of prayers, if of a modernist variety, and hopes for a miracle of intercession before the waters rose and the oxygen depleted in the stretch of the rocky cave complex?  While the maps did show the human story of the position to which the teens had arrived, and posit and frame the problems of their rescue, thankfully underway, the maps seemed as important as framing, sustaining, and affirming a sort of tenuous empathy to their fate, allowing access to the remote cave system.  If they created the possibility of the necessary conditions for their rescue they also became a kind of guiding light for those of us who followed the spectacle so intensely from our own backlit screens.

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Filed under #ThaiCaveBoys, cave complexes, data visualization, monsoon rains, Thailand,

The False Imperative of the Border Wall

Donald Trump’s most astounding victory–predating and perhaps enabling his astounding electoral victory as President–was to remap the mental imagination of Americans, and reconfigure proximity of the United States to its southwestern border in the public imaginary.  The goal of this insistence is no less than a remapping of civil liberties, based on his insistence of the need for border security and constructing a Border Wall, and preferably doing so in all caps.  

 

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Condemning “obstructionist Democrats” are the party of “open borders,” and obstructing the work of law and order agencies such as ICE–the Immigration and Customs Enforcement–agents or his beloved Border Patrol, and for filling the national need for border security, and the project of building “the wall,” a super-border structure that would both prevent cross-border migration deemed ‘illegal.’  The construction of border psychosis is evident in the large number of Republican governors of states that have been elected two years into the Trump Presidency–

 

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–as the question of “governing” states most all the southwestern border–save California–has created a new “block of red” that has been generalized to much of the nation, rallying behind the America First cry to defend borders, build prisons for immigrants deemed illegal, and work with federal agencies to apprehend such immigrants, denying their lawful place or rights to work in the United States.  For much of this map of governors, now that the Republican party is increasingly the Party of Trump, reveal the uncertain terrain of the undocumented immigrant, and the massive circumscription or reduction of human and civil rights, as well as a fear of failure to manage immigration.  Although current findings of sixty-nine competitive districts in the 2018 election include many border states–sixty-three districts of the total are held by Republicans before the election, a considerable number of the “battleground states” lying near or adjacent to the planned Border Wall, according to a Washington Post-Schar School survey

 

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–where calls for wall-building originated.  The magnification of the border in the electorate’s collective consciousness was a gambit of electoral politics and staple of the Trump campaign for the Presidency, and it conjured the unprecedented idea that a single President–or any office-holder–might be able to shift the borders of the nation, or guarantee their impermeability to foreign entrance.  The striking appeal of the border was not seen as a question of border protection but rather the construction of a wall, evident in the expansion quasi-tribal collective rhythmic changes at rallies, now repeated as if in a non-stop campaign.  Although the focus of most buildup of the border has been to update existing fencing, the calls for fix-it-all border protection plans gained sufficient appeal to suggest a potential shift in the nation’s political terrain.  Even though Donald J. Trump was, for practical purposes, a quite parochial perspective based in New York and Manhattan, and perhaps because Trump’s own expertise in national building projects was as limited as with working within the law, the project was first floated by the candidate as if from the sidelines of national politics, treating the project as akin to protecting a two-mile southbound side of the Henry Hudson Parkway in Manhattan, beside his pet real estate project, Trump Place, at 220 Riverside Drive, through an Adopt-A-Highway Project, and that the border wall was essentially the same need of securing .  (Although the prominent sign was itself quickly vandalized to read “STOP TRUMP”  as Trump won the Presidency, needing to be replaced, the return of the defaced sign promising the riverfront side’s maintenance was far less an act of good citizenship than a vanity act.)

 

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New York City limits the Adopt-a-Highway program to individuals, companies or organizations, rather than to political candidates and campaigns seeking publicity, but since the Trump Organization maintained the section since 2007 or earlier, it gained an exemption–and a tax write-off for its contributions to maintenance.  And when he spoke to residents of the territory currently known as “America,” Trump seems to have treated the proposed Border Wall as an almost similar project of beautification, and a project of protecting what was his, in a proprietorial way that seemed to conflate his own identity and person with the country, as the current sign conflates his name with the Trump Organization, as his recommendations have contained as little familiarity with the site, scope of the project, or terrain, as many have noted, treating the construction of a continuous border wall as a detail designed to beautify the country, even though the border includes 1,288 miles currently without any pedestrian or vehicular fencing, gate or protection.

 

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It almost seems that the proposed border wall had not been “mapped” per se, so much as it was a rhetorical promise for the sort of project Trump would like a President to do–and a project whose magnitude appealed to his sense of personal vanity.  He praised the benefits of the construction of the wall as a need to “get it done” and imperative that responds to a state of emergency–a national emergency that sanctioned the suspension of existing laws.  The emergency, as Trump saw it, was created by crime, gang violence by MS-13 members, who he has called “animals,” and a source for a loss of low-wage jobs.  The acknowledgment of the need for the wall is virtually a form of patriotism in itself; recognition of the need for the country has become a way to participate in a new nationalism of strong borders–a nationalist sense of belonging that was opposed to the agenda of those unnamed Liberals without clear purchase on the geopolitical dangers and a failure to put America First.  President Trump has argued that the “larger context of border security” necessitates the wall.  Trump has come to repeatedly proclaims in his continued rallying cry stake out a new vision and map of American sovereignty, and indeed of territorial administration.  Evoking a new tribalism in openly partisan terms, Trump even promoted with impunity the false belief that Democrats have united behind an “Open Borders Bill,” written by Dianne Feinstein–distorting the #EndFamilyDetemtion protests and “open borders movement” with an actual legislative bill.  More to the point, perhaps,

The very crude geography and mental mapping that animates this argument is repeatedly a staple of Trumpian rhetoric.  As if  thick red ruled line could be drawn atop a map, Donald J. Trump has become the outsider political voice able, as a builder of vain monuments, to claim the ability to build a new structure able to replace existing border fences, and provide a continuous monument at endless concealed costs, without any acknowledgement of the people who have long moved across the border on the ground.   The transposition of this tribalism of border separation into a partisan dichotomy has promoted and provoked an apparently Manichean opposition between political parties around the defense of the US-Mexico border, and the building of a Border Wall, in an attempt to define the differences between Democrats and Republicans around the issue of the defense of national safety.

 

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President Trump has not only made immigration into a platform for his campaign and for his party:  the stubbornly intransigent logic of Trump’s oppositional rhetoric has not only remapped the nation in mind-numbing ways.  The fixation on the fixity of the border as a means to “Make America Great Again” erases the historical instability of borderlands in the United States, in its place projecting the image of fixed boundaries:  the exact shift in the image of national territoriality seems a not only shift on the border, but a decisive replacement of an inclusive state.  And even as Trump’s recent rallies are–as of September–still interrupted by “Build that wall!” tribal chants, leaving Trump to lie openly by claiming “The wall is under construction,” he reminds us of his need to evoke an inexistent barrier for which such intense desire has developed among his supporters that it is indeed a talisman by which America will, indeed, be able to be Made Great Again.

Continually crying about the urgent need for “building the wall,” even if it would be in violation of international law, is cast as a state of emergency which would reduce crime, the illegal presence of gangs, and existential dangers, and a promise made without acknowledgement of any who live outside America’s national borders, or any foundation in civil law.  The promise to finish “building the wall” is cast as a simple question of volition, in almost pleading tones, that can be addressed to the entire nation as an ability to cathect and commune with the nation in simple concrete terms, no matter the distance at which they live to the actual border.  It is an exercise in the geographic imaginary, in short, and a nearly ritualized deceit which Trump labors to sustain–as if a Border Wall could be conjured into existence as a leap of faith.

 

 

 

Identifying the dangers to the nation as lying external to it, the discourse of the wall have created a subtle remapping of sovereignty, on an almost emotional level.  It focusses on the border, as an imagined line, rather than on people who move across it, laws or citizenship–placing demonized dangers as lying beyond the border and outside of the nation-state.  The disproportionate focus that has been directed to the border–a distortion of attention that is epitomized and focussed on the desire for a continuous “border wall”–functions as a deeply dehumanizing way of remaking the nation, and remapping national priorities, around a fiction and a distinctly new discourse on nationhood, that is mapped by vigilance to the border, rather than to the course of law or to individual rights and liberties.

If maps provided tools for defining and symbolizing nationality, the conceit of the need for a border wall symbolized and also creates a notion of nationhood based less on ties of belonging than on boundaries of sovereignty that exclusion people from the state.  Mapping is long based on ties of exclusion.  But the focus of intense attention on stopping border-crossing and transborder permeability as replaced a logic of maintaining protections on equality or access to the law in the interior, shifting the attention of the nation of spectators by a deeply cruel trick of remapping the nation’s priorities.  For the political rhetoric of creating a fixed border has effectively magnified the borderlands, through the terribly exaggerated violent pen-stroke of an Executive Order casting the border as a vital key to national security, and increase the proximity of the nation to the southwestern border in the political spatial imaginary.  

Is it any coincidence that the same government to elevate the symbolic mapping of a wall on the southwestern boundary of the United States has reduced the number of refugees that it agrees to admit from war-torn lands, already reduced by half through executive orders from the number of refugees accepted in 2016, a limit of 45,000, to a new ceiling of “up to 30,000 refugees” beyond “processing more than 280,000 asylum seekers,” in line with the current 2018 count of barely over 20,900 by mid-September, but now for the first time less than the number accepted by other nations.  Turning a cold shoulder to the crisis in global refugees is ostensibly rooted in a responsibility to guard its own borders, and “responsibility to vet applicants [for citizenship] to prevent the entry of those who might do harm to our country” and reducing grounds for asylum–even as the numbers of global refugees dramatically escalate dramatically world-wide–as if intentionally setting up obstacles for travel, and setting policy to openly prosecute any cross-border travel that was not previously authorized, and actively separating many asylum seekers from their families to deter them from pursuing asylum.

 

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Such false magnification of problems of “border management” has defined a disturbing and false relation to a deeply distorted image of globalism, of fuzzy borders, and not only apparent but intentional distortion–

 

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–predicated on a false sense of national vulnerability, the urgency of greater border security, and the definition and elevation of national interests above global needs.

The rejection of refugees and closing of borders in the United States in the Age of Trump seems endemic:  if the country resettled some three million people since 1980, when modern refugee policy began, this year, the United States for the first time fewer resettled refugees than the rest of the world–less than half as many as the rest of the world.  The shuttering of borders is echoed in some 800,000 cases for asylum awaiting review, revealing a distorted view of the global situation that is mirrored by the blurred map behind Mike Pompeo’s head, and may suggest a global irresponsibility and deliberate disentanglement from world affairs.  But it also suggests a deep remapping of the place of the nation in the world, not limited to the State Department or Mike Pompeo, of imagining the greater proximity of the borderline to the mental imaginary, and a privileging of so-called sovereign rights over pathways of human flow.

The promised wall planned for the border of unscalable height is a bit of a blank canvas designed to project fears of apprehension onto those who would confront it, a barrier to prevent motion across the border by unilaterally asserting the lack of agency or ability to cross a line that was long far more fluid, in a sort of sacred earth policy of protecting the nation’s territory along its frontiers–and refusing the extend rights or recognition to those who remain on its other side.  Trump’s signing of grandiose Executive Orders as statements of sovereignty stand to reverberate endlessly in our spatial imaginary of the nation–while hardly warranted as a form of national defense, the border wall serves as a phatic act of sovereignty that redefines the function of national bounds.  Indeed, in a country whose history was defined by the negotiation of borderlands, the assertion of the long unstable border as an impermeable barrier seems a form of willed historical amnesia, as well as the fabrication of a non-existent threat.  The repeated indication of the southwestern border seems to seek to restore it to prominence in our national consciousness–and to see its security as being linked to the health of our nation–as if to make the current project of re-bordering an improvement of our national security–a process of re-bordering that is a performance of sovereignty, simultaneously symbolic, functional, and geopolitical in nature.  

The symbolic of sovereignty is far more insistent than the functional, and the symbolic register is the heart of its political meaning, if the structural need is promoted as a response to geopolitical actuality.  

 

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For the Trump train, the wall is a “smart” redefinition of the nation, rooted less in the accordance of civil rights or guaranteeing of human rights, than the subsuming of law to protection of a nation that we imagine as under assault.  If globalization has been understood as a process of “re-bordering,” where the lines between countries are neither so fixed or so relevant to political action on the ground, the border wall maps a defense against globalization in its rejection of open borders.  The proposed construction sets a precedent as an act of unilateral border-drawing, or willful resistance to re-bordering, by asserting a new geographical reality to anyone who listens, and by cutting off the voices of those powerless to confront it.  The deeply dehumanizing conceit of the border wall that was modeled in several prototypes deny the possibility of writing on their surface.

In ways that mirror the inflation of the executive over reality or the rule of law, the border wall serves to reinstate an opposition over a reality of cross-border migration.   And Trump seems particularly well-suited and most at home at this notion of reordering, which he has made his own as a construction project of sorts, where he gets to perform the role of the chief executive as a builder, as much as a politician or leader of a state, and where he gets to fashion a sense of sovereign linked to building and construction, to a degree that the builder turned political seems to be intensely personally invested and tied.  Although Trump has been keen to treat the notion of a border wall as a form of statecraft, the proposed border wall is all too aptly described as a an archaic solution to a twenty-first century problem–for it projects an antiquated notion of boundary drawing on a globalized world in terrifyingly retrograde ways.  For while the construction of the border wall between Mexico and the United States was mistakenly accepted as a piece of statecraft that would restore national integrity and define the project and promise of the Trump presidency to restore American ‘greatness’ rooted in an illusory idea of privilege, but focusses on the privilege of entering the sovereign bounds of the nation alone.  

The proposed wall maps a dramatic expansion of the state and the executive that continues the unchecked growth of monitoring our boundaries to foster insecurity, but creates a dangerously uneven legal topography for all inhabitants of the United States.  For Trump and the members of his administration have worked hard to craft a deeply misleading sense of crisis on the border that created a stage for ht border wall, and given it a semantic value as a need for an immigration “crack-down” and “zero tolerance policy” that seem equivalent in their heavy-handedness to a ban, but have gained a new site and soundstage that seems to justify their performance.  

While it is cast as a form of statecraft, the only promise of the proposed border wall is to exclude the stateless from entering the supposedly United States, and to create legal grounds for elevating the specter of deportation over the country.   For the author of the Art of the Deal used his aura to of pressing negotiations to unprecedentedly increase the imagined proximity of the entire nation to the border–by emphasizing its transactional nature in bizarrely in appropriate ways.  The result has undermined distorted our geographical and political imaginary, with the ends of curtailing equal access to due process, legal assistance, and individual freedoms.  Acceptance of the deeply transactional nature of the promise of a border wall during the 2016 Presidential election as a tribalist cry of collectivism–“Build the Wall!”–as an abstract imperative, removed from any logic argument, but rooted in a defense of the land.  The purely phatic statement of national identity was removed form principles of law, but offered what seemed a meaningful demand of collective action that transcended the law, either civil law, to affirm an imaginary collectivity of Americans without immigrants–and an image of a White America.  

The imperative exhortations that animated Trumpism, as it gave rise to multiple other inarticulate cries repeated on Twitter and at rallies, based on lies and false promises or premises–“Lock her up!”; “America First!”–fulfilled a need for membership and belonging at the expense of others, in ways that subtracted popular opinion–and a false populism of the Trump campaign–from the law.  By isolating the artifact of the wall as a sort of grail and site of redemption and religion of the nation, the tribalist cry “Build the Wall!” offered a false imperative that replaces reasoned discourse.   Trump sees fit to treat as a basis for shutting down the government, accordingly, and indeed as a logic for a brand of governing that doesn’t follow the “terrible laws” of his predecessors.  If the budgeting of a border was was earlier taken as a grounds to actually shutter the government, in 2017, the rehearsal of the threat to willfully “‘shut down’ government if the Democrats do not give us the votes [for] the Wall” once more unnecessarily equated the need for the border wall as a basis and rationale for government.  The Manichean vision of politics of a pro- and anti-border party has been determining in creating a vision of the United States where sovereignty is defined at the border, irrespective of responsibility for the stewardship of the country:  we built walls, impose tariffs, and end treaties, rather than acting in a statesmanslike fashion, and evacuate the promise of the state.  

Much as Trump earlier called for “a good border shutdown” in the Spring of 2017 cast the wall as a part of his notion of governance, the new threat treats the as a bargaining chip able to equate with an act of governance–even if the wall as it is described seems less about governance at all.  Trump rails against the passing of spending bills that do not foreground or grant a prominent place to the proposed border wall that he sees as a point of orientation needed for his constituents and that he still cherishes and his own introduction into national debate:  attacking legislative packages about spending bills that don’t include special stipulations for border security or the construction of a border wall, threatening on Twitter to suspend governmental functions altogether without knowing “where the is the money for Border Security and the WALL in this reicidulous Spending Billaon the eve of the arrival of an apporopriations bill to the White House in the Fall of 2018, as his executive functions seem as imperilled as his grasp on the Executive Branch,  of government: but the border wall retains centrality as the central promise he has made to the nation.

For the unwarranted and ungrounded promise to prevent the imagined threats of organized criminals, gangs, rapists, and drug dealers from entering the country–not that we lack many who are home-grown–through the border wall is a governance of exclusion, racial defamation, and promotion, which has little to do with governing at all.  The apt characterization of the border wall as being an inefficient and irrational fourteenth century solution to a twenty-first century problem by Texas U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar-D of San Antonio–riffing on the suggestion of U.S. Representative Will Hurd-R of San Antonio as a third century solution to a twenty-first century problem ineffective to secure cross-border migration, and gesturing to the new tribalism that the project affirms.  The imperative of the border wall is an insistence of tribalism over civil society, and a reflection of the increased tribalism we feel and see, but mostly feel and fear.  Indeed, it allows these fears to be mapped against cross-border traffic.

The imperative distorted and magnified what a border is and should be that shows little understanding of effective governance, and reclaims an old idea of the border–a fantasy, at root–that rejects the permeable nature of borders in an era of globalism, by rather affirming an imagined collectivity from which dangers–unspecified, but ranging from gangs to drugs to child trafficking–must be kept out.  Although an underlying problem is POTUS’ spectacular lack of understanding of how government works, or of the law, which he has spent most of his life reinterpreting, it reveals his conviction construction contains crisis in essentially fascistic terms, building a structure that has little contextual meaning, but seems to impress, as a negative monument to the the state that is located in a borderland of apparent statelessness, but which Trump seems more and more frustrated at his actual inability to change what still looks more like a rusting twelve-foot tall Richard Serra sculpture than the imposing frontier promised America–

 

imageRichard Serra, Tilted Arc (New York City, Federal Plaza, 1981-89)

 

–but whose offensiveness disturbs, upsets and angers the viewer in a truly visceral way. Resting on the edges of our own borders as the basis for a larger “border complex” that seems to steadily expand, the border complex is not only a unilateral dictation of border policies, but a relinquishing of any responsibility of governance of the inhabitants of the nation, treating the definition of citizen/non-citizen as a primary duality never explicitly adopted as central in American politics and history, but assigning this division a centrality rarely so clearly geographically expressed as a question of national territory.  

Even though the wall is a practical separation between territories, and an assertion of exclusive territorial identity, the imperative of the border wall that is repeatedly cast in urgent, existential terms, has presented itself in discursive terms both as a promise to the nation, in terms analogous to the Contract with America, that separated Americans from others, but which promised to strengthen Americans’ relation to the rest of the world.  The increased proximity of the nation’s inhabitants to the border and border wall was asserted in the Trump campaign:   the transactional status of the wall grew as a means to prevent multiple forces from endangering “our communities’ safety” as the border wall became a narrative plug-in for something like a promise of redemption from higher wages, untold economic dreams, and an acceptance of police security, as if a border can radically change the status quo of the American economy and local family safety.   The proposal of the border wall continues to exist in a deeply transactional sense for Americans, as geographic relations to the actual border has been erased so thoroughly for the border, under the guise of “immigration,” to become a national platform of a political party, and a new model to define and remap America’s relation to the world.

 

1.  The growth of global insecurity echoes profound anxiety at the realization that the lines of control of states cannot be so legibly or clearly mapped in the present moment, an anxiety it reflects by proposing to inscribe the border onto the landscape to make it visible to all and permanently fixed.  The false promise of the border wall has been able to gain meaning on an individual level, allowing each to invest it with meaning and feel proximity to, independent of their own actual geographic proximity–even if the result is to silence the violence that the proposition of such a border wall does to the rule of law.  If the long and energetic tradition of public mural painting that had origins in the Mexico of the 1930s provided a movement of energetic and energized monumental painting on open air surfaces in projects of humanity and considerable color.  But the elevation of their pictorial formal power moreover asserted a new public identity of the nation for observers.  In contrast, the artlessness of the empty screen of the border wall is an evacuation and denial of subjectivity:  the defining characteristic as a concrete surface of the proposed border wall is itss inexpressive surface, its denial of common humanity, and its assault on the collective narratives that were the subject celebrated in muralism.

The wall stands as a sort of rebuttal to a muralist tradition of inclusiveness–embracing varied styles from Rivera to Siquieros to Orozco–through the assertions of a new artistic idiom by which to involve viewers in a revitalized broad civic life.  The border wall is less an illustration of human will, than an image of the assertion of the reason of the state, understood less by legal principles than a tortured logic of exclusion.  For while the extant border was a site of recuperation of muralist public art, the new border wall serves to impose the fixity of the border as a site that offers no place to the individual refugee, migrant, or legal immigrant, but a blank canvas that symbolizes the absence of individual autonomy or subjectivity to cross the transborder space.  Indeed, rather than a collectivist statement of unity, whose monumental forms suggest a human struggle of collective identity and work, the construction of the wall is presented as a testimony of the need for an obstruction of the passage across the border to protect the nation, based on the knowledge and experiences of border communities, presented as a need to ensure and defend safety, national integrity, and economic power.  Like the symbolic language of muralism offered a replacement for the common iconography of sacred art, in its assertion of public identity, the border wall presents itself as nothing less than a new religion of the state.  While the comparison of the proposed border wall to the public panting of collective art muralism intended as an call to collective national consciousness and unity in post-revolutionary Mexico is a provocative comparison to the elevation of sovereign authority over the border by building a wall, the magnification of the border by the project and prospect of building a border wall has served to elevate a perilous image of nationhood, based less on ties of commonality, collective identity, or a rich historical legacy of individual involvement that muralists proposed than an unhealthy focus on the border as a site of danger, a frontier needed to be vigilantly guarded, and a threshold whose guarding substitutes for the defense of civil laws.

For in claiming to protect and secure the nation, the border wall becomes a performative exercise of the religion of the state, as much as it serves as a defense of political sovereignty.  The authority of the US-Mexico border wall, in unintentionally, seems to stand as an open rebuke and rebuttal to the hopeful ideals and huge figures in images of dynamic abundance such as the monumental Allegory of California (1931) by which Diego Rivera depicted the rich bestowal of gifts on of a heroic mother earth figure of California, in San Francisco, whose monumentalism addressed individual viewers by an almost tangible allegory of local abundance —

 

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–which set a basis, in one of the first large projects of the painter in the United States, set a basis for a new tradition of public moralism in western states.  The interchange between active labor, earth, and a united countryside, if not a united narrative of nation, offered an optimistic personification of a monumental Gaia-like state, who, her resources liberated by workers, grants “gold and fruit and grain for all” of its residents, the revolutionary art of Siqueiros that heroized his country, or the twined histories of the Americas that José Clemente Orozco organized of tragic but truly epic historical scope of the Ancient Migration and the Migration of the Human Spirit, extending the collectivist spirit of revolutionary nation.  Affirming a discourse of white privilege, indeed, rather than inclusion, the border wall is an imperative of religion of the nation that girds the border as a sight of defense, mapping the other as outsider in relation to the needs of the state, rather than celebrate the human subject as a force that is part of nature or culture. Rather, the proposed border wall seems to exist outside culture or nature, as an imperative to an endangered and threatened civility of the status quo.

The border wall erases the spirit of the migrant as it prevents migration, alleging compelling reasons of state and the new logic of the religion of the nation that replaces the law and any appeal to the law in its urgency.   Rather than portray a giving sense of the heroism of migration, indeed, the wall interrupts any freedom of migration and transborder or transnational citizenship, reducing citizenship to a notion of territoriality and land, by bounding the terrain of citizenship and affirming a new ordering of space, and a political theology about the boundaries of the state, and the subtraction of citizenship or rights from the “enforcement zone,” “border zone” or denial of the rights of political representation or legal status for all transnational migrants in the “dead zone” of the borderlands.   The absence in this zone of rights of the subject–the refugee, migrant, or itinerant subject–is paramountly defined by their statelessness and inability to fit between strict categories of sovereignty, rather than motion across states being celebrated as a point of access to the bounty of the land, or of the migration of the spirit as a celebration of the recuperation of a modern individual political identity.  By demonizing the practice of migratory mobility, as if by a principle of “earth-first” binding of the nation, the border inverts the celebration of the human spirit

 

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panel21Jose Orozco, Migration of the Modern Spirit (panels 1 and 21) (Dartmouth University)

 

There was a resurgence of the discursive practice of the political messages contained in  muralism as a form of public art in the resistance to decorating the border with monitory signs.  Is the Border Wall not only a map, but also a rebuttal to this tradition, and indeed to the painting of public rebuttals to the wall through paintings and commemorations in the past?  The absolute absence of any affect or visual address within the intentionally blank, sterile and almost industrial character of the wall seems in hidden dialogue or rebuke of an aesthetic of direct involvement of the viewer through its mute surface and corresponding evacuation or denial of individual human rights.  

 

1.  The triumph of industry, of rich historical cultures, or even of cultural conquest and revolutionary violence is compellingly replaced by the absence of any trace of human making or creation–or individual subjectivity–within the surface of the proposed border wall, which rather stands to deny individual liberty:  in place of an aesthetics of broad political involvement, the denial of the presence of those on the other side of the border wall stand as a vicious act of disenfranchisement, and even a denial of human subjectivity.  Indeed, if the heroic or epic narratives of monumental figures engage viewers in a pedagogic manner in muralist traditions by illustrating a narrative of nation, the proposed wall suggests a blunt lack of any national narrative, save the denial of the subjectivity of those on the other side.

 

 

 

The talismanic nature of these “prototypes”–mock ups slightly removed  the border–was meant to evoke the prominent place of the border wall, and to restore or reinforce  in the psychological and mental imaginary of our new national space.  Repeated throughout the Presidential campaign as if a mantra, evocation of “the promised wall on the southwestern border” has redefined a relation to the nation–and indeed been presented as a form of love for the nation–by the master builder who would be US President.  And although the request for a “solid, Concrete Border Wall” in March, 2017–described as the President’s building medium of choice–became a secret state project, as “too sensitive” to be released by a Freedom of Information Act, by the Department of Homeland Security, designed to meet demands to be impossible to tunnel under, and impenetrable to sledgehammers or other battery-operated electric tools for at least an hour, seem something of a simulacrum of the state that is both all too obstructive for actual migrants and cherished by many Americans, and prevents the transformation of previous parts of the border wall to public sites of commemoration–remembering the suffering of those who attempted safe passage, or indeed of mural-art that has attempted to assert the fluidity of cross-border transit.

 

CrossesAguaPrieta--Dec08

gettyimages-632717318.jpgSandy Huffaker/Getty Images/Palm Beach Post

 

–or that try to imagine the perspective that the future of the border wall will create for the migrant subject who is excluded from hopes of cross-border transit.

 

Trump Vows To Build Border Wall Between Mexico And The U.S.

Trump Vows To Build Border Wall Between Mexico And The U.S.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

 

Even as the proposed US-Mexico border wall is presented as girding the nation against multiple dangers, the new bounding of the nation that prevents any intervention or artistic transformation of the wall, by stating its own absolute authority as a re-writing of the nation.  The permanence of the models of the wall seem not so tacitly or subliminally suggested by the physics form of one of the mock-ups, which references the form of a flag, as if to suggest its similar permanence as can image and record of the nation, and proof of the nation’s continued existence, as if the nation could not exist without it:  indeed, the flag-like proportions in mock-ups suggests a new flag for the nation.  As the promise of the border wall has allowed such a range of audiences to cathect to the national boundary–a sense that was perhaps predicted in the repainting of a section of the existing border wall of welded metal and steel near San Diego–the very site where a caravan of Central American migrants would arrive where they were taken by President Trump as an illustration of the fear of the dangers of cross-border immigration–the wall suggested a sort of surrogate for the purification of the country, restoration of the economy, and an elevation of the minimum wage, wrapped into a poisoned promise of poured concrete.

It was no surprise that a group of Mexican-American veterans chose to paint a segment of the older wall near Tijuana in 2013 as if a mural that mirrored the use of the inverted flag to stage a signal of distress to the nation:  indeed, the deported former navy who chose the wall as a site for a cry of emergency and national belonging:  teerily prescient of the flag-like nature of the mock-ups, sections of which uncannily resemble a vertically hoisted flag, the wall sections painted by disabled veteran Amos Gregory, a resident San Francisco resident, who completed the painting with twenty deported veterans, recuperated the tradition of moralism to create a new story of the wall, where crosses of dead migrants replaced the stars of the stars and stripes, as if to appropriate the wall to a public narrative of nationhood.

 

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The inverted flag that a group of U.S to paint the flag, but expressed shocked at charges of using an iconography “hostile toward the United States of America,” and chose the inverted flag as a distress signal–to show honor to the flag, and to “mean no disrespect” to the nation, but to raise alarm at its  policies.  His dismay when asked to remove the mural by US Border Patrol sent a message of censorship as an attack on freedom of expression; Gregory incorporated crosses to commemorate on the wall the migrants who died seeking to enter the United States for better lives and livelihoods,  undermining the ideals of freedom he cherished.  By placing their memory on the wall, he sough not to dishonor the flag, but to use it as a symbol of extreme gravity that respects its ideals–and the etiquette of flag display, in the manner  future protests at the marginalization of migrants seeking asylum as they enter the United States at its border zone.

 

distress at Ptotest

 

The current mock-ups suggest, if unconsciously, an actual evacuation of patriotic ideals.  The MAGA President might have been conscious of how several of the so-called prototypes suggested a flag turned on its end, as if in a new emblem of national strength–

 

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–as if to offer them a new symbol of the nationalism of a new nation.  The segment of this prototype recalls the flag suspended vertically, as on a wall or over a door, above the border that has become a prominent character in the current President’s Twitter feed, and evokes the ties between terrorism and immigration that Trump has long proposed the government recognize and acknowledge, despite having few proofs of these connections, acting as an assertion of the implied criminality of all immigrants who do not cross border check points by legal protocol, no matter their actual offense.

 

1. The compact about the construction of the border wall has, against all probability, become the latest in faux populist promises since the Contract with America to pose fictive contracts of illusionary responsibility and reciprocity to the democratic process, and have provided new tools of assent.  At the deepest level, the wall exists in this discourse of urgency not as a proposition, but as an actuality that need only be built, and cannot–or need not–be mapped, less the practicalities of consequences of its construction by acknowledged.  The border wall, viewed in its prototypes, is somehow an expression of the unmappability and existential quality of the border wall that Trump wants; alien from its surroundings, and existing as an obstacle to entrance, it is a redefinition of the border from a site of passage to an obstruction.  The affirmation of the border as a “real border”–which Trump repeatedly ties to the status of the United States as a “real country”–seems to mean an impassible border, which lacks any negotiation, but is recognized as an element of the nation that needs to spatial location but acts to strip all outsiders of their their rights.  All attempts to map the border as a spatially situated place  seem to stand as a challenge to undo the imperative of the wall’s construction.

The faux consensual ties with the electorate perpetuate a fiction that a democracy runs on the contractual obligations between a government and populace, but have early been so focussed on geographically specific terms.  But in an age of anti-government sentiment, the icon of the wall has become an effective icon of describing the ineffectiveness of prior administrations, and an iconology embodying the new role of the executive in the age of Trump:  in an age of global mapping that seems to disrespect and ignore borders, we imagine migrants moving across them with the aid of GPS, or Google Maps, empowered by the location of border check-points on their cross-border transit,–

 

Google maps borderGoogle Maps

In a rejoinder to these fears, the proposed border wall would map a continuity among the stations in different sectors administered by the US Border Patrol, already strikingly dense, and apparently easy to connect by a solid wall–

Border Checkpoints

 

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Filed under border wall, globalization, human rights, immigration, US-Mexico Border

Strongman on the Border

The border was closed and immigration authorities simply ‘at capacity,’ announced newspapers, after a Caravan of migrants from Central America arrived.  In rejecting the ability to process new arrivals who lacked necessary papers of transit, the papers parroted a an anti-immigrant line, revising the southwestern border from a line of passage, or space of transit, in what seemed a meme about the border as a threshold of legality-as if a line defines the legality of those who cross it. The image that suggested migrants atop the wall, or of others scaling a dilapidated section of slatted border fence near San Isidro–“through a dark, treacherous canyon, notorious for human trafficking and drug smuggling”–collapsed multiple tropes of border-crossing on the least likely of targets:  a peaceful procession through Mexico that began on Easter Sunday, crossing borders to call global attention to migrants’ rights.

 

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While the simple visualization of the course of the procession that wound through Mexico City from the southernmost border of Mexico cannot trace the mental geography on which the arrival of migrants was mapped in the United States, the progress of Central American migrants was viewed and mapped by Donald Trump and FOX in terms of the desire to see their arrival from behind the proposed $18 billion border wall that has become a contentious object of debate.  As the number of arrests along the border has grown above 50,000 for the third straight month in a row, and more children separated from parents in an attempt to broadcast cautionary warnings about the dangers of attempting to cross the border, or to appeal to existing immigration laws by asylum pleas, stories of migrants that the proposed wall would silence are increasingly difficult to silence or contain, and the human narratives of migrants are increasingly difficult to place behind the imaginary screen of an insurmountable border wall,–which of course does not exist, save as a mental construct–but is cherished as one and difficult for many to relinquish or deny.  Even though there is no structure corresponding to the height, thickness, and architectural design that Trump had treated audiences during his campaign, the Caravan threatened to remind us that the wall didn’t exist, despite the attention that has been lavished on its proposed construction at a cost of an estimated $18 billion, far below what actual costs might in fact be.

The specter of the arriving migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras–the triumvirate of “failing states” that Trump has demonized and sought to distance the nation–seemed cast as an oddly unstoppable “horde” that had defied Mexican immigration authorities who had not turned them back, and whose arrival was magnified as a threat to create a persuasive image that reminded the nation of the urgent need for the wall.  After months of dehumanizing migrants as faceless hordes, poised at the border, migrants seemed to have arrived at the border fencing, about to breach an inadequate barrier that is a relic dating from the era of the Vietnam War.  The news of the progression of the Caravan–and clouded interpretation of what their aims for crossing the United States’ southwestern border truly were–led them to become a poster child for the urgency with which Donald J. Trump has so stridently advocated the construction of a “real wall,” with an intransigence that almost embodies the physicality of an actual concrete wall, a month before the construction of the border wall began in San Diego and Calexico, CA, replacing some fourteen miles of improvised border fencing that was long ago made of scrap metal to “secure our border” as a way to “make America great again.”  The promotion of building the border wall was a way to ensure “public safety” followed repeated images of migrants attempting to scale or protest before existing improvised fencing–

 

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-whose inadequacy to deal with the border threat Trump had relentless ridiculed as useless during his Presidential campaign.  The danger of cross-border traffic that Trump had repeatedly magnified circulated back to prominence within the national media with the arrival of the migrant Caravan.  The hope for the migrants to gain asylum in the United States was immediately questioned as their true agenda was assumed to be one of evading the border controls before the Wall was built–and the immigration laws that would permit their entry changed.

If the announcement of the construction was a feign of a a show of strength, and promoted as a basis for national pride, it was an insult to migrants petitioning for asylum, as the promotion of the border wall as a sign of national security debased the notion of the nation as one of laws and civil society.  The promotion of the wall as a slogan of nationalism remapped the nation in relation to the border, after all, in the Newspeak of social media and twitter–“Strong Borders are Security”, “Immigrants are Criminals”; “Refugees are Terrorists”–the border wall protected national security and projected the idea that all migrants were illegal.  The spatial imaginary of the border wall echoed the longstanding claim, made without evidence, that the immigrants at the border were “the worst” of their society, and for allowing an untold number of undesirables to enter the the nation.  As well as protesting the treatment of the United States”the dumping ground of European Refuse” as an insult to the nation, the insult was accepted by the nation.  The blame rests on citizens who are accept the very immigrants Europe does not want.  The image, which appeared just before Bartholdi’s “Statue of Liberty” was erected in New York Harbor, raised objections to accepting those rejected by Europe’s crowned heads, of dubious value to the nation that echoed Trump’s position.

 

European Refuse.pngKendrick, “And We Open Our Arms to Them” Life Magazine (July 12, 1885), 

 

 

The very chaotic narrative of depositing “human refuse”–a group of former colonials identified as “not like us” but being advanced by an invisible broom–was repeated in the image of the approaching Caravan, as the legitimacy of their requests for asylum from Central American nations were questioned, and suggested to be fundamentally an illustration of disrespect for the law.  The “Caravan” of over 1,000 migrants seeking a better life was widely mapped as a threat to sovereignty and law, recasting a protest march that promoted migrants’ rights as an invasion of sovereign space–and a grounds to deny migrants’ rights.  The  tweets of President Trump directed the attention of the country to the border to query the status of the migrants who were headed to the nation, as he announced instructions  “not to let these large Caravans of people into our country”–magnifying the migrants as a national threat through a dichotomy between “them” and “us.”   The anxieties about immigration policies that Kenrick’s cartoon registered panic at the caricatured faces of the new arrivals.

In announcing an intent of illegal entry across the border, Trump once again conjured the need for a border wall, as if trying to co-opt the message of migrants to create an image of a cross-border threat.  The construction of border walls against an “existential threat to the nation”–as did the former commander of the southern border who was named Trump’s director of Homeland Security and now his Chief of Staff—creates an urgency for protection that corrodes the possibility of an open society.  Kelly’s disparagement of migrants as “people who would not easily assimilate into the United States,” “overwhelmingly rural,” from countries where “fourth, fifth, and sixth grade education are the norm,” described them with the same disdain as Kendrick’s cartoon from the early Life of the 1880s protested the insult by which ex-colonials were sent to the United States as to Australia or India, which had indeed become “dumping grounds” for convicts, remittance men, and socially unwanted cast-offs, as well as seeing them as barbarians who threatening the social fabric of the United States.  The disparagement of migrants who are seeking asylum as uneducated, of rural origins, or indeed, as Kelly’s remarks must have reminded his audience, criminals.

 

ICE 2014 arrests gangs--ms13?ICE Arrests of undocumented immigrants, 2014

 

The disproportionate warnings of a “border threat” or “trouble at the border”  telegraphed on Twitter was inserted in a narrative rooted in the plan to create a border barrier of cast concrete in August 2015, in the heat of the Presidential election–a mission that crystallized support behind Trump’s campaign.  Trump insisted that the border wall he advocated wasn’t rhetorical, symbolic, or virtual–a space defined by hi-tech monitoring–but an impervious barrier that would succeed where other poor-quality fencing had failed.

The build-up of the arrival of the migrant caravan ran against the disproportionate attention that Trump had drawn to the border.  As Trump pedaled the fiction that the wall had already been begun, newscasters on FOX mapped a showdown by the approach toward the border of “that scary migrant caravan” of Central Americans with American law enforcement as inevitable, placing the migrants in a narrative of unwieldly crisis of immigration management on the US-Mexico border.  In ways that intersect with a broad unease of increased immigration–often manifesting itself in extreme xenophobia, othering and racism–a vaguely masked anti-immigrant sentiment that has growth in the United States over the last four to five years which Trump has deftly exploited. For the ‘border wall’ was recognized code for a thinly disguised racism, captured in John Kelly’s characterization of the Caravan–and migrants–as “overwhelmingly rural people” not capable of assimilating, who “don’t have the [necessary] skills” to do so, and are “overwhelmingly rural people,” as if ignoring just how dependent U.S. farms are on immigrant labor.

The disproportionate attention the Trump and his planned border wall directed to the southwestern border made the region seem far more immediate to all Americans–and defined the Caravan’s approach as national news.  Although the formation of such “Caravans”–a name not coined by Americans, though it gained new spin in the mouth of President Donald J. Trump, who had grown frustrated with an uptick in U.S. Border Patrol metrics of illegal entry–the tactic that was long adopted by advocacy groups to foreground migration difficulties was used by the group Pueblos sin Fronteras, or Peoples without Borders, whose name was seen as revealing their opposition to the redefinition of the southwestern border of the United States, which has also been mapped onto the wall–creating a reflexive panic at the sight of large crowds of unidentified migrants marching toward the border.  The legal and physical obstacles that Trump promised to place on Mexicans or Central Americans seeking entry to the United States were always twinned, but the arrival of the migrant Caravan seemed to give it a new urgency, and to legitimize, as a suddenly mainstream demand of border management, the ability to control human cross-border flows.

 

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The march was described disdainfully as a “political stunt” in media, as the Attorney General and Director of Homeland Security demonized the “Caravan of migrants.”  Trump had promised the nation a border wall unlike the reclaimed corrugated metal fencing in Tijuana, but made of  “precast [concrete] plank,” a protective barrier far more powerful and robust than the inadequate fencing he treated as “a joke” and a disgrace to the nation, and which the multitude of migrants were seen as able to cross, but in need of immediate arrest and detention in a fantasy of border enforcement.  If Trump had promised to be a strongman at the border, the old border wall seemed indeed flimsy obstacles, unable to stop even the crowd from the Caravan who arrived to petition for asylum at San Ysidro, CA.

 

Migrants arrive at Tijuana

 

The peaceful protest of the Caravan de madres centroamericanas, to use their full name, was recast as a march of opposition to Trump’s border policy, while for Trump, as some three hundred odd members of the Caravan arrived at San Isidro, a recognized port of entry, in five busloads, and mounted on a fence made of repurposed scrap metal became for President Trump evidence of a crisis of sovereignty.  In response to a crisis he seemed to have created on Twitter, he ordered the Department of Homeland Security to “stop the caravan,” displaying his knack for sound bytes and slogans, and imagine that, searching for the right string of capital letters on his keyboard,  only “a strong, impenetrable WALL. . . will end this problem once and for all”–even if the problem lay with the places the migrants had fled.  The motion of “migrants,” now cast as “illegal aliens” in the right-wing press, even as they hoped for a miracle from god able to “touch the hearts of immigration agents,” was not able to be seen clearly by many, even if their course was carefully mapped over the previous month in increasingly colorful reportage.

 

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The momentum of masses “heading to the border”without visas or documents “who no one in Mexico dares to stop” that Buzzfeed reported conjured an image of illegality, or just “headed here”–in vague terms that meant toward American sovereignty–bolstered by the longstanding promise of security that Trump had promised in the border wall.   For FOX, the group was “a small army of migrants marching to the US.”  The elevation of the border as violated line of sovereign power, translated the border from map to territory  to sovereignty, creating not only a false idea of safety and community.  Trump exploited this idea when his tweet sought to magnify the “small army” to a vague charge about the border “getting more dangerous” in ominous tones.  Trump was long acutely aware that the border wall was, in his eyes, the most politically important subject of discussion with Mexican President Enrique Nieto in earl 2017, as the wall was a crucial to his promises to the American electorate.

For the southwestern border had grown more proximate to much of the nation than it had ever been in previous years.  Evoking the border-crossing reminded the nation of the dangers of the deferment of a national project of wall-building.  Migrants stood for the vulnerability of the nation that was not only a narrative about fraudulent requests for asylum, but a failure of Mexico at “stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their southern border and then into the US.”  The  march became all about crossing borders that needed to be enforced, as “an army of migrants is marching to America . . . all the way from Honduras,” reframing a Buzzfeed story of migrants “boldly crossing military checkpoints” to their imminent arrival.  The story became one about whether their claims for asylum will be granted or if this “freedom march” was unlawfully breaking laws, with an agenda against Trump’s notion of the border wall;  the crisis of  migrants arriving in the United States through illegal networks or in illegal conditions in search of the American dream was recast as an open violation of  American law and immigration protocols.

Federal criminal charges were filed, against eleven of the migrants who presented them to the law for asylum.  As the chief law officer of the United States declared that they revealed diminished “respect for the rule of law” compromising “our ability to protect our great nation, its borders and its citizens,” stating “The United States will not stand by as our immigration laws are ignored and our nation’s safety is jeopardized,” the safety of the migrants was not only elided or bracketed, but removed from the map:  the protest was not an illustration of the conditions of migrants or the dangers of passage in an area where migrants are themselves subject to criminal gangs, cartels, and opportunistic smugglers, who place them on special assignments, but they embodied the threats to the nation.  The executive prerogative that allowed the construction of the wall, over-riding existing laws without congressional approval in ways that remapped the relation of the United States to the world and the legal protections offered those petitioning for asylum.  For while brushing aside the inadequacy of earlier projects of fencing along the border–once mapped as important national projects in 2009–but varying in height–

 

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–the ramping up of a notion of national protection by a “real wall,” announcing  its “beauty” as if to signal its impervious character, and to accentuate an obstacle that would dissuade all migrants from attempting to traverse.  But in promising to expand the border as a monument to national defense in cost concrete seemed to obscure even the legitimate cases of migrants for asylum.

Premonitions of a “public clash” between “some perhaps trying to make it across [the border] illegally,” from the southern Mexican border, the lack of ability to control cross-border movements seemed a particular point of frustration for team Trump, who long identified the border wall as the only means to national security.  Trump  treated the border wall as an executive right, not respecting individual rights or legal process, in response to issues of national security and protection he depicts as an ongoing state of war.  In ways that echoed–or bolstered his radical declarations of absolutist understanding of presidential authority, Trump treated the wall ss a personalization of executive authority, not only imagining that the border wall be named after him–as the Eisenhower Highway System–“Maybe someday they’ll call it the Trump Wall,” he mused back in August 2015—but glorifying his efforts at massive deportation as akin to Eisenhower’s mass deportation effort, a forced migration of populations that stands to obscure laws of individual asylum, human rights and civil protections, and disrupt the American economy.  And so it is not surprising that Trump seems ready to shut down the government again, if funding for completing the border wall is not agreed to by Democrats in the Senate and House, as he tries his hardest to convince the nation of its urgency, and the urgency of revising the supposed “loopholes,” increasing the authority of Border Patrol agents, and streamlining the procedures of extradition–or, basically, of stripping the migrants of any rights.

Such a notion of the border wall that replaces and erases the stories of the people who might cross it, and deprives them of any rights, as it sets up a narrative of deportation.   And the sense of such a protective wall stood as the understory and tacit subject of the caravan that sought to protest the dangers to which migrants had been subjected or fled.  Their stories were predictably subsumed to a story about our nation:  tweets volleyed about “caravans” of deported illegal aliens for a moth, evoking how Trump so often elevated the border wall as a national project–and a form of bluster that trumps the law.  The migrants who travelled together to protect themselves from violence had been mipmapped as the enemies Trump promised to keep outside the nation; Trump even seemed unable to process their existence in terms other than refracted into opposing camps through the prism of the “beautiful” border wall.  The plight of the migrant was erased with the international braggadocio of a unilateral wall desperately needed to ensure national security, as their struggle became a basis to assault existing immigration policies.  The border wall promised to erase existing immigration laws, as Trump seemed to position himself both as a political outsider and to cast immigration in partisan terms.

 

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The very project of the border wall, a poor cartography of nationhood and national sovereignty, suggests an abandonment of attention to context, contextual meaning, and to privilege tools of geometric bounding that seem to have locked much of the nation into a vicious circle of inflexible thinking that sacrifices the individual and the law to an archaic wall.  To be sure, a slim majority of likely voters agreed “the United States should continue building a border fence along the Mexican border” in 2013, and although that decreased slightly when asked about a “wall along the Mexican border,” and aseems to have further decreased among registered voters in 2016 or when asked in 2016 about building a wall “along the entire border,” Donald Trump attracted new voters to a campaign that stressed the inadequacy of current fencing, and need to gird the nation against external threats long improperly addressed.  The border wall has now defined relations between political parties, and become a lightning rod in the broader debate–painfully unresolved–about immigration.

The arrival of a relatively small protest march of migrants became an occasion  recalled he fears of how the border was described as a site of risin violence, an end to low wages, terrorist attacks, urban crime, and national security, dominating the recent round of political ads for House campaigns more than any other issue.  As if on demand, the arrival of migrants at the port of entry of San Isidro led their transit to be compared to that of gangs, criminals, and drug cartels, exploiting how the border was long falsely mapped by Trump as an obstacle to the national safety:  but even if the vast majority of Republicans believe in the need to secure the nation through the building of the wall, or quite astoundingly nearly 70%, as a way to limit immigration, other Americans are far less convinced.  But as the border wall has been recast as executive prerogative, guided by Trump’s sense of the benefits and needs for the wall, we are compelled to examine the logic, however painful.  Greater support for the border wall with distance from the southwestern border among Republicans revealed the appeal of the border wall had grown diffused on national terms.

 

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The need for the wall-and the unsuitable nature of current border barriers, from bollard fencing to pedestrian obstacles,  was suggested by the rhetorical multiplier with which President Donald Trump described “the caravan of thousands of people coming up from Honduras–thousands of people” and “very weak laws” to halt their advance.  Changing “our borders” and “securing our borders” are not only about building fences, but changing “our laws” as a way of “toughening up at the border” that affirms the border as a threshold of national sovereignty.  Cast as “illegal immigrants” even while they were in Mexico, the identity that American television bestowed on the masses often numbered in the thousands seemed a test for “toughening border security,” rather than laws alone, and seemed to suggest that laws would just not work in the face of fraudulent asylum claims and a need for processing people without documents, who have been accepted as a national threat.

 

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1.  The construction of a tall, imperious border wall stands to rewrite the border as a barrier, redefining the question of migrants’ legality, and rewriting the law and lawfulness, replacing existing immigration laws.  The reasons for building a border wall echoes the Border Patrol authorities–and a President increasingly casting migrants as “aliens” and “animals” who need to be penned, contained, and not granted individual or human rights as they constitute dangerous threats to the nation’s safety.  The dehumanization of the migrant as an animal seems the end-result of a rather slippery rhetorical slide:  as twitter becomes a tool of international diplomacy in a performative vein, the wall is the masterpiece of the performative Presidency of Donald J. Trump.  The arrival of any migrants–let alone of “an army of migrants,” seemed to appear on command, recalling fears of how the border was described as a site of risin violence, an end to low wages, terrorist attacks, urban crime, and national security.  The transformation of Buzzfeed claims, while unsubstantiated, were magnified in media loops in an online version of “telephone,” as the Caravan of over a thousand headed north was invested with an attack on Trump’s border policy, and became framed as an international event undermining sovereignty.

The empty notion of sovereignty that was evoked was considerably emptied of meaning, however, and far less robust.  Trump long invested the conceit of the border wall with functions as a defense of the nation, claiming that it will increase national safety.  Yet the insistence on the benefits of building the wall conceal the extent to which the attempted protection of the border conceal the increased levels of violence along the border they have provoked, even as the border has gained a national prominence that it lacked in the past, before Trump announced his candidacy.  Indeed, with areas among the highest murder rates in the hemisphere, declarations of the imminent construction–or groundlessly congratulating himself on the “beauty” of  its construction- in April and May, 2018 to public audiences in Ohio, West Virginia and Indiana.  For these middle-Americas voters–all located at a distance from the border, reveal the immediacy of the border as a response to the epidemic of heroin, gang violence, and low wages long mapped–or appeared to be mapped–on border crossing.  The proximity with which Republican voters geographically removed from the border have connected to the border helped generalize  anti-immigrant politics on a level unthought of only five years ago.

In ways that would have been unthinkable five years ago, the proximity of the border wall to the nation has increased.   Although Trump’s remarks seem to be confined only to prototypes of the wall that were placed near a limited section of the border, the legitimacy that he has granted the conceit of border-wall construction has taken a demand that began in groups like “Secure Borders” in Southern Texas–like the Secure Borders Coalition which included current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who demanded “real border security,” led by Texan Representative Michael McCaul.  (McCaul’s group had advocated the Mexican-American border be lined with five-layer fencing with chain link fences topped with razor wire, concertina wire, and watchtowers as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s border with Iraq.  Their advocacy of the Saudi Great Wall as a model for the U.S. conveniently ignored the radically different role of laws of individual protection of rights in the two states, the border wall has grown to eclipse the notion of civil rights or protections in a democratic state.)

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What was once a demand of the marginal groups associated with Homeland Security seemed increasingly legitimized as mainstream, the demand for the border wall that plays to national audiences far from the border of interest to the entire nation, leading to bizarre discussions of how ICE “liberated towns in Long Island” from MS-13 gangs, transforming the entire nation a battleground whose front line is the wall, and defining the border wall as the only secure defense of the southwestern border given the inadequacy–and indeed unpatriotic nature–of what Trump painted as a partisan position of acknowledging migrants’ rights and respecting asylum claims.

 

 

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Trump has asserted the need for an increasingly militarized barrier, already being tested by U.S. military special forces and US Customs and Border Protection special units, as U.S. Navy SEAL units claimed to have confirm its impregnability–as if to illustrate its strength and military grade, but  in ways unable to be confirmed.  The wall designed to replace inadequate border barriers, fencing, would fix “miles and miles of [inadequate] wall that’s already up,” as a way to enforce “strong borders” that suggest a misunderstanding about strength–and to force demand for its construction.  While the border wall is a show of strength, its promise is a cartographic simplification that seems to focus the nation’s attention not on laws, rights, or legal protection, but fixed attention on the line as a line of legal violation, and the degradation of the border as an obstacle, and as a source of vulnerability.

Rather than see the fixity of the structure Trump had promised would ensure  the safety of the nation, the caravan evoked the impervious barrier which was such a focus of national attention,  The arrival of the Caravan played as national news, as it seemed that most were heading toward detention camps that dot the US-Mexico border, where the processing of immigration claims takes on average almost two years.  And as BuzzFeed reports were relayed on FOX as an “army of migrants marching to America” or a “small migrant army marching toward the United States,” the use of  militarized terms evoked–despite the marcher’s peacefulness–the militarization of a border wall.  When several hundred Central Americans arrived, seeking asylum, and scaled the fence near St. Isidro, holding a Honduran flag, as if to suggest the fear of a loss of sovereignty, rather than what might be a site for international cooperation.

 

 

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J. Omar Ornelas

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Trump responded that the need for “a strong, impenetrable WALL that will end this problem once and for all”–implying the problem of immigration, once a concern mostly of border-states, had become a national problem of urgency that might unite the divided nation.  Would it be too much to say that the border wall had indeed become a living force, despite its actual function as a site of migrants’ death, as if the vitality of the wall on one side of the border contrasted with the consciousness of the wall as a site of migrants’ death, and indeed the attempts to commemorate these deaths, on the other side–the most alarming and disturbing of the deceptive truisms of the new Newspeak the border wall presumes, and we would be urged to entertain—that Death is Life?

 

 

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Migrant Deaths and Water Stations, 1999-2012

 

 

The imaginary function of the border wall has created an inexplicable tie between the wall and a project of modernization and modernity, even if the wall seems among the most post-modern, fragmentary, meta-conceptual, and notional sorts of pastiches one could imagine:  the isolated prototypes, on which DHS requested bids weeks after Trump’s inauguration, have become more than a totem of a new sense of sovereignty, as Steve Bannon asserted, eerily but aptly suggesting the living nature of the border wall in the collective imaginary, a point oddly echoed in how U.S. Customs and Border Patrol union that long agitated for a border wall described such a wall as a “vital tool” as their leadership advised the Trump transition team.  The investing with living properties in the wall by Bannon and by advocacy groups seems, indeed, to shift the life of the nation into the “vital interests” that the wall will protect, as if to a living organism–even if the immobility of such a project would suggest the opposite, by intruding in habitat, ecosystems, and dividing open spaces in what were protected lands.  The wall indeed is promised to be constructed through protected lands, interrupting wilderness spaces, as if it demands to be accorded respect as a dividing land, crucial to the nation as a barrier to keep out undesirables alternately identified as dangers to safety, jobs and health.

 

imageBorder Wall and Federal- and State-Protected Lands (dark green)

 

Is the border a sort of living form, so closely was it tied to the nation’s “vital interests” of stopping the flow of drugs across the border, ending the reach of drug cartels, and stopping the flow of refugees.  But the increasingly vital form of the border wall seems to have dignified it by its centrality to the nation, and the impermeable membrane that it created for migrants:  the repeated identification of the border wall as defending vital national interests from the “failed states” across the border suggests a retrenchment of national interests, but an elevation of the border wall almost at great costs to the nation.  The pleasure with which Dept. of Justice affirmed that after Judge Gonzalo Curiel sustained Homeland Security’s mandate to build the projected border wall did not violate the Constitution, but fell within its mandate for boarder security, that DHS “can continue this important work vital to our nation’s interest” reflects a confusion between vitality of the nation and wall.  The entity of the wall seems, indeed, to have replaced the nation as a guiding figure of the Trump administration, as if the physical structure were in fact able to express the interests of the state, and the survival of the wall more important than the survival of migrants who might encounter it.

But the Border Wall became a project both Trump and his crowds celebrated as a way to discuss the nation.  The elevation of the border wall into an almost sacral place in a religion of the nation, rather than as a tool of a secular state, and a sign of national identity.  (The border wall has become so central to the state, indeed, that Bannon readily predicted the need for a shut down government if full funding for constructing a border wall was not approved by Congress–much as Trump has earlier threatened a mere hundred days into his Presidency, in April 2017.)   Trump attacked the arrival of the Caravan as an illustration of “Democratic inspired laws on Sanctuary Cities and the Border being so bad, so one-sided” and that “our laws are so weak, given to us by Democrats, . . . are so pathetic,” treating the arrival of immigrants with cases of asylum as evidence of a partisan dereliction of the protection of the state.  Rather than seeing motion across the membrane of the border as a sign of biological health, the health of the social body depended on the construction of an impenetrable wall, for Trump and his closest advisors.

For Trump seems determined to link his presidency–and even shut down government for it once again this year, suggesting how central the project is to defining new ideas of the state but  invested with a new religion of the state, undermining civil and secular society.  While cast as a project of construction or infrastructure, the wall is a realization of the changing of existing immigration law, and a watershed for chaining the law, “our dumb immigration laws,” which Trump has criticized in vague terms as “very, very bad,” “very, very weak laws,” and even “the worst laws,” as if recognize that the project of border wall building reveals ambitions to rewrite the legal framework of immigration and national legal protections, and indeed the relation of the state and the individual.  In this sense, the project of wall-builting that has become the recurrent subject of tweets, public speeches, and government statements on the border wall’s imminent or current construction.

 

2. The wall seeks to remap the border as a fixed line as an effective barrier against violence and to preserve jobs, lower criminality and thwart gangs, and prevent drug traffic across the border–as if its construction and enforcement could redeem the nation from a plague of ills.  The urgency with which President  Trump has evoked the need for the border wall–and the intransigence with which he promoted building a barrier across the border–have remapped the sovereign integrity of the union.  The rhetoric of a need for closing the border informed the announcement that no “additional persons traveling without appropriate entry documentation” be admitted into the country until further notice–if ever at all. The finality Trump invested the wall as a resolution of national problems–extending far from the border, where the first anti-immigrant movements began–has indeed taken the southwestern border as a basis to remap the country, and to redefine migrants’ relation to the law in very real ways.  And even if it does not exist–and has not been begun–the rhetoric of stopping cross-border flows caused many of the vulnerable migrants–pregnant women, children, transgender–to be cast as lawbreakers who did not respect the country they sought to enter.

The redefinition of migration as an issue of sovereignty, rather than rights, suggests rather chilling consequences both for migrants, and a shifting relation of America to the world, with harsh consequences for civil society and the law.  Indeed, law seems trumped by a religion of state in the recent proclamations of the Trump Presidency, where “sovereignty” is not about rights or people, but about the power of the state to protect jobs, safety, and goods.  The fear of an arrival of migrants has increased the symbolics of the wall; and even as the United State has long treated Mexico as a significant or primary immigration filter of Central American victims fleeing not only poverty, but persecution and threats of personal violence.  The story of the fear of arrival and the threats of the image of the porous border have increasingly taken the place of the personal stories and narratives of migrants and refugees, in a shocking sort of cartographic charlatanry, as fear of migrants crossing the southwestern border has become primarily perceived as a compelling security threat, in ways that seem to elevate a religion of the nation above the question of individual rights with urgency, as if to elevate the right of state above the individual, by elevating the needs of the state above the individual, and invoking a state of “exception” that allows the suspension of individual rights of any migrants who approach or try to cross the nation’s southwestern border, by criminalizing not only their immigration but redefining the relation of the state to all migrants as potential “illegal aliens” seeking to breach  existing fencing and border policy.

 

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Can one shift the map of the peril of criminalized migrants crossing the increasingly militarized border to reveal the plight of their journey?  As the march of migrants organized by  Pueblos sin Fronteras, or Peoples without Borders, the peaceful protest of the Caravan de madres centroamericanas, sponsored by Pueblos sin Fronteras, or Peoples without Borders, in an attempt to protest the difficulties that migrants face as they cross borders from Central America, the very protest march designed to demand safe passage across borders, is cast it as an occasion to fear the arrival of migrants and treated, in a bizarre extension, as grounds to refuse protection of migrants in the United States who entered the country as children–and has occasioned the increasing separation of children from their families– the loss of records of about 1,500 children entering the country before the arrival of the Caravan–despite assurances John Kelly provided that separating families at the border “will be taken care of–put into foster care or whatever” in a way that “wasn’t cruel.” As a response to the problem of coming into the United States “illegally,”  the shift to a “zero-tolerance” policy pursued in “the name of the game is deterrence” did’t inspire confidence.

Family separation was described as an effective deterrent–and Kelly reminded his interviewer that if “people say that it’s cruel and heartless to take a mother away from her children,” the fault lies with those who attempted to “illegally enter the United States”–which no one “hopes is will be used extensively or for very long.”.  but the emergence of the border as a site of prolonged detention of undocumented immigrants, who wait for their immigration cases to be hear for almost two years on average,  the routine separation of children from their parents and families, and the deportation of those without papers, as all migrants can be stopped and searched and held them without charges in the name of national safety.  The map of the peril of migrants to national security is a basis to strip migrants seeking to enter the nation of any personal rights.

 

3.  The creation over time of a tortured cartography of fear may recall the latest iteration of the “paranoid style of American politics” that Richard Hofstadter long ago described as an impulse in the national DNA, of impulsively seeing an external nexus of evil, by giving credence with little actual proof that a toxic combination of external forces lie at the root of our most serious social problems–even when it masked them.  Hofstadter argued that it was in fact impossible to appreciate U.S. history without paying attention to such fantasies and  our current matrix of fears has mapped the fears of national decline and economic instability onto the immigration,  condensing heterogeneous fears onto the construction of a border wall, by misreading maps of immigration and mis-mapping immigration.

 

image.pngMap showing migrants safe and risky routes at “La 72” migrants’ shelter , Tenosique (Tabasco), October 2017. Crisis Group (Froylán Enciso)

 

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The very charge that immigrants bring guns, violence, and dangers into the United States is aptly reputed by an actual map, using data from the U.S. Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Explosives (AFT) with open OSM data, to reveal that as 70% of the firearms siezed in or from Mexico are of American origin, Mexico’s strict gun laws are indeed undermined by the presence of numerous gun dealers–catering to migrants who are increasingly scared of cross-border transit–located just north of the border, where stores provide many of those cast as smugglers, gangs, and criminals who seek to protect themselves from being subject to smugglers’ and cartels’ increasing demands.

 

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Yet the evocation of a wall, by now constructed on social media and on twitter, has elevated a demand for guarding the border from the towns, cities, and states that lie along the border to a need to preserve the security of the nation, the Homeland, and national safety and indeed health.  The sputtering incoherence of @RealDonaldTrump Twitter exclamations of increased urgency–“SECURE THE BORDER!  BUILD A WALL!” (August 5, 2014) “WE NEED A BIG AND BEAUTIFUL WALL!”  (Nov 19, 2015) or just, in time, “NEED WALL!” (April 1, 2018); “we must have THE WALL!” (August 27, 2017) ; “THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”; “We must have a great WALL to protect us, and to stop the massive flow of drugs into our country” (January 16, 2018); “We need the Wall for the safety and security of our country” (January 18, 2018); “If there is no Wall, there is no DACA” (January 23, 2018)–cemented the wall to the nation in a map of exclamations.  The statements and sound bites seem perverse cries in an echo chamber, but are supported and given currency by maps.  The urgency of these demands work to conceal the complete remove of the border from actual problems that face the nation, but externalize the difficulties of the nation, and raise the possibility of creating an impoverished sense of the nation, and to conceal the plight of migrants, and huge economic imbalances across the border.

 

4.  But they draw their urgency from how maps suggest the need to remap national safety about the border.  Despite some demeaning of the elevation of the wall on Twitter to a node of national politics, the amount of attention dedicated to the wall–and this magnified in 2018, and became a tacit undercurrent in his tweets about the Caravan–the provocation of renewed fears about the need for a border wall, which he consistently paired against “our country” in an odd collective possessive, since the wall seems always “my” wall.  One might suggest they make the wall a site of constant contact with Trump’s personality and speech, in treating the wall as a celebration of the religion of the nation dedicated to keeping out ostensibly dangerous migrants and refugees, and labeling them as dangerous “illegals” needed to be excluded from the social body and from legal protections.  Trump’s outright leis about removing MS-13 gangs “by the thousands,” or that Mexico would pay for the border wall, create a false geography that was quickly exploited.

Trump’s degree of duplicity about the border astounds.  The dangers of crime, underemployment, gangs, sex trafficking and gruesome violence were in mapped onto the border’s porous or permeable nature in the public imagination, as if to remap the hard southwestern edge of the United States in a satisfying manner, as Trump mapped or trusted maps that effectively tie national dangers to border crossing.  The spectral if necessarily vague map of migration that have been burned into the national consciousness–and perhaps, in a bizarre circulation of images, into the mind of current President Donald J. Trump–and seem to haunt his own insistence on threats to national security and also his failure of establishing an immigration policy.  With the arrests of U.S. Border Patrol on the rise, as the techniques of survival to which migrants who traveled through the country compelled them to develop alliances with criminal organization, cartels and gangs, the Trump government has attempted to invest in the massive construction of a border wall, rather than dedicating funds to the safety and security of  refugees, processing cases of asylum or offering guarantees of safe passage across borders.

The insistence on the border wall has become a sort of fetish to reveal a new policy toward migrants that was extremely heatless in its broad criminalization of their motives:  President Trump cast the need for the wall as grounds to refuse protection of migrants in the United States who entered the country as children, and had been protected from prosecution, as if the construction of the wall undermined all immigration cases.  The crude hand-drawn or painted maps painted on the walls of migrants stations that reveal the desperation of their cross-border flights have only been taken as demanding resolute response through the construction of an impermeable border wall.  If the wall has been most frequently mentioned on Twitter, among other social media, the image of the wall has travelled through a variety of maps, images, and visualizations long cultivated by many anti-immigrant groups, and increasingly adopted as a policy of state by the Twitterer-in-Chief who rises each morning early to watch FOX-TV en lieu of reading the Presidential Daily Briefing.

Perhaps President Trump’s favorite strategy of forcing the audience to be dependent on his own decision and whims is the ultimate depowering device, but suggests the extreme dependence on his decision–and the power the Border Patrol exercise over migrants’ lives.  To be sure, the clear echoes of nativist anti-immigrant groups such as “Secure Borders” are quite terrifying–they advanced, after all, in institutional or bureaucratic language the deeply proprietorial belief in an ability to close borders even to the vulnerable.  While debate about “illegal” immigration denies the legality of the entrance of undocumented into the country is about laws; the southwestern frontier is so central to the debate, that it is not surprising that it is also about national maps and maps of cross-border traffic and flows.  The new and increasingly universal coinage of the “illegal”–a proxy for foreigner that has served to undermine the status of refugees seeking asylum by defining them as non-nationals–is defined by border-crossing, rather than being tied to a court of law.  The effect of these maps is to try to affirm the need for a solid, non-porous border, despite the productive nature of the fluidity of the border as a site of entrance; insisting on the need for a “real” border that doesn’t allow passage of individuals, the border wall denies the past historical benefits of a porous border, even while presenting itself as a way to “make America great again.”

Maps both define borders, and provide a form of essentializing national norms by rehabilitating a literal nationalism that trumps the law in ways one barely expected to breath again.

 

image.pngCenter for American Population Stabilization, Web-Based Interactive Pop-up Ad

 

Rusian FB ad for Secrured Borders“Secured Borders,” Web-Based Interactive Pop-Up Ad

 

The increasingly aggressive proprietorial notion of the nation is effectively mapped, perhaps reflexively, by means of a retro sign suggesting disinterest in assuming a role of global or economic leadership in the first; the lower forty-eight become a defensive banner akin to a tattered unfurled flag in the second, as if a flag were elevated above the territory, pulling patriotic heartstrings by rejecting ‘illegals’–a now-universal term of exclusion and disdain for refugees or immigrants cast as not “our” responsibility after all, and as outsiders whose itineraries must be reversed.  The status of migrants has been repeatedly questioned and interrogated in debates about border policies, as if their status eroded as they made progress pass immigration checkpoints across the country.  And as the recent Caravan crossed into Mexico’s border controls, the decision of Mexican immigration authorities to allow Central Americans to cross their border without paper led them to be named as suspect, as they progressed past Mexico City.

The laws of immigration have been questioned, in ways that undermine the claims of asylum of many of the refugees–deemed as “illegal” in American media.  Over the coming weeks, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called for a review of longstanding laws granting asylum to all vulnerable or threatened populations, including women and children–who composed many of the marchers who had walked from Central America to the United States Border.  The targeting of the vulnerable seems echoed in the defense of separating children from families of migrants at the border–former Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly reminded the nation that rather than feeling sorry for them, given “tremendous experience dealing with unaccompanied minors” who are turned to Health and Human Services to “disrupt this terribly dangerous network” of Mara Salvatrucha–MS-13–gangs.  Yet is such disruption grounds for putting over 10,000 immigrant children into custody, separately from their parents, a policy that has never been adopted on such scale by previous presidents?  The 21% surge in taking children from their parents that occurred in May 2018 alone has left Health and Social Services shelters at 95% capacity, and raises the prospect of housing children in military bases in the future–and promising to give all information about the parents, relatives, sponsors and living conditions of children to the Department of Homeland Security, or access to highly personal or private data, long privileged as protected.  the increase in separating children form their families was a long planned message to be sent across the border.

The faceless horde of immigrants that Trump regularly disparaged on social media as increasing “danger” for the nation, and a proxy for the criminals, drug-sellers, MS-13 gang members, murderers and rapists Trump argued are concealed themselves among those who present themselves for immigration or sneak across the southwestern border, without documents.  Such “illegal aliens” were seen as actively undermining laws and recast as evidence for the need and urgency of building a permanent border wall.  As the aim of separating families is to send a message across the wall, and define the permanence of the border as a–and perhaps to use the separation of children as a pressure point to get Democrats relinquish support for DACA, or the deferring of deportation for children brought in to the country by their parents, who have only known life in the United States.

 

Fence:Wall Trump

 

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5.  In a successful gambit to distinguish himself as a straight-talking candidate able to alter or disrupt political debate, Donald Trump–a surprise, outsider candidate–long promised to build a wall that would “protect America,” unlike attempts to build fencing along the southwestern border by previously elected presidents.  And in a very deep sense, the promise to built the “wall”–“a real wall,” Trump emphasized, “a physical wall,” as if to underline the massive returns of its construction–served to differentiate him from other politicians and members of political parties.  In ways that recall how political theorist Antonio Gramsci, who lived through Italian Fascism, defined fascism as presenting itself as an “anti-party,” inviting all to “conceal by a veneer of legitimacy vague and nebulous ideas wild and unfettered passions, hatreds, and demands,” the dangers that Trump argued would bee contained by the “wall” served to legitimate the xenophobia it sought to contain.

Trump seemed to orchestrate the expression of passions in reaction to the Caravan.  His tweets mirrored its advance, launching angry public statements escalating in their fear and intensity, granting the “caravan” of migrants a disproportionate role in imagining the continued vulnerability of the United States.  The Caravan took place both on a map and in an incoherent narrative of the threat that migrants posed to the United States, and the specious narrative that Donald J. Trump launched as a Presidential candidate in the Republican primaries alleging Mexico–without grounds save what he “heard” from the U.S. Border Patrol–for sending criminals across the border who threatened the nation’s safety.  The final tweets Trump issued into the ether refusing “to let these large Caravans of people into our Country” confused the issue in typical Trumpian fashion, imagining the quantity of people and the absence of discriminating among refugees–his Attorney General sourly called their arrival on Easter week “a deliberate attempt to undermine our laws”–or far more dangerous to the nation than the stragglers who arrived at the old wall in Tijuana in fact appeared.

 

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The veneer of political acceptability that the border wall bequeathed on anti-immigrant sentiment indeed ran against the sentiment of a body of law, presenting as their rationale a hollowed-out notion of the body politic.   For all the hope of providing a better narrative to unite the nation since 2008, the appeal of Trump’s narrative of exclusion, fear, and economic security promoted the image of wall-building and the xenophobic ban of dangerous foreigners entering the nation.  The veneer of political acceptability that Trump provided for defensive acts of exclusion gave legitimacy to a range of xenophobic fears, broad charges of illegality, and xenophobia that celebrated exclusion and the denial of rights.  Trump’s longstanding use of inhumane metaphors for immigrants–dangers to the nation that ranged from “anchor babies,” “immigrant hordes” to bad hombres–underscored the usurpation of rights, and somehow offered a more compelling narrative of national identity than was on offer.

It furthered a fearsome spatial imaginary that was enforced by numerous crude maps of false objectivity.   From announcing his candidacy by collectively identifying Mexican immigrants as “in many cases criminals, rapists, [or] drug dealers” typecast an ethnic group as criminal to justify wall building on the southwestern border as patriotic, opportunistically perpetuating a spatial imaginary dangerous and without legal grounds in a mendacious and tenacious manner.   Trump proposed an alternate reality of the US-Mexico border wall that existed in the mental imaginary  and has come to haunt political debate about immigrants, and national policy, that runs against inclusion.  Only minutes after  Democratic leaders Schumer and Pelosi happily proclaimed in a joint statement after visiting the White House an agreement not to deport children brought to the United States as children in “a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable” [italics added],  Trump promptly tweeted an affirmation of an alternate reality of the border wall’s continued presence, in an image that stands to haunt our nation and political imaginary, and remains a favored image of political geography.  In affirming that “The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built,”  Trump oriented to a map of the nation’s safety, declaring “We need the Wall for the safety and security of our country. We need the Wall to help stop the massive inflow of drugs from Mexico, now rated the number one most dangerous country in the world.”  The sums demanded to construct the wall almost invited a government shutdown early in the Trump era:   the manner in which adherence to the conceit of the unbuilt border wall might cause a future government shutdown reveals its place in affirming Trump’s political identity and leadership.

Trump asserts that the recognition of the need for the border wall is as apparent as an act of scales falling from one’s eyes, and restoring a clearer geopolitical vision.  The acknowledgment of the need for the border wall less recalls Saul’s infusion with the Holy Spirit, than a demand of how U.S. Customs and Borders Enforcement has insisted on the permeability of the US-Mexico border in a new national spatial imaginary.  The wall reflects not only affirms the guilt of undocumented immigrants as “illegal” guests but distracts from its own illegality, and the massive efforts of incarceration that the prominence of the defense of the border stands to justify.  Trump recently championed the arrest of over 1,500 people who have “entered the country illegally”–in one of the largest mass-incarceration of undocumented populations ever to occur.  And although the seeds of the possibility of an imagined border wall was defined during the 1990s, when the US Government built border fencing in order to keep economic migrants from seeking higher wages up north, in response to the inequalities of globalization, the attempt to maintain and effectively “naturalize” the increasingly steep inequalities of globalization, remains a relatively recent idea.  

The search for constant reminders for the need and urgency of the border wall has become a sort of trope of the Trump residence.  The reminders conceal a profound failure to process refugees seeking to better their conditions, and the deep changes in the ground beneath the feet of the undocumented migrant, whose status has been effectively eroded:   stripped of rights, privacy, or security, the building of a wall designed to obstruct passage and persecute all who seek to cross it undermines the legality of cross-border transit.  Visualizations purporting better to orient viewers to the presence of migrants cast them as “illegally” present to demonize the figure of the refugee and undocumented migrant–cast as an “illegal alien” as transgressing the law, investing illegality of a criminal in those who illegally cross the boundary serves to erase individual histories by tallying them as standing in violation of the law, fueled by the expansion of mass incarceration across the nation from the mid-1980s, fed by images of a “war on crime,” and aggressive drug prosecution and the expansion of the Department of Homeland Security as the largest national law enforcement agency.


6.  Of the almost half million attempting unauthorized  immigration apprehended on the southwestern border, half arrived from other countries than Mexico–any proposal to return all apprehended or deported to Mexico effectively erases the itineraries or needs of the 257,000 from other Central American countries in Central America fleeing poverty, organised extortion, and inner-city violence from areas far south of “Mexico.” Yet as “Mexico” remains a place-holder, removed from any clear geographical relation to the United States in this entire debate, maps of the border purport to make “sense” of the changes in stagnant wages, unemployment, and taxes, and the specters of refugees, terrorism, drugs and gang violence.  The wall was projected onto the nation as a means to create a needed barrier of impermeability; Trump has promised a “real wall”–although what sense any border was ever “real” is unclear–will contain threats in what takes and isolates the border as a threshold of legality.  

By repeatedly magnifying the danger of border-crossing within the national imaginary, Trump worked to create a false–and divisive–consensus elevating border crossing as a threat to economic security, public safety and public health.  The distorted magnification the dangers undocumented immigrants who would traverse it pose to the nation, although in ways that revise and empty the “nation” as an established legal system.  For every urgent suggestion of the need to “revise our immigration laws” are, in fact, attmpets to void them and legal precedent; attacking the “loopholes” that have permitted the vulnerable people including women and children who face threats of violence either at home or on the streets to seek asylum, not as actual stories that deserve attention but as deceptive strategies of evading that must be unveiled lest they undermine public safety.  Trump’s empty assertions in August 2017 that the very high levels of criminality in Mexico necessitate or mandate the construction of a border wall sought to provide an image to his supporters that, indeed “THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE,” tying the “nation” to the wall, and to the border.  The circulation of a photoshopped tweet revising the course that “the wall” would take, to include New Mexico, or exclude it as well from the commonwealth, was intended as humor but revealed that the border wall had come to afford a new mental geography of the nation and its relation to the world.

 

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The arrival of the Caravan of Central American migrants seeking asylum and safe transit across borders has threatened the narrative of illegal border crossing but has provoked increased insistence on the imagined spatial geography of dangers crossing our borders.  The Caravan’s arrival reflexively provoked an accelerated project of “revising our immigration laws” as the migrant “Caravan” crossed immigration checkpoints, military bases, police stations, and walked through cities in Mexico without facing any obstacles.  It conjured the needed image of a tidal wave headed to the border, which necessitated the very militarization of the border that the border wall had not created for the national good, and working to create a militarized defenses of the border extending the current melange of heterogeneous border barriers, and left mays seeking visualizations the conjured the new border division the Trump administration sought to create to affirm the border’s impassibility, in an image of the physical naturalization of a “wall” that replaces the “fence.”

 

Fence:Wall Trump

The nomenclature is not accidental.

If good fences make good neighbors, the “wall” is the language of a strongman on the border, an oddly archaic notion of a boundary doing double duty as a new noun of national protection, acting as an exclusionary boundary, and a verb as providing a defense that is more effectively able to obstruct passage of outsiders.  The deeply archaic sense of wall-building–Giambattista Vico defined it as a pre-legal notion of national self-definition, going back to the Romulan walls that were the first set of walls that defined the integrity of Rome, although how the “wall” would exclude the massive amounts of contraband that enters within established entry points within cars and concealed in shipments–rather arriving than on foot–is never explained.

Yet the fantastic narrative of such on-foot traffic evading border checkpoints–“Does Google Maps indeed help migrants evade border checkpoints?” wondered a website that was promoted on RT, designed to tap into the paranoid strain of the American mind–has lent urgency to the creation of a continuous border “wall” –often just describe as “the wall.”  The militarization of the border as a built boundary, compounded with more border guards is promoted as preventing any such transit, even if the website suggested that the provision of information in the crudest of nline maps may allow migrants to outfox border patrol and U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the ineffective nature of the Ports of Entry as barriers against migrants from Central America or Mexico.  The mapping of “routes to avoid” which are marked by “Border Patrol Checkpoints” as tools to circumvent border barriers.

 

Google maps borderGoogle Maps/”Routes to Avoid–Border Patrol Checkpoints

 

Inflating fear of the arrival of the “Caravan of Migrants” provided a powerful rhetorical urgency to the creation of a border wall, in short.  The over-inflated fears of a faceless “Caravan” suggested a surge of undocumented advancing and progressing toward the border, following maps that pointed them to the sights of crossing, as if they were destined to cross in a matter of weeks.

With a tacit blame that Mexico had been overwhelmed from acting to filter on immigration that the United States government has increasingly insisted, the US began attempts to dissuade migrants from crossing the border by calling the National Guard’s arrival, both in an open confession that even the current massive militarization of ports of entry fails to ensure and an excuse for encouraging the border’s increased militarization.

 

Migrants in Oaxaca, Felix Marquez AP

 

The arrival of the Caravan of migrants became a test case for the urgent need of a border wall, and of the narrative for its construction.  Despite the peaceful ethos and intent of the migrant refugees’ march–organized annually by Pueblos sin Fronteras, “Peoples without Borders”, and designed to guarantee safe passage across borders,  President Trump cast it as grounds to refuse protection of migrants in the United States who entered the country as children, and had been protected from deportation under DACA, confusedly taking fears of the arrival of migrants as an illustration of the dangers of “porous” borders to foreign threats.  Despite the non-threatening nature of the peaceful march that sought to map–and protest–global economic inequalities, the image of the “Caravan” was effectively expanded in the imagination as a looming threat to our security, akin to the thieves, rapists, and gang members he had argued without grounds that Mexico actively “sends” across the border, as if to erase any sense of migrants’ own agency, narratives, or needs of those women, children, and families arriving at the border after a month-long journey.

As President, Trump has enjoyed incorrectly taunting that the Caravan constituted a threat to national safety–either destined to cross the border legally as they petition for asylum, or cross the border illegally to enter the United States, or encourage massive migration of others.  As the migrants’ procession overwhelmed border authorities they encountered, posting social media updates of their progress past towns and border checkpoints in non-violent ways while provoking a theater of confrontation over their month-log trek that let Trump direct increased attention to the border, and focus national attention on the need for an unbuilt and over-budget border wall, as a need to raise the stakes in border management in ways that he had long eagerly argued, hoping to force the inclusion of a border wall in the military budget and achieve a rewriting of the nation, and an emptying of many of the values, shared sense of civil rights, and civil protections that have defined the nation in the past, and seems to have sought to grant legitimacy to the erosion of civil rights.

The imperative of the border threatens to warp the notion of sovereignty by imposing a notion of national frontiers that predate civil institutions or the law, but are a restoration of order–although the notion of an authoritarian border wall itself seeks to dismantle a legal process of immigration, and strip US residents of rights.  While this may be due to Trump’s limited experience with the law, the cognitive violence of the wall lies not only in the obstruction that it creates on the ground, but the dangerous model it creates for remapping sovereignty, and for creating a sharply uneven access to justice, from immigration courts to the rights we accord others.

 

image.png.Jose Torres/Reuters

 

Trump had long promised his constituencies as a candidate that the border was was necessary for national safety, in ways that offered a basis for dividing the nation. The idea of a border wall was itself without clear legality or precedent in international law.  But as a response to the “state of emergency” after September 11, 2001, creating boundaries has generated a warped image o the state, in which the executive could bend the law: when Trump summoned self-confidence to declare “A nation without borders is not a nation,” he essentially proposed a new idea of the nation; as much as describing the borders of the United States, he obscured his own lack of political experience or familiarity with government or civil institutions., and boasted of the ease of binding the nation by a wall able to obscure what the civil institutions that long defined the the nation, promoting paint a new image of sovereignty with confidence of the need to replace the existing political status quo

While Trump had no evidence for the urgent need to construct a wall along the border and made the “problem” of illegal immigration so central to his campaign without any evidence, the arrival of the migrants claiming refugee status seemed an opportune chance to redirect attention to the need of a border wall, and increased militarization of the border.  The progress of the Caravan across the Mexican border and Mexican states seemed a veritable illustration of the fear of globalization that Trump tapped so effectively in the primaries and general election, without offering any evidence, as the pressures of low employment, a poor economy and limited immigration checks created a specter of massive immigration and refugee flows.

Could the border not yet wall not yet in existence be manufactured over a month?

 

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The advance of the collective body of refugees–cast as migrants; “undocumented”; “illegal aliens”–was designed to “break down borders” in the very regions that they crossed.  The protection of the nation from migrants fleeing political unrest, persecution, or sexual violence, into a menace to the United States is among the illusions created by the expansion of the southwestern border into the consciousness of the nation:  if the humanitarian crisis was not an illusion, the threat that the crisis posed to the nation was.  Over recent weeks, the defense of the nation that the initial rebuff of what would be some 200 migrants who entered the United States became something of an event of international politics, in an massive effort of staging the nation:  the effort of bullying that the project of wall-building on which Trump long campaigned made the arrival of migrants an opportunity for showcasing of a new border policy that would parallel his intransigent commitment to the construction of a “real” border wall, in an instance of the staging of a bizarre theater of international as well as national politics, about borders–both playing to audiences at home and future migrants abroad, but focussed on American viewers who sought evidence of the promise construction of a “physical” and “real” Border wall as evidence of the new vision of the nation.  The simple barrier constituted the defense of national security that Trump claimed was his primary concern.  Did the gradual arrival of the Caravan at the San Ysidro border, site of the 30 ft. border wall prototypes and the oldest constructed border wall, stage an inevitable drama of confrontation?

The insistence on the readiness of border defenses that the migrants’ arrival provoked became a basis to rehearse Trump’s  after taking the time to visit California to observe new prototypes for the Border Wall he has promised, as if to put news of progress on its construction back in the news,  the limited funding that has been included for funding the massive 2,000 mile construction–a return, in many ways, to brick and mortar from the “virtual border” of the integrated technology of SBInet, the Secure Borders Initiative that served as a web of electronic surveillance device, the failure to contract the promised obstacle to cross-border migration, however improbable its construction, as a network of surveillance spreading out from towers–

 

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–or as a continuous border wall, the promise that Donald J. Trump sold the nation which  replaced the limits of the existing Border fencing, which covers only a mere fraction of the entire border–1,130 of its 3,200 km of its expanse–and sealed potential gaps in its mountainous areas of the Rio go, as well as the terrain near Nogales, or between Nogales and Juarez:  gaps on the Mexican side of the border would be bridged by waiving any legal requirements limiting its construction, based on the 2005 Real ID Act, promising expedited construction of authorized border barriers–despite the somewhat limited or interrupted nature of border fencing separating the United States from Mexico.

 

7.  The fear of the border’s crossing haas however been fabricated in a range of maps in studies produced by anti-immigration groups.  Visualizations from the  Center for Immigration Studies–allegedly non-partisan; viewed by SPLC as a “hate group” given the links it has drawn between immigrants and criminality and their tortured use of data to make unwarranted claims and ties–and the fear of a compromised sovereignty they raise, and the Federation of Immigration Reform (or Immigration Reform), which similarly purports objectivity, while defending nativism, have gained broad circulation on line that has eroded our sense of a nation, and even migrated into mainstream media.  The graphics and visualizations of both groups have sought to remap the border as a danger zone in ways that have percolated to broader audiences and political discourse, to help remap the policing border as a challenge to the nation.  The border wall not only frames the issue of security in the simplest possible terms–it reveals the “broken system” of politics as usual, and replaces it.

The persuasive value of the border wall is not only a case of the insidiousness of the graphics of many anti-immigration groups that were displayed on social media:  the Trump White House has repeatedly selected multiple anti-immigrant activists from the  Center for Immigration Studies as (CIS) to frame and devise its official policy in ICE and the Bureau of Populations, Refugees, and Migration, tantamount to rewriting official U.S. policy that echoed their frequent depictions of immigrants as terrorists, denouncing “the myth of the law-abiding illegal alien,” and even the “health risks” to Americans of open borders policies, conflating legal questions about immigration as essentially security risks.

The role of maps and visualizations offering false expertise about cross-border migration as a danger that the border wall could stop demands consideration.  For the production of such misleading maps helped shift public discussion away from the effects of such a project on migrants or on foreign policy, and on the preservation of human rights immigration laws.  The current fencing is shown as limited and with openings as if to redirect attention to the linearity of a single wall, as if this will bolster and redefine our nation, per Trump’s eery unfounded statements that nations without borders are not nations.

 

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As the advance of migrants claiming rights advanced through Mexican cities, its message transformed into one of aggression, the notion of a “via cruces emigrants” was transformed into an arrival of untold dangers and threats, inserted into a narrative of invasion that “securing the border” would respond, and a test of  the ability to control or police the border line:   if the collective cry at Trump rallies to “build the wall!” was the cry of a powerless, seeking to secure borders to calm their fears, the fears of the waning prominence of the wall, so forcefully conjured as a means of national protection in the public imaginary, seemed suddenly at risk.  The alleged illegality of immigration that led assert the legal right to defend “our” borders erodes the law, and respect for rights, even as six companies awarded contracts to create thirty-foot tall prototypes of a border wall with Mexico have completed their full-scale models being tested for their resistance to sledgehammers, scaling, underground tunneling.  Could the blurred legality of a project of wall-building be accepted as a national project as the migrants advance, and it gains greater urgency?

 

 

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It is striking the degree to which an intense–if relatively marginal–online debate about the border’s enforcement has been elevated through maps.  The simplistic data visualizations of border flow allowed to mobilize ideas of the nation that depend on a sense of illiteracy in reading data, or mapping divides.  In ways that met Trump’s own endless appetite for fostering division and opposition, the wall assumed a huge wedge to be created in American public opinion, and of opening a divide between “our safety” and the other side of the border, law-abiding Americans and the illegal behavior of undocumented immigrants branded as “illegal” for having crossed the border without documents, as if they were not law-abiding.  Poor enforcement of laws in Mexico allowed central Americans without papers to travel through their nation, to undermine the borders, Trump argued, theatrically capturing the attention of the nation without of trace of empathy for their plight as victims of violence within their own nations–but casting the United States as a victimized by global migrant flows.

And as Facebook updates of Pueblos sin fronteras described crossing immigration checkpoints without resistance, and entering nations without papers, the fear of crossing the US-Mexico border was triggered, and Trump injected increasingly militaristic language and policies, from summoning the National Guard to protect the United States’ southwestern border to threatening the “nuclear option” of end DACA, as if the category of immigrants, citizens who were the children of migrants, and refugees could be collapsed into a blurry collective, removed from any individually defining story, but grouped as a collective mass alien who were recognized as alien to the United States and lying outside the “America First” doctrine that has been a reflexive cover or varnish of unthought passionate defenses of the need for building a border wall. The adoption of this nativist point of view seems to rehabilitate its xenophobia, intent as the President’s own statements are to fail to differentiate not only between actual cases that merit asylum, have been granted working papers, and indeed contribute to American society. By making all subject to the threat of deportation–and stripping them of any legal status at all–they are removed from civil society and civil society is eroded.

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Filed under 2016 US Presidential Election, Donald Trump, immigration, mapping the US-Mexican border, unauthorized immigrants