Trump chose to visit the border wall for a final time in his Presidency, in a disarmingly valedictory way, to offer a summing up of his achievements as chief executive, that combined the ceremonial fanfare with which he had visited the groundbreaking of a new hotel, accompanied by city officials, but as if he was now inhabiting the role of the public official, the enabler, and the fixer all at once in the unveiling of an even more majestic and far more grandiose national monument. If the visit of the U.S. President recalled the triumphal visits to sites of real estate developments, Trump announced in Alamo that the border wall had progressed from a development project as “completion of the promised four hundred and fifty miles of border wall” transformed what was but a “development project” to border wall sections in either “construction or pre-construction,” that would remain a part of national memory as central as The Alamo itself, even if he never openly referenced the historic site of battle to defend a garrison flying “Old Betsy” by Tejano settlers.
Wasn’t the visit a formal announcement and a bit for public attention of redesigning the open space of the border by the erection of a permanent border structure, an echo of the promotional photo ops he posed for with New York officials on the eve of breaking ground for a new skyscraper or luxury complex in the past, presenting the luxury developments as a victory for the city and its inhabitants?
Trump was reminding the base that he stood for order, after the disorder of the insurrection he had fomented in Washington, DC. The optics of authority were important, and the border wall had to be foregrounded as a prop of his leadership as never before. So often had Trump evoked the border wall for his base as the grounds for his election that he seem to have responded to the sense of a gaping hole in the demands of the Border Patrol in America. Barack Obama joked with some desperation in 2011, exasperated after appeasing Republicans, that if the border barriers at El Paso, TX were “basically complete,” “They’ll want want a higher fence—maybe they’ll need a moat! Maybe they want alligators in the moat!” Trump in 2019 adopted that very cinematic fantasy, per Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration, by seeking cost estimates to stock a trench with alligators to ward off migrants from border-crossing to end cross-border flow on what he saw as his property, gloriously removed referential data to place. A moat may have been the ideal image of stoppage by terror, not rooted in place, but conveying the bravura of a builder. As the image gained currency in photoshopped images, Trump was furious at his staff, convinced a leak had occurred that held him up to ridicule. “You are making me look like an idiot! I ran on this. This is my issue!”
It was his issue, but enlisting aquatic reptiles was implausible in an arid desert –even if some speculated that the subsidies to Florida alligator breeders would secure the state’s votes. The planning of an adequately prohibitive trench opened the President to a range of questions about the feasibility of a border wall, and suddenly opened the project to ridicule–as the visit to Alamo opened speculation that Rudy Giuliani would join Donald Trump at the Alamo car rental agency at an airport in Texas. But the visit would showcase front lines of border protection by Border Patrol, the foot soldiers to stop migrant transit, and this time: in Alamo, the sheer concrete of the border wall existed at a real place–if “Alamo” was more evocative in the national imagination as a reminder of the perpetual vulnerability of the border as much as its defense. Trump visited the border wall to restore dignity to the office which he was leaving in disgrace–far less gracefully than he had departed NBC after fifteen seasons of The Apprentice. If affirmed as a law and order President beside the officers of Customs and Border Protection. If the moat caricatured border protection in photoshopped images, Trump wanted to promote the remaking of the Mexican-American boundary reveled as no fantasy game of alligators extending on a thousand-mile lazy river leading to the Rio Grande, but an occasion to praise heroes “who risk their lives every day to protect our families and our country” in a scared duty that compared to the patriotic moment of border defense at The Alamo mission, in the heroic adventure film of John Wayne, set in San Antonio,–even if that shrine to the nation lay a full two hundred and twenty miles north, or three and a half hour by car, and about eight days by foot.
Trump magnified the border wall as a monument to the nation by a place-name able to evoke the image of national defense over a thirteen-day siege by foreign forces, transcended its role in the creation of Texas, or Texian pride, as a defense of flying the American flag as an icon of continental destiny and hemispheric dominance, monumentalized as an American Thermopylae, preserving American democracy and the expansive rule of American destiny before a Mexican threat, as Thermopylae turned all Greeks against the invading Persians. The status of the mission as a shrine to Texas maryrs and the struggle of liberty against Mexican tyranny gained a patriotic concensus that Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbit famously ruffled in 1979, when he pointed out “The Alamo is a symbol of the problem in our relationship with Mexico” as a nation–a view that Mexican-Americans saw as epitomizing a paternalistic relaiton to Mexico. For while it is continued to be commemorated as “a sacred symbol to Texans and an extension of the American ideal–but to Mexico it’s a symbol of territory lost, a nation plundered by overbearing gringo neighbors.” Nonetheless, the heroism of the defense of the garrison was returned to in television films from the 1987’s The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory, the 1988 IMAX spectacle Alamo: The Price of Freedom; and in John Lee Hancock’s 2004 film The Alamo–that elevated the national identity of America in terms of a struggle against Mexican culture and authority, if not, as Richard Flores has argued, a “master symbol serves as a critical map for the exploitation and displacement of Mexicans” in a triumphant narrative of American history and an American way of life.
The ongoing nature of a threat to American liberties and democracy was channeled in a visit to Alamo, TX. Never mind that the that the Texian insurrection at a munitioned garrison was in Mexico: the siege raised by Mexican forces of General Antonio López de Santa Anna may have even glorified the moment of insurrection to the groups that had contributed to the insurrection at the White House, known as the Capitol Siege, echoing the admiration and sympathies Trump had declared to the insurrectionists, who might find precedent for their own invasion of a joint session of congress in the insurrectionists and anti-federalists of the past. On the eve of increased buzz among far right extremists in the United States of renewed interest in staging disruptive events during the incoming Presidency and inauguration, even the slightest reference to glorifying the Tejano insurrection as a moment of national defense broadcast messages. Was not the insurrection The Alamo a moment of holding one’s ground to defend the nation, even against all odds? The valiance of the attempt to hold the fort dignified an insurrection quelled by a hero of Mexico’s war of independence summoned to restore peace had been rewritten as a defense of patriotic liberty. Enlisted in the script of national legends as a defense of liberty and nation, as the cry of patriotic injunction to “Remember the Alamo!” rallied revolutionaries and troops in the later Mexican-American War of 1846-48–and would reverberate as “Remember the Maine!” in Hearst Newspapers as they sought to start the Spanish-American War.
The place of The Alamo in the national memory was inscribed on the border town founded at the turn of the century, shortly after the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor was taken as a ground of war. Although San Antonio was a site of American illegal immigration into Mexico, far from the current border wall, its commemoration of alleged rights of independence in the border town geographically removed from The Alamo reminded us of the power of mythic enlistment of an ideal of national defense, echoing the notion defending national ideals encouraged just days earlier when the Capitol building was seized for four hours–and would have in 1905 commemorated the national defense of the border at the “new” border town.
This time, the President wanted to remind the base, the place existed, the wall was rooted in space. Trump wanted to share a moment of bonding with Border Patrol that might moreover root the border wall visit in a moment of national memory. And what better way than by evoking a sacralized site of American history at The Alamo, recalling a distant siege of 1836 that some might see as the origins of the Border Patrol, or the first defense of a southern border on Texan land,–if not the transformation from Tejas, the Mexican state, to Texas in defending the garrison in San Antonio, if not the blood shed by the defense of territorial claims of Tejanos that were commemorated in patriotic cries of United States soldiers who defended American sovereignty over Texas?
The critically foreshortened perspective on the US-Mexico border, and indeed on the border wall, have a long pedigree, whose genealogy might be said to begin from The Alamo, if not the perpetuation of the Alamo myth as a staking of rights to hold land–and, as it happens, to seize munitions and pistols at a fortified garrison. The preservation of the place of The Alamo as a mythic site for standing one’s ground on a line drawn in the sand–a legend without basis in historical fact–testifies to the history of the mutability of the US-Mexico border which was, of course, not firmly defined as a latitude before the two hundred and seventy-six obelisks were set in the ground to mark the US-Mexico border in 1848, after the US-Mexico War fought to define the southern perimeter of the nation–long before the idea of a “border fence” or “border boundary.”
When David Taylor undertook to photograph across California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, the militarization of the border by the United States had not begun–he took a snapshot that froze and preserved each border monument before the inevitable progress of militarization of the boundary was pronounced. His photographs are a record of the care taken in the boundary line surveyed after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo purchased rights to run the border and cede California Alta, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and much of Arizona to the gringo for $15 million, before the far, far greater allocation of budgetary resources to its fortification destroyed the border landscape.
Given the difficulty of “tracing upon the ground” the boundary concluded by negotiators of the treaty, the essentially arbitrary line was to be surveyed, measured and drawn on the very ground, to make the arbitrary line manifest as a part of the landscape, transforming what was a line in the sand across two thousand miles “to cement the words on the page and the line in the sand . . . both legally and physically.” The jointly qualitative and quantitative project of surveying that was a testament to the skill of deploying a national surveying team along treacherous terrain, engaging astronomers, cartographers, mountaineers, and artists, often the veterans of the US-Mexico War, was a massive national project of sovereign aggression, cementing the map to the land by assembling piles of rocks, cairns completed in 1852 but later replaced by obelisks every to to four miles apart to be able to be seen by an individual line of sight, transforming the arbitrary line to a the landscape.
The obelisks later affirmed as a patriotic point of reference from which flew flags marking territorial claims.
When Donald Trump ran for President on the promise to expand the border as a monitory wall, the border was already militarized, but expanding the investment in a border infrastructure to solidifed in the national imaginary and memory. Announcing a visit to Alamo as he left office sought to recognize the militarization of the border and the threat of its breaching simultaneously, by evoking without every having to the memory of the loss of The Alamo, and the conquest of the border, by creating an imaginary continuity in the historical militarization of this border line. Donald Trump, a huge fan of John Wayne, whose birthplace he visited int eh Iowa Caucuses of 2015, when running for President, must have remembered the stirring defense of the nation that was imagined in the 1960 historical epic, “The Alamo,” where Crockett shoots as many Mexican soldiers as he can, before his ammunition is exhausted, in his defense of a “line in the sand” for the conceit of a Republic. The visit that promotec the defense by Tejano soldiers of the garrison in San Antonio, then a border town to the Mexican interior of the Mexican state of Texas, evoked the myths of claimed sovereignty by an early historical imaginary of a line in the sand, commemorated in historical epics of the American cinema. For American films from D.W Griffith’s Martyrs of the Alamo to John Wayne’s technicolor epic magnified the patriotism of the defense of a racialized line in the sand that evoked the nation over the region. The defenders of the garrison commandeered by Tejans never agreed to defend a line in the sand–nor did their leader, Lt. Col. William Barrett Travis, even draw one–the image of a “line” that emerged by 1873 in printed accounts of The Alamo, that mythologized the siege as a defense of a Texan state, evoked the boundary of the 1848 Treaty as a line that the fort’s defender drew with unsheathed sword on the Mission’s grounds.
The nineteenth-century American migrants who fought to reclaiming what they understood as their Constitutional rights would, after all, lead the United States to recognize Texas as a state in 1845, and defend Texas’ southern borderline. While the vision of the a moat filled with alligators seemed a flight of fancy, the reference to another Alamo seemed rooted in space, if it was not exactly geotagged. By evoking the myth of border vulnerability, bravery, and militarized valor in one of his final public appearances as President, Trump celebrated his creation of a wall in “this great outdoor space” in what he called only recently “a broken, dysfunctional open border.” The implicit message that it might soon devolve as an open border–and “the most secure border in U.S. history” might soon be breached. While “we got it done” to meet the letter of the request of the U.S Border Patrol, “the completion of the promised four hundred and fifty miles of border wall” what was a “development project” in either “construction or pre-construction,” the border wall system must remain, Trump implied, a part of the Texas geography as central as The Alamo itself. While he pronounced the border wall complete, enshrining it in a nationalist, the section at Alamo was always in danger of reverting to the dangers evoked in the diorama of thousands of Mexican soldiers attacking its walls that lies in The Alamo in San Antonio, able to be evoked, without even naming it, in his audience’s minds.
This, at least, seemed a real place–and seemed the conclusion of a history where the walls of the Alamo were besieged and new walls, truly unbreachable, existed at Alamo TX, in their memory. The ruins of the fort that were a shrine to national memory had provided a living memory to the nation, preserved in the oppositional terms that they had been recorded in the diary of the member of the volunteer Revolutionary Army of Texas, Dr. John Barnard, as the very Mission and church whose masonite walls were stormed as “the foes of liberty came and dealt death and destruction to all around.” They site of pillage would be claimed by a Mexican army that had “exulted in their carnage and gloried in the conquest of a handful of brave men, who overpowered by numbers, fell as those heroes of old did Thermopylae,” where 7,000 Greeks had held off what were said to be a million Persian invading troops in ancient three-day battle that had raged in a mountain pass. The topos of invasion had cast the Alamo as itself a divide where the Texian revolutionaries held the garrison that had fallen, but was preserved in popular and national memory something akin to the early wall–the line that, legend had it, the commander of the garrison, Cl. Travis, traced in the sand with his sword, as he asked fellow-defenders to choose to defend “in freedom’s cause” or to accept the surrender to General Santa Anna demanded. If historical legend has it that all but one of the “heroic defenders” still commemorated in Texas High School history books had chose to defend, their canonization as martyrs was enshrined in the adoption of the battle charge “Remember the Alamo!” to among Texan Revolutionaries, revived in the defense of Texas’ southern boundary in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 and the Spanish-American war.
Just three years after The Alamo was retaken, before American forces had occupied Mexico to provoke the United States-Mexican war, Mitchell’s Family Atlas had mapped Texas as lying outside Mexican sovereignty, a decade before the state entered the union, four years before Mexico’s foreign minister warned Washington that annexation of Texas as a state would be an act of war–even if cotton production in Texas had encouraged the extension of slavery, competing with plantations in southern states for pricing their primary cash crop.
While the defense of the United States’ new southern boundary after the annexation of Texas by Congress, as the military occupation of the territory led Mexico to sever relations with the United States government, the State of Texas was mapped as Anglo land grants above the Rio Grande (or Rio Brava), during the Texas Revolution, against longitude from Washington, DC according to acts of the U.S. Congress, as Texas militia invoked The Alamo decades before the United States’ southern border officially extended to the Rio Grande.
San Antonio was far from the southern border, but as a crucial trading post to the Mexican interior, and trading post, the city where the Alamo lay was a The mythic line for holding ground against the Mexican forces was never drawn by defenders of the garrison at the Mission whose masonite walls afforded a border outpost and fortress; but the line was mythologized in the service of the defense of a longitudinal boundary line, and is commemorated for all visitors to the Alamo, a shrine to revolutionaries as the site of burial of its defenders, marked by a bronze rod inset in paving stones twenty feet before the church’s door, as a line that Texian separatists pledged to defend to the death until they exhausted their supply of canon balls and bullets. The line, even if it does not commemorate an actual place, and was never drawn, has been enlisted in a project of national memory in a celebratory history of the start of “the geopolitical structure of the Americas” and an exclusion of Mexican history and Mexican memory from the map, as it inscribed a myth of belonging to the occupiers of The Alamo, and their defense of a territory which we imagine we vicariously continue: the naming of the city of Alamo at the entrance to the Rio Grande Valley, in Hidalgo County, was named after the shrine of Texan liberty in San Antonio, as it lay just north of the US-Mexico border.
The place-name not only erases Mexican presence from the Rio Grande valley at a place where the river regularly overflowed its bounds, but reduces the wilderness wildlife refuge that abuts the border, the lush region still fed by seasonal overflow of the Rio Grande in an area of massive water diversion, one of the few areas in the region amid cleared lands where flooding was curbed by settlers, an ecological niche for migrating birds. If the memory of The Alamo was an erasure of Mexican land claims in Texas up to the border, the expansion of levees, concrete panels, and border wall system would erase delicate avian habitat along the Rio Grande or, as it is known in Mexico, the Rio Bravo has nourished. If these ecological niches were encouraged in wildlife refuges established in the 1940s, to counteract water diversion and land clearing, elevating the perspective of the border complexby imposing a perspective privileging construction of the border wall along sensitive habitat–and erasing the serpentine border that runs through the Rio Grande Valley wilderness complex–
–privileging the fear of a “flood” of migrants over the seasonal flooding of the river that long enriched riverside “resecas” by water bearing loamy soils, through the imposition of dikes, levees, and dams for water diersion, erasing the flooding of ecoystems by clay-rich waters by expanded sheer concrete of a border wall.
–as a grid of urban development, land clearance, and habitat destruction advances along the border, increasingly threatened by the very construction projects that have completed existing segments of border wall. The triumphalist image of the progress of construction promotes a dangerous vision of border defense, erasing the protection of sensitive habitat in wildlife refuges critical for migrating birds, privileging the fear of migrating humans above migration patterns of birds and butterflies, by imposing the perspective of the imperative of continuing the construction of further levees in the Rio Grande Valley for border wall.
1. The dividing line of the bronze bar before the mission that was a garrison channels the defense of the border. The evocation of this bronze line set in The Alamo evokes a military defense of the border that imbued with sacred purpose. As the defense of the border was commemorated in the historic epic of border defense, directed and produced by John Wayne, featuring the cowboy actor massacring “invading” Mexicans in a celebration of commitment to a fateful line for the nation, the mapping of the border wall removes the edge of the nation from its environment. In ways akin to a line of longitude, maps a divide of territorial defense in the name of the nation, even if the choice to defend the garrison was made by Anglos who entered Mexico as illegal migrants, only later remembered as sacrificing their lives to assert inalienable rights: the echo of the falsification of the preservation of rights was echoed in the name of the border town Trump visited to commemorate completion of panels of a border wall designed and in the process of completion to deprived migrants of rights. And while Trump may know little American history, or is widely read in Texas history, despite the many rallies he has had in the state, U.S. Border Patrol is so keen to have the completed border wall recognized as if it were a line of national defense, that Joe Biden’s administration might allow Mexican immigrants to breach, that Trump arrived in Alamo TX.
The name of the border town is itself a commemoration of the Americanization of the Alamo–an old Mexican fortress, the Fortress of San Antonio de Valero, that has entered the nationalist lexicon of many of the militias commemoration at Alamo emphasized the primacy of a border, over a borderland, and in visiting the wall at the end of his Presidency performatively enacted a telling bond to the nation, fulfilling the fully transactional nature of his relation to the U.S. Border Patrol’ union whose board early endorsed his Presidential candidacy, thrilled by the commitment and seriousness with which he tool the construction of a border defense system. It was time for Trump to restore his sense of pride, in the days after the Siege of the Capitol, and to try and restore his sense of himself as a Law and Order President, who had promised jobs, not mobs.
Who could deny that the primal scene of the border-like invasion of the breaching of the garrison walls of a building known as The Alamo, and not the Fortress of San Antonio de Valero, was at the back of his mind, given its place in the national psyche as a site of national defense? The commemoration of the Alamo of the struggle of Fortress of San Antonio de Valero, is after all its own sort of confederate monument, commemorating the attempt of settlers from the southern states who would expand slavery to Texas, as it was established as a Republic–before joining the United States–making it the most retrograde of nations as the only one to sanction second-class status for blacks–or to deny them citizenship. In the calls for the removal and reassessment of Confederate monuments in Texas and around the nation, the Alamo is one of the most deeply racist–with national status, but little international value, and indeed an insult to Mexicans, who should see the garrison where so many lost their lives as a shrine to the Mexican nation, even if it lies in United States territory.
For The Alamo is a shrine of the agenda of white supremacy that distinguished nineteenth century Texas history, and a racially inflected line of battle, as much as a defense of the nation, which is a touchstone for gun rights activists, and even the leader of Branch Davidians, followers of a self-anointed prophet, David Koresh, who had announced the end of times, who staged a showdown with federal forces at Waco TX called a “wake-up call” for Americans akin to Waco–perhaps more apt comparison than any–and should be reassessed as a battle, historian H.W. Brands argued, as an engagement with Mexican forces that in terms of its “contribution to the strategy of the Texas Revolution was nil or negative,” rather than a turning point or watershed of local history, meriting commemoration as a national sacred shrine. The Alamo is often, however, iconographically remembered as a fortress over which flew the Gadsden Flag, recently adopted by the Alt Right and southern secessionists, white supremacists, or states rights activists, even if the Mexican soldiers who stormed its barricades to restore order in the garrison that anti-federalist Texians held for thirteen days in a stand-off had only arisen during the heady rhetoric of states’ rights, liberties to own guns, and religious freedoms that the Waco massacre itself provoked among white supremacists and white terrorists who were energized to action during the Waco siege, and which have found renewed focus among varied militia groups which grew in fears of a Hilary Clinton victory, and have multiplied in Donald Trump’s presidency–groups with strong ties to the U.S. Border Patrol. Did Border Patrol invite Trump to Alamo to evoke the depths of their commitment to preserving the border wall, and the apocalyptic imagery of ending the wall complex defined as critical to border security?
The recent salute to the heroism of Border Patrol members at Alamo, TX was a clear reference to another cinematic fantasy of national defense, this time of sacred origin. The symbolic nature of the huge assault Santa Anna waged at The Alamo brought a massive 1,800 assault troops to lay siege to the munitioned garrison that the settlers desperately defended, resolved to hold to the end, perhaps, legend has it impelled to bravery by their commander drawing of a “line in the sand” refusing to cede land. The war ending in bloody hand-to-hand combat left dead almost all hundred and eighty nine defenders of the fort, save a few women and children gallantly allowed to leave the garrison’s besieged walls as the mission and its walls became the target of enemy canon fire to retake the garrison, earlier abandoned, in December, 1835, using canon onslaught to retake the strategic fort and its munitions, March 6, 1836.
Was the border wall a similar instance of martial valor, and, indeed was enshrined by many militias and white nationalists as a canonic turning point in the border’s defense in future histories of the American West, trying to retain a garrison filled with munitions as from its walls, as they faced canon fire on two flanks?
The construction of the border wall on the southwestern border of the nation was central to the very notion of nationhood, Trump insisted. Trump so compellingly made a central issue of his first Presidential campaign, has been showcased in his Presidency to created a wedge driven into the nation, if the border wall promised to protect national security in ways that previous administrations, for a lack of clear bearings on the situation or blinded by political incompetence that prevented them from endorsing measures of sufficient strength. “All of you people, incredible,” Trump waxed, trying to soar to patriotic heights, as he praised a secure southern border and reformed immigration system as if the border wall stood as but a synecdoche for a complex ensuring border security, prefigured, however ahistorically, in the undying defense to the end of the Alamo.
Trump was offering during his visit a new narrative of his Presidency rooted in law enforcement, not the expansion of anti-migrant hostility or escalation of violence against migrants systematically separated and detained at the border to discourage immigration in almost psychological warfare. The border wall was a synecdoche for national defense: “When I took office, we inherited a broken, dysfunctional, and open border. Everybody was pouring in at will.. Everyone here today is part of an incredible success story. This is a real success story.”
Instead of asking what sort of film was playing in his mind, it makes sense what sort of map he was creating for the nation. The tenor of President Trump’s somewhat valedictory visit to the border town of Alamo, TX reenacted his relation to the nation, by affirming the border not only as a boundary enforced during his Presidency to affirm the nation’s integrity. The flight down to Texas to visit the border wall at the border town Alamo in his first public appearance since the Siege of the Capitol was not only an attempt to feel, but to steal the headlines and turn the attention of the media, and, unbelievably, offer further trigger words after inciting mobs to storm the Capitol building.
The visit was Trump’s first public appearance after the nation was destabilized and shocked by the January 6 Siege–and he sought a new photo opportunity to look Presidential that restored an image of law and order long cultivated and projected onto the border and its blockage, if often from a repertory of performance more imbued in cinematic fantasy than immigration law.
Addressing the public for the first time after the Siege of the Capitol, Trump boasted completing four hundred and fifty miles of new wall on the region the Border Patrol had prioritized region of the Rio Grande and along other sectors of the US-Mexico border. Visiting a border town named Alamo channeled the trauma of invasion by its place-name, as if tagging the visit for social media. Border Patrol leadership had long feared increase “lawlessness” across the border in a Biden Presidency, and the final visit to the border strove to turn attention from the crisis of the constitution to the strong borders of Trump Nation. It helped plan the visit to a town that memorialized the defense of a historic Mission mythologized in Texan history as a garrison of the Republic, filmed as an epic patriotic battle in 1960 produced, directed by and starring his longtime media idol, John Wayne, of whose Trump is a “huge fan”–whose open avowal of racism he recently defended.
Trump’s visit to the border town at a moment of his second impeachment might undermine Presidential authority reminded us how much the border wall was a literal prop for his presidency, as he stoked fears that any removal of border wall will imminently open the nation to a “tidal wave of [lawless, illegal] immigrants.” Trump had for years embraced the border as a signature interest of his Presidency, and visited the town in an attempt to reassert his Presidency at a moment of crisis to revisit a site of the performance of the Presidency. He came to praise the U.S. Border Patrol, whose union lent a powerful early endorsement to his candidacy in 2016: the union’s vice president, Art Del Cueto, a huge fan of the President who was by his side when Trump’s family watched the votes tallied in the 2016 election, and who held out hope in late November that the election was not lost yet. The visit to the border wall offered a final performance chance to summon some dignity in Trump’s poor performance of his role as President, a celebration of the politicization of the Border Patrol in his presidency as enforcers of order on the border to foreground how his commitment to their stewardship of an ideal of order at the nation’s edge. The Border Patrol expanded under President Obama, but Border Patrol officers became both a constituency promoting border enforcement and prominent form of immigration police on the front lines enforcing immigration in Trump’s enhanced border security apparatus, all but fetishizing its security by interactive maps since 2009 demonstrating the completion of border fencing–click here to see! in this primitive version–to the “strategic evolution” of the border, mapping sectors by total apprehensions per day, as if the border provided a clear tally of effectiveness for national defense.
–and casting migrants as an advance that can be dehumanized in terms of “highwater marks” before Obama’s election to the presidency.
President Trump’s administration has spared no restraint in gaining “operational control” over the southern border through massive surveillance technology given to Border Patrol, as a wish list, allocating pumped up budgets for Customs and Border Protection and ICE beyond the $20 billion of 2018, including $18 billion for construction of the border wall and $23 billion for security and enforcement, earmarking $1.6 billion for Border Patrol surveillance technology and equipment for the front lines of apprehending immigrants to detain and deport across the border.
The border became a strip, and a frontier of a war, triggered by the visit to Alamo TX as a defense of the border at the borderline–designed to revisit he had helped to reframe as a monument of nationalist pride, erasing its habitat, ecosystem, and indeed the very notion of a border zone as a zone of transit, and a permeable membrane of abutting jurisdictions, by moving the US-Mexican border into American sovereignty so that an American flag might fly over it, akin to the flying of the Betsy Ross flag–the original flag of thirteen colonies, “Old Betsy,” commemorated in many films of The Alamo, including the blockbuster of avowed white supremacist John Wayne, and itself adopted by many of the protestors in the Siege of the Capitol of 2021.
The politicization of the Border Patrol had redefined the nation’s edge in the nation’s imaginary. The border was promoted a a site that demanded order in the Trump Presidency. Trump had so long nurtured fears of the border-crossing that the very power of the place-name “Alamo” as a primal site of breaching boundary walls triggered a vision of the border as a site of patriotic battle dramatized with patriotism in John Wayne’s historical epic of settlers defending the fort to the death for the Republic. Trump indignantly declared himself a “longtime fan” of John Wayne and defended the removal of a nationalist icon as much as a movie star, all but blaming Orange County Democrats for removing Wayne’s name and likeness from their airport as a partisan ploy, despite John Wayne’s notoriously “white supremacist, anti-LGBT, and anti-Indigenous views.” Even in a national moment of reckoning and reassessment after the George Floyd Protests, Trump held his ground to defend the icon of the film Alamo that cast the band of Anglo insurrectionists who seized the mission from Mexican sovereignty in openly heroic terms: even if John Wayne admitted his support for white supremacists in a 1971 interview with Playboy, revealing “I don’t feel guilty about the fact that five or ten generations ago these people were slaves,” and questioning blacks’ responsibility. (The aging star who produced The Alamo confessed “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility.”) Trump evoked John Wayne in the early days of his political candidacy in 2016: he visited the Wayne Birthplace as he began his Presidential campaign in the Iowa Caucuses, visiting Wayne’s birthplace in the company Aissa Wayne, who as a child played the sole survivor of the Siege of the Alamo in Wayne’s film, and posed smilingly before a wax effigy of his cinematic idol.
Soon after the announcement of the visit in the aftermath of the Capitol Riots, Mary Trump, the psyhcologist niece of the President, who has carefully considered her uncle’s psychological dynamics and pathologies more closely than most, argued Trump’s decision to visit the section of border wall at Alamo, TX was a catcall of sorts to followers. Dismissing the idea that it was based on knowledge of U.S. History, or Trump’s knowledge of the tragedy of the Alamo, she suggested that someone suggested to visit a site whose place-name recalled a primal scene of Texan and American history. The visit was most likely not The Donald’s idea, given his unfamiliarity with actual historical events: “I’m sure somebody else told him to go there” to make the visit, and that “once the symbolism was known, he was sure it was a good idea,” she opined. His visit to the border was perhaps cast as “making a stand” after his incendiary January 7 speech about the Capitol Riot. The divide in the nation was evident in the contrast between Mary Trump, describing on CNN how Trump did not know where to stop, as Border Patrol Acting Chiefs pronounced on ANN and FOX predicting an inevitable uptick of border violence and immigrants if the border structure was not enforced.
Was the visit suggested by the U.S. Border Patrol? The union leadership was extremely close to him since 2016, forming the base of his base, and in capping off a week of inciting tension crowds and tensions by loaded phrases and tag words, the place pregnant with symbolism—“Alamo” pops off of the map as not only a toponym, but a site of national duty, patriotic sacrifice, and nationhood as much as loss. Trump’s trip to the border but the turn to the border may have tested less on historical knowledge, than social messaging facilitators, tied to Border Patrol in Texas, where the Alamo is taught as a founding moment of the Republic in all Texas history courses: Remembering the Alamo was a battle cry and patriotic call of imagined irredentism a bit akin to Make America Great Again; the image of national sacrifice preserved in kitsch media that have preserved the image of flying flag of Old Betsy flying atop the besieged fort as a patriotic call of nation above circumstance. Wayne aimed to resuscitate his career by producing, directing and starring in “Alamo,” an early Technicolor blockbusters at studio expense. “The Alamo” affirmed Wayne as a patriotic icon of the Republican party; Trump, who aimed to be a film producer, most definitely admired the racial contest onscreen in the years he pinned his future to film school as a way to extricate himself from his father’s seedy real estate business. If, as André Bazin argued, “every film is a social documentary,” “The Alamo” was a memorable staging of the social reality of the border, imagining the Anglo settlers John Wayne and Richard Widmark struggling in hand-to-hand combat to defend the ideals of the American flag they hoisted above the garrison, in ways that might have been discussed at the Trump family dining table.
The dropping of the name of John Wayne hit a nerve comparable to the dropping of names of Confederate soldiers at U.S. Amy bases in Texas: the President took time during the George Floyd riots to dismiss the attempt to remove the honorific name from the airport near Los Angles as due to the bitter climate of removing historic statues and monuments tied to Confederate soldiers or of racist figures around the nation, which he found constituted an attack on a national patrimony–and to promote a Garden of American Heroes to by fiat on July 4, 2020, as a sort of sculpture garden of his aims to Make America Great Again in a site of idealized figures of the American past from Antonin Scalia to Billy Graham to Davy Crockett, who Wayne played in the film. “We love John Wayne,” he rebuffed accusations about the actor’s embrace of white supremacy– “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility,” Wayne stated, “I’m not condoning slavery. It’s just a fact of life . . .” While such remarks triggered revulsion at the commemoration of the movie star of western kitsch as a namesake for an airport, Trump took the opportunity to call out an unwanted reassessment of national identity. Trump didn’t need to name John Wayne in his visit to the border to channel the national patriotism with which John Wayne’s historical epic racialized defense of a border garrison as a war between Anglo settlers who tried to fight of the Mexicans who besieged their fort.
Trump’s visit to the border city of Alamo was a moment of the theater of immigration at its crassest. Trump’s planned visit reminded us of the theater of the border and role of a border strongman that Trump has cherished, as he returns to it to wrap up Donald Trump: The Presidency, with a nod to John Wayne’s film. This blog wrestled with the infographics of asylum seekers, border apprehensions, corpses of migrants in American territory, and, of course, the building of a border wall that was a keystone promise of the Trump Presidency that condensed his very own Contract with America. The decision to return to visit the southwestern border at Alamo, TX, a border town south of San Antonio, is to mark the completion of four hundred miles of Border Wall, but also stages a triumphal conclusion to a Presidency a project of border- building announced his Presidential bid. The visit to Alamo, as impeachment hearings loom, evoked the American epic, in a Technicolor extravaganza that was produced by John Wayne at huge expense by the studio, that celebrated how a band of Texan settlers who took the Spanish garrison had forced he hand of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at the Alamo, evoking the myth of their defense of the “Republic” costing Mexican up to 6,000 troops to defend the Texan territory that became part of the nation, even at the cost of their lives. As he conjured the “nearly 5,000 illegal aliens with criminal records, some with very serious criminal records” that the U.S. Border Patrol had apprehended–in the past year alone, border patrol agents have apprehended 7,564–the fate of these migrants was erased in the name of the national defense. What better site to evoke the power of the nation on the evening of his impeachment?
Trump’s visit was a distraction from the start of impeachment proceedings, and the Seige of Capital he had begun. Although he visited a border town named after the garrison was far from the actual Alamo, the visit implicitly referenced the historic site of a battle that has been recast in mythic terms as a fight for American sovereignty and national identity, waged by insurrectionists who had seized a fort in Mexican territory. The image of the Battle of the Alamo where a line was drawn in the sand by the commander of defense forces, Colonel William Travis, a one-time lawyer, with his sword, had long conjured the militarized defense of the sacred territory of the nation that President Trump channeled, even if he didn’t refer to it openly, in his speech. In mapping the security that he had created for the nation with the erection of border wall along the Rio Grande–the region that the Border Patrol had long specified as the most in need of greater security-staked a performative relation to the mission of preserving the nation, elaborated in the filmed versions of the Battle that showed Anglo heroes who fought in sacred commitment to the nation.
This was truly disorienting. The associations of such a coded reference didn’t need to be made explicit, as it was understood as a way of recasting his valiant dedication to Border Control–reminded his audience and the nation that while he had inherited a “lawless border,” akin to what Davy Crockett faced in the Alamo, the dangers of the border had been tranquillized over the course of the Trump Presidency, and that even if “we didn’t need walls everywhere, but where we needed them,” they have made the nation stronger, before conjuring fears that the imminent opening of “these very walls” of national security might claim far, far more than died at the Alamo Mission, but “millions and millions of jobs and thousands of lives,” at a time when “I can tell you,” he concluded as if to offer a hint of the map he would keep presenting, “already, waves are starting to come up from 2,000 and 1,000 and 500 miles away,” recuperating apocalyptic images of biblical proportions, without agency, that mapped the vast and perilous border as an edge of uncertainty.
More than channel the actual Alamo, Trump channeled, as many have noted, the symbolism of the fortified Mission, if not the 1960 Technicolor celebration of the defense of the Alamo as a visionary nature of the protection of the US-Mexico border as sacrificing himself to the nation in a site that is now preserved as a shrine to the nation in San Antonio. As he arrived in the Rio Grande valley, Trump evoked a sense of nation that was removed from the space of the border–or borderlands–asserting “we have ended the immigration chaos and re-established American sovereignty on the border,” in a show of patriotic devotion to nation as removed form actuality as how John Wayne imagined defense of the west as a devotion to a republican cause. “Republic. I like the sound of the word–means that people can live free, talk free, go or come, buy or sell, be drunk or sober, however they choose,” the patriotic imagining of Davy Crockett asserted in the film with proto-nationalist conviction probably foreign to the opportunists who seized the fort. “Some words give you a feeling,” he mused in the film produces in 1960; released around the very year Trump had imagined a future of making films, John Wayne’s historical epic channeled the defense of the nation in overtly nationalistic terms undoubtedly not known to Davey Crockett: Crockett stirringly muses in his committed defense of the garrison that “Republic is one of those words that makes me tight in the throat.”
Did Trump, long a fan of action sequences, if not great on United States history, recall the extensive battle scene of hand to hand combat after Mexican soldiers stormed the walls of the Alamo in San Antonio, see it as fit to visit Alamo with Border Patrol members to showcase a geographic imaginary of the defense of the nation? the visit sought to affirm the border wall as a line in the sand that needed to be secured for the nation, far from the experience of migrants or immigration. There are no borderlanders in The Alamo, which opposes Anglo defenders of the fort to Mexican soldiers besieging its walls–only the claims to national territory. The line in the sand is now raised to steel columns rooted in a reinforced concrete foundation.
President Trump’s visit that marks the end of his Presidency entertains historical myths about the border and puts the border back into national discussion: the decision to to visit a town named after the San Antonio mission in whose stone walls Texans seeking independence withstood by the Mexican army for thirteen days, firing canon at forces by which they were outnumbered, and became a battle cry in the Mexican-American War in ten years. The historical memory of defiance will seek to boost the drama of the border in patriotic struggle, and restore the border to the national attention, removed from the illegal detention and deprivation of rights of migrants at the actual border. The myth of electing death before outnumbered resistance in the garrison where American settlers first moved to Texas, living among the cottonwoods of the stone walls and concrete parapets that fortified the mission: in place of the siege Trump incited against the Capitol last week to forestall the transition of power, he arrived to celebrate four hundred miles of border wall with US Border Patrol officers in Alamo TX, who have already cleared the road for his arrival, in an area they had prioritized as an area in need of secure boundaries, and to which he responded–if not as quickly as they had asked.
It provided a powerful way to illustrate the continued need for the defense of the border at the border, as his own Presidential authority had been undermined, and an occasion to continue to wrap himself with flags, in ways that blurred the logic in a mythistory that recast insurrectionist goals with allegedly patriotic intent.
If the visit may be seen as pure transactional politics of the sort Trump prefers, who unprecedentedly endorsed his candidacy and have worked to secure and clear the area that he intends to visit. The visit offers a basis to canonize the border wall within the MAGA agenda, as well as a photo opportunity to bemoan that President-Elect Biden plans to stop construction of the Border Wall. The visit will seek to turn a chapter on the Siege Trump encouraged on the Capitol, breaking constitutional precepts, by basking in the glory of the wall, in the face of the President-Elect’s hopes to hold Border Patrol accountable for crimes, and restructure their semi-autonomous organization As the President-Elect had campaigned on the promise to halt construction of the border wall, vowing not to add “another foot,” the visit to celebrate the completion of 400 feet of new reinforced wall will launch a rallying cry of nationalism, planning for hours how to not be distracted by impeachment proceedings, by re-igniting a discourse of Making America Great Again. The reassertion of the wall’s ties to national defense and security have receded with public protests and fears of COVID-19. Wrapping the constructed sections in several sectors of the border in a MAGA glow will be an homage to the Border Patrol, Trump’s oldest supporters, and the excavation of historical memories to situate the border wall the centrality it had occupied as the principal sound stage and prop of the Trump presidency.
Was this simply business as usual? The visit to Alamo, TX to affirm the place of the border wall to a vision of national integrity on the eve of the impeachment hearing was a moment of national transcendence, of sorts, tagging national memory and a primal scene of national sacrifice, marking the strategic place of the dedication of the Texas volunteer army in the Texas Revolution. In visiting Alamo TX, Trump was tagging the place of the border wall and placing his presidency in the national memory, in an apparently valedictory way. For he had long performed the role of President at the US-Mexico border, and if there was comfort in being surrounded by members of the Border Patrol, a group increasingly marked by a strong presence of white supremacists, identified with Border Patrol long before the Trump Era, it elevated the wall to mythic status. IF Border Patrol was a focus of white supremacists’ “historical” interest predating the Obama Presidency in “infiltrating law enforcement communities or recruiting law enforcement personnel” or converting members that have conflated immigration enforcement with domestic terrorism. The Presidential visit to Alamo TX as the clock for impeachment ticked tagged a primal scene of mythistory, as if on social media, where the nation was born of strength, resolve and sacrifice that Trump sought to project to interrupt his second impeachment.
Trump has given unprecedented official legitimacy to U.S. Border Patrol, a once low-level organization without much sheen or status in the federal government, both in enforcing immigration at the border and gaining a large technical armory designed for increased “OpCon.” As if in exchange, Trump has basked in their approval, since the early endorsement of his Presidency. The border wall has been increasingly apparent as a proof his leadership and performance as President, since it was introduced at his early rallies, occasioning a rallying cry triggering “fight or flight” responses. Border wall was featured on social media, in the obsessive redesign of the border wall, and in regular visits to the border wall sections. The 2020 campaign featured Trump ceremonially signed the plaque commemorating the completion of two hundred miles in late June 2020, inspecting its reflective surface after a Phoenix rally celebrated installing border wall to buoy his fortunes in Arizona’s primary, as if looking for evidence of the second term an Arizona victory might bring.
The signature of plaques commemorating construction of the border wall were the conclusion of a promise to America, and a performance of the Presidential office that featured visual evidence of his ability to Make American Great Again. but if the visit to the border town of Alamo and his reception at border station at McAllen-Reynoso was not only business as usual where he brought a sharpie for plaque-signing. It seems certain that the fictional imaginary of the Alamo–far from Alamo TX, its historical namesake and its trigger in the historical imagination and spatial imaginary–is the underlying logic for Trump’s visit to a border town he wants to cast as a militarized barrier, as the border wall was elided with the breached wall of the garrison, as he celebrated the completion of needed protection of a newly fortified nation, and a line of defense of national sovereignty, well worth the transfer of funds from the Dept. of Defense.
Trump had praised the need for restoring an image of the border was in the lengthy hour-long speech Trump gave to the Save America March in Washington DC, to energize the Christian soldiers that advanced on the chambers of Congress. Standing before the Capitol Building just a few days before, he bemoaned Democrats’ plans to “throw open our border” and energized his audience by lamenting “Now they want to take down the wall . . . . let everybody flow in!”–but the iconic image of the old Spanish Mission that loomed so large as the site of the epic battle, while not on hand in fact during the visit, will restore the centrality of military defense of the border to a vision of national integrity. While he seems to have participated in a movement to “let everybody flow in” to the seat of representative government, lamenting his own misfortunes at the hands of a globalist cabal of tech companies, Fake News, foreign voting machines, and the despised Democrats, calling for the interruption of business as usual unfolding in the chambers of the government nearby, the prospect of an invasion that would be soon felt by all Americans was both a bit of a parting gift to the incoming administration of a President whose inauguration he saw no need to attend to confirm an orderly transfer of power, and an evocation of the pleasure of aggressive policing of immigrants–“illegal aliens” and “criminals”–that his Presidency had instituted along the southwestern border, to the delight of the Border Patrol. He was among friends.
While border barriers had existed for thirty years, the creation of the Border Wall was first and foremost a disruption of existing border policy. In their place, the distortedly personal goals of sovereign exceptionalism–removed from the laws of other nations, apart from common standards, but as revealing the exceptional status of American outside international conventions to defend national safety–seem to refuse to acknowledge the sovereign’s own humanity, so keen is he to defend the nation at all costs, and to place himself and the nation outside of the common sphere of humanity in a state of exception. As if running a smokescreen against the fact that he had just incited the Siege of the Capitol, an attempted putsch to overthrow the government’s established Parliamentary processes of certifying electoral count he lost, and whose illegitimacy he still asserts, Trump conjured the place-name of the border town of Alamo TX to map falsified memories of a “seige” against the Republic which, in its cinematic Technicolor extravaganza, showed Mexicans assaulting the citadel of Tejano liberty that is still venerated as a shrine in nearby San Antonio, as a site of drawing a “line in the sand” akin to the new line that the border wall erected on the Rio Grande.
The evocation of the Alamo recast the steel and concrete and rebar of the border wall as a national monument, rooted in American history, and sovereign independence, with deep associations in south Texas and also for the alt right–evoking the very shrine that, back in 2013, Alex Jones had radioed out on Infowars was about to be taken from the United States, by being transformed by the United Nations into an internationalist order, as San Antonio mayor Julián Castro was caught negotiating with UNESCO to designate the national shrine a World Heritage Site—as if Castro were ceding the hard-won citadel already lost once to Mexican General Santa Anna. Fears that a UN flag would fly over the old mission where Old Betsy once flew as the Mexican forces of President General Santa Anna were besieging Texian settlers held their ground, he stirred enough concern that the Texas Land Commissioner felt compelled to release a press release to assure all Texans that even if the walls of the mission would join the UNESCO heritage list. “the Alamo will remain entirely under the control of the state of Texas and the Texas General Land Office,” he assured the general public after Infowars implied the erasing of a symbol of nation identity by international fiat The irredentist tenor of cries to keep the Alamo in America were channeled as Donald Trump spent his final week in office, as if to shift the focus from impeachment hearings, on the work of championing secure borders at Alamo TX, unsubtly signaling the threats to which America would be exposing itself in the Presidential transition should that secure borer wall falter in the near future and the line that it drew in the sand also be overrun.
The ruins of the breached barrier that long stood as a site of resistance in San Antonio of American tenacity in settler days has been repeatedly dramatized as a site of resistance to Mexican assault, and indeed discussed to evoke historical memories of resistance, as the man raising his cane below in the lower right seems to regale his small audience of listeners in the late 1850s, after the foundation of Texas, as the fortified Mission that the Mexican army of Santa Anna laid siege to the garrison they sought to recapture from white insurrectionists for thirteen days, only to be defeated as the memory of breaching the wall proved so strong to become a rallying cry of Tejanos or “Texians” against Mexican forces.
The culture of the Border Protection was long unique as it was historically tied to vigilantism, with ties to white supremacists and militia, and as it grew had become suspiciously less well regulated as a branch of law enforcement, as its rapid expansion led to several compromises of its role in law enforcement, already able to be questioned given the historical cooperation between Border Patrol with militias and extrajudicial citizen vigilantes dedicated to patrolling cross-border traffic, from Minuteman Project founded in 2004 to other patriot groups that hearkened back to the defense of sovereign bounds. The ties to such vigilantes may have encouraged a heightened culture of violence of Customs and Border Patrol in South Texas, reflecting origins of Border Patrol in white supremacist defense of Anglo settlers: the immediate and unprecedented endorsement by Brandon Judd of Trump’s presidential campaign–“He’s the first person who endorsed me!“–came as Trump had prioritized the border security as a platform of his candidacy–and increasingly to foreground with single-minded sense of purpose. Although “U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not endorse private groups of organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands,” and distanced themselves from militia officially, the agency ratcheted up citizens’ vigilance about immigration emphasized that the needs of border security operations meant “Border Patrol welcomes assistance form the community and encourges anyone who witnesses or suspects illegal activity to call 911, or the U.S. Border Patrol tip line.”
The historic ties Trump enjoyed to the Border Patrol from the start of his presidential campaign nourished a cozy relation that involved many union members crafting press releases for the President and in the campaign season, with Trump regularly welcomed many officers of U.S. Border Patrol to White House as if they were old allies and friends. When he spoke before the border wall at Alamo, he seems to have teared up in remembering the “great honor” after working “long and hard” on the border wall “to be here in the Rio Grande Valley with the courageous men and women of Customs and Border Patrol.” The encomium to the four hundred and fifty miles of wall built to exclude migrants were oddly cast as having forged deeply personal bonds. The President expressed gratitude for having “gotten to know . . . very well over the last four years,” praising the “incredible . . . really incredible” people at Border Patrol to whom he had promised the wall to be built, and, he was proud to say, “We got it exactly as you wanted it–everything!–including your protective plate on top . . . for extra protection.” The border wall seemed to conclude a transactional relation to the Border Patrol, as much as to protect the nation. Looking at the reinforced concrete structure with heavy slats, Trump channeled his identity as a builder President, explaining how it was “steel,” “concrete inside steel–and then its rebar–its rebar–a lot of heavy rebar inside.” “And it’s as strong as you’re going to get and strong as you can have,” Trump mused, reminding his audience that the bets were all off about building more wall in the Biden administration, as if to rile up his long-term allies at Customs and Border Patrol, whose union had first endorsed his presidential candidacy, excited by the priority he gave building a border wall in the first days of his campaign. The wall was a testimony to the strength of the nation.
The sense of the honor of such accolades and tributes to the “courageous men and women of the border patrol” was a military address that befit the visit to a frontier, at last secured from the enemy and destined to hold fast. Describing a “nation of law, . . . a nation of order,” and praising law enforcement at the border as the “foundation of the MAGA agenda,” he praised the “law enforcement heroes” at the Alamo as if to reprise a heroic relation to the nation. Trump visit the border town of Alamo, ostensibly, to celebrate having fulfilled a promise to complete four hundred and fifty miles of new “border wall system” as a defensive system of the border completed only “because of the will and vision of President Trump.” The visit sought to reprise his performance of Presidential authority, celebrating the completion of sections of border wall system built in the “San Diego, El Centro, Yuma, Tucson, El Paso, Del Rio, Laredo and Rio Grande Valley Sectors” as a system that “protects all Americans.” He visited the Rio Grande not because a signifiant section of border wall was completed there, but because it was a section of the border that Border Patrol had long advocated, but his visit to a town named “Alamo” conjured the deeply nationalistic project of border-wall building, steeped in this signature project would affirm a legendary “line in the sand” that recalled the early foundation of a Texian republic by affirming a racial as much as a spatial hierarchy.
The Alamo had been a bit of a meme in the Trump campaign. It was evoked in the name of the small San Antonio-based social media marketing campaign “Project Alamo” run by Brad Parscale. The triumphalism of the border wall at this section would extended adjacent the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, in South Texas, would have obliterated its deep costs, elevating above the destruction of habitat, natural beauty, and private land the defense of national borders. Rather than an environment or a ecoystem, the border was a site of totemic power. The power of national borders affirm the legacy of pouring almost a billion cubic yards of concrete as levee walls along the Rio Grande and over 680,000 tons of steel, investing it with comparable dramatic value, perhaps as a touchstone of national memory, and transforming the desert to a new national shrine.
While the wall system did not cover the entire border, and barely a fifth of the border itself, the visit to Alamo recalled the fragments of the garrison walls whose historical breaching were a primal scene of American nationhood, a site of necessary national sacrifice of defending a fort that led to the Texas interior–the power of the memory that boundary of its perimeter was breached was itself a powerful nationalist cry evoking a sense of national destiny in preventing the garrison to be taken, as they could have, and providing an inspiration for the Texan Revolt, “determined to defend the garrison the last” with 150 men, even after they saw the arrival of Santa Anna’s Central Army across the Rio Grande.
Was the historical geostrategicc significance of the Alamo perceived well by the MAGA base? Trump’s Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, Mark Moran, before Trump arrived at the border, had warned watchers of Fox Business News of the steep costs of any reversal of the augmentation of the extensive infrastructure built along the border in the Trump era, from technology to personnel. Continued investment in the border wall ensures “our borders are more secure and our country’s more secure,” he argued, describing economic and national security as “absolutely commingled” in the nation’s border system. Ratcheting up fear on consequences of a shift in border policy, prior to Trump’s visit, he promised the nation that “immigrants are being told the borders on January 20th are going to be open once again.” He escalated the image of a border war on which Border Patrol was the front line as artels and human smugglers exploit “open borders.” Morgan had been blocked by social media when before the election he argued that he needed to “educate the American people that borders matter.” Construction of four hundred miles of border wall whose “every mile helps us stop murderers, sexual predators and drugs from entering the country,” indulging an image of the nation designed to circulate on social media and burnish the protective wall that would promote national security as an emblem of executive action: Fox News called Twitter’s flagging of the tweet a silencing preventing the “truth” about the border from reaching Americans, bemoaning their “blocked access” to the messages of Border Protection itself committed to blocking migrants from the nation.
To be sure, the four hundred miles were barely a fifth of the border itself, and not even as much as the six hundred miles of bollard fencing and other obstructions that already had existed along the border, before Trump’s Presidency. But the massive expansion of steel border wall south of San Antonio, along the meander of the Rio Grande, is to be celebrated as a barrier at which the battle against illegal immigration was waged to attrition, by the Trump regime, due to be celebrated as a historical precedent in national memory that might survive as a future rallying cry of imposing a needed order on the border that the legend of The Alamo branded in the imagination in heightened drama–if not vivid Technicolor.
The hope to elevate his personal pet project to a similar place within the national memory will consolidate support from his base, as he is under impeachment with only eight days left in his Presidency, but is also a hope to locate the border within the national memory and legitimate its construction as a sacred memory of national defense. The historical nature of the defense of the Alamo as a battle that had been deemed by Texians as a fort “central to Texas,” and hence, in national memory, to the nation, provided powerful evocative significance to imbue Trump’s triumphal return to the border as a site of national defense.
Was Trump especially attracted by the prospect of performing a Presidential role at the site where John Wayne incarnated an appeal? John wayne in his first effort as producer and director sought to replace John Ford as a director, promoting a primal memory of the border–and indeed of the Alamo as a site of border conflict where James Bowie and Davy Crockett faced off at the garrison they had siezed. Their refusal to accpet surrender demanded by General Antonio López de Santa Anna was cast in the film as a battle to the death among white American soldiers and Mexicans, eliding or erasing the Mexican presence in Tejano forces, for a myth of Anglo identity. The role John Wayne famously played was a strongman on the border on the silver screen, who must have remained in Trump’s mind, and defense of the actor of whom he was a “fan” for his avowed sympathy to white supremacists; the large-scale battle sequence in the film set the stage for border heroism, so much that the film shot on-site increased tourist interst in the old fort as a patriotic shrine. The evocation of the heroism at the Alamo, in an attempt to echo John Ford films in which Wayne had starred, promoted the championing of American values to displace the experience of the border, aiming to elevate his own cinematic status beyond Ford’s films in a Technicolor spectacle foregrounding patriotism.
As much as to refer to the actual historical Alamo, that citadel of the Christian nation and emblem of the plans to settle a new slave-state, Texas, the visit to Alamo TX is as much a recollection of a history of drawing clear lines of battle between Mexico and the United States, no doubt sacred to the Border Patrol. But it recalls the defense of the walls of the mission by a brave of valiant Texians, in a revolution before the Lone Star State existed that has been a site of nationalist pilgrimage to remember the site of bloodshed where a band including Davy Crockett and were massacred, where the primal wall of defense against Mexico in the Texian Revolution. It has long been restored as a shrine to the nation, but the fragmentary ruins long survived as a motivating patriotic cry of vengeance after being destroyed by the retreating Mexican Army in 1836, considerably magnifying its place in the national map long after Texas became part of the United States.
There is no sense of where migrants will cross the border in future years: but the resonance of the ruined wall as a legacy of the defense of the nation that survived the destruction of its fortified wall, as the old wall f the church sacristy, now transformed to the “Shrine” that exploited the status the mission gained as a U.S. Army depot to be a memorial to national defenders. Trump no doubt seeks to channel how Wayne cast the desperate defense of a final line of sovereignty at the old Mission in San Antonio as an apt valedictory emblem affirming the vision with which as President he has tried to create a firm defensive line across the border–a sacred line of defense that the incoming Biden administration has promised to cease construction. In questioning who will defend the nation with the vision that Trump, or as Davy Crockett did at the Alamo, Trump will channel an image of American sovereignty tied to the defense of a Christian nation, echoing Wayne’s use of the Alamo as a defense of American Republicanism, if it was in fact defended long before Texas gained independence or became a Republic. The cinematic battles that were staged at the Alamo in film as late as 1960 promoted the battle between races, erasing Mexican defenders within the Alamo’s walls, and indeed erasing all Mexican Texians by celebrating the defense of the Alamo as the birthplace of White Texas–perpetuating, in other words, a vision of commemoration long mythologized in the popular imagination as a sight of white martyrdom against Mexican attackers, which still hangs in the Texas Senate Chambers which passed State Bill 4, which empowers police officers to demand any supect their immigration status.
Long before Wayne’s extravaganza, the role of Davy Crockett and his rag tag army agains the “Siege” of Mexicans who had breached the fortress walls was a subject for historical paintings after the Spanish-American War affirmed hemispheric dominance as the U.S. won possession of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Phillipines and temporary control over Cuba’s sovereignty from Spain, and the early origins of hemispheric domination were identified in the dramatic resistance to a besieged fortress southerners had seized.
This historical memory of the Alamo, which has led the ruins of the former fort and former mission to be treated as a shrine of patriotic memory, denied the insurrectionary nature of the Texian separatists who had flown Old Betsy atop the fortified former convent, whose continued commemoration as a last stand that led to the creation of Republic of Texas–if not a turning point of American geopolitical dominance in the hemisphere–has been tied to the imposition of a racial order on a “line in the sand” has effectively denied not only that many Texians were Mexican immigrants.
The ruins of the “shrine” of the Alamo–which Trump either hopes to evoke or channel in Alamo TX–the purity of Alamo as a turning point in the expansion of a racial order, that removed Mexicans from Texan territory, and purified the battle and independence of Texas as a crucial icon of Manifest Destiny and extension of an economy of enslavement from the Confederacy west: to invoke the Alamo as the birth of a Republic of Texas ignores how the battle opened the state to the entry of slave plantations–and enslaved populations from 3,097 to 24,401 in twenty years–more than a concept of Republicanism, by expanding the dominance of an economy of enslavement west. The Republic of Texas enshrined the first Confederate Constitution outlawing free blacks in ways that the racial order in John Wayne’s 1960 film echoed by casting Mexicans to portray the forces of Santa Anna, against Anglo defenders of the fort.
The combination of the sacred church which had become part of the Texian fortifications provided an image condensing multiple functions–a sacred space of the nation; a fortified space of rebellion; a space of sovereign defense–that even if it didn’t have sovereign claims in any way, were braided together much as the border wall combines sovereign claims, claims of fortifying national security, and nationalism. The figure of the Alamo had been however critically magnified in the American epic, produced by John Wayne at huge expense by the studio, who had, in the film, forced he hand of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at San Antonio, whose troops may have lost up to 6,000, and defended the Republic. Even if execution of surviving Americans and their families was a tragedy of national significance, the defeat famously survived as a rallying cry for Sam Houston’s troops to repel Santa Anna’s troops victoriously, winning independence as they cried “Remember the Alamo!” What better place to remember the centrality of the border wall in the national imaginary, and to celebrate Donald Trump as a visionary for securing the nation’s southwestern perimeter?
The memory of the border as a site of battle, a sacred site of the realization and founding of the nation, and a last defense of fortifications against a committed enemy, seem designed to recuperate the glorified nature of the border wall as a vital part of securing the nation. The cinematic power of the Alamo serves to recall an image of American strength, and unilateral determination, hardly inspiring US-Mexican cross-border friendship in its preservation of a military ideal. Was this site chosen as a site for celebration by members of the U.S. Border Patrol, or was it a central part of the geographic imaginary by which Trump–long a fan of action sequences in film–long argued the southwestern border needed to be at all costs to the nation secured?
The filmic imaginary of the valiant defense of the thick stone walls of the old mission in San Antonio that was converted to a site of fortification was perhaps better to evoke than mere four hundred miles of actual border wall, which risk never being completed, if not dismantled or defended, should government contracts allow. Better to recall the valiant nature of the defense of a line in the sand to secure national freedom of the Republic, as celebrated in the 1960 American epic whose unforgettable action scenes glorify defense of the border to preserve the Republic, starring, directed and produced by John Wayne. The blockbuster $12 million extravaganza, that celebrated the visionary nature of the protection of the US-Mexico border as a valiant scene of battle, which, even if it was one of seventy films that used the old Spanish Franciscan mission in San Antonio as a set, was among the most successful of Hollywood blockbusters when Donald Trump was considering attending film school at UCLA, eager to become a motion picture producer. The film that was almost an explicitly political platform for John Wayne to articulate his ideals of Christian country, drawing a line in the sand of the defense of the Republic across thirteen days with increasing national urgency that bore the imprint of the Cold War, and included Wayne’s famous line–“Republic. I like the sound of the word. Means that people can live free, talk free, go or come, buy or sell, be drunk or sober, however they choose. Some words give you a feeling. Republic is one of those words that makes me tight in the throat.”
The elision of the defense of the fort and protection of national liberties until the wall is finally breached as the defenders await reinforcements provided an iconic re-imagining of the United States placing its footprint on the project of “winning” the West. Perhaps it makes sense to see Trump’s planned visit to Alamo TX not as a victory lap around the border, but his affirmation of the Alamo as staged by John Wayne, as a Confederate monument that should be celebrated. If Crockett was, in the 1960 film, a strongman of the border, who fell in defense of the nation, the legacy of his death provided a model for Trump to cement his own finished Presidency to the nation, by cementing it to a national memory, so that its legacy will remain alive even after he leaves office, as the border wall is sanctified not only as a signature project of his Presidency, but as evidence of his deep, deep commitment to the nation, or an idea of the nation that he hopes his Confederate-flag bearing, White Supremacist base will nourish and preserve in their memory, as the cry “Remember the Alamo!” stood so long in the national consciousness as a defense of sovereignty that was able to define Texas as part of the nation where the first laws enshrining a racial hierarchy facilitated the expansion of a slave economy, and where the 1836 Battle of the Alamo is commemorated and remembered as being as pivotal in the vision of the Republic as it was onscreen.
While Trump’s earlier tours of the border wall system in western states promoted his 2020 Campaign, the swan-song visit to Alamo reprises his performance of the Presidency through a truly signature effort–
–if the twitterverse yuk-yuked about a visit to a car rental agency with Rudy Giuliani, remembering Four Seasons Total Landscaping with a smile–the choice of the border city whose name evoked the defense of national sovereignty perhaps led Trump to this border town. A week and a half before the President-Elect’s inauguration, as security was ramping up in the Capitol for a transition of power the U.S. President told his supporters he would not attend, on the eve of the end of his Presidency, he evoked the “line in the sand” that according to legend the lawyer Col. William Travis drew with this sword within the walls of the mission that had been transformed to a garrison, allegedly asking “every man who is determined to stay here and die with me to come across this line.”
When Travis did so, he traced a boundary in the sand that divided Mexico from the United States, and mapped the territory of the Republic. We don’t know where that line was drawn, but remember the drawing of that line as a martial act of bravery, affirming the line channeled in the President’s visit to Alamo visit as the boundary that the Border Wall now creates, in preserving American sovereignty and security. The martial tracing of the line in the sand with the tip of his sword that has been cast as the start of claims of Texan “independence” from Mexico, and might be seen as the basis for expanding slavery into the state of Texas, allowing the southern practices of enslavement illegal in Mexican territory to be expanded westward as if by manifest destiny. To be sure, the claims of Travis’ sword rested on an insurrectionist claim to legitimize the seizure of land, mythically by Anglos, by mapping a line of resistance in the face of near-certain defeat of the armed forces and civilians he was entrusted to defend to try to rally support within the Mission’s old walls.
Faulkner reminded us that, in the Southern United States and in the world, “The past is never dead–it’s never past,” the line of defense that has been long venerated as the line of bravery for “battle-weary men” is invoked as mapping an Anglo Texan identity as a clash between heroes of the “Republic of Texas” embodied by Davy Crockett, Bowie, and Travis, set into stone tiles of the old Mission venerated as a shrine to the nation. If the expression echoed the line that the conquistador Francisco Pizzaro allegedly traced in the sand in Peru in 1527, separating the state he would claim from Panama; this classicized colonial imperial gesture seems channeled in Donald Trump’s visit. There is no evidence that the bronze inset visitors to the Alamo line up to see exists line records where Travis ever drew his line, but the line in the Alamo is preserved as a boundary that we celebrate, a point of orientation we use to imagine the place of the Alamo within the national map.
There is no sense of borderlanders here, but of heroes that were on one side or the other of the line–a line that seems a meridian set in the ground, if a line of longitude, and a founding line of the nineteenth-century nation. Crockett, Bowie, and Travis defended the citadel walls behind which they discussed dreams of a Republic in The Alamo (1960), before an impending imminent siege of “Mexican forces,” repelling them to their best as they tried to scale the Mission’s mythic walls.
The Anglo southerners who crossed into Mexican borders are cast as “defenders” but of course were defending land they seized. Defending the purity of the nation in technicolor version, in the version John Wayne had filmed as a race-based war by race-based casting, Mexican soldiers stormed the Mission’s walls to breech the defenses of a nascent nation–a “siege” earlier filmed by D.W. Griffith, when he produced Martyrs of the Alamo in 1915, a few months after the release of Birth of a Nation, as the second part of a cinematic epic for national identity.
The Anglos who defended the Mission, unlike the Technicolor vision that may be prominent in Trump’s mind and in those of his base, was not entirely Anglo and in defending land that it had grabbed was an antecedents to the modern militia groups that have long cooperated with the Customs and Border Patrol policing the southern border of Texas in a culture of particular violence, if not of the Department of Homeland Security that has seized privately owned land to construct the border wall along the Rio Grande that Trump plans to visit.
The defense of the territory that they claimed was embedded in a White Supremacist lineage, more tied to the expansion of the Confederacy–and the Texian constitution that first enshrined racially exclusive citizenship. The visit would create a photo opportunity able to summon a sense of heroism that he in fact associated with the actual Alamo–the battle celebrated as pivotal in instituting enslavement in Texas–it was forbidden in Mexico, where constitutional denial of citizenship to blacks led the Republic of Texas to be cast a pariah state in the world, and to be refused to be recognized by England or France. The visit attempts to reprise the performance of the Presidency of which he was most proud as a signature effort, but will it also be a way of cementing Trump’s legacy as an international pariah? Perhaps not if we gain a sense of the White Supremacist associations of a racial order that he seeks to channel as he has channeled by celebrating the construction of insurmountable barriers on the US-Mexico border. The visit is a hope that his contribution to the nation–four hundred miles of concrete wall barriers–will not recede from the national memory, but will continue to have legendary status as a shrine of its own–even if his successor Joe Biden has argued he would halt construction on the border wall segments. Would these fragments be open to breaching, as the ruins of the Alamo itself evoked that historical breach from which the nation arose?
Trump’s visit offered a hope and prayer that the piece of national infrastructure Trump bizarrely compared to the Eisenhower National Highway System survive. At a time when the national infrastructure is increasingly evident to be decayed–in health care, public health oversight, and the roll-out of a vaccine–Trump extolled the work he dedicated to construction of border wall as a personal legacy born of great effort, but of future centrality for national security. The visit hoped to ensure memories of the success of his presidency in its single minded dedication to a prop of national security, ratcheting up the violence of border apprehension and prosecution with little attention to compromising national ideals. The invocation of the “Alamo”–a few hundred miles north–channeled patriotism and Manifest Destiny tied to the Battle of the Alamo in film, song, and historical paintings as if the strategic military engagement was to be celebrated as central to nationhood, the breaching of whose walls remain in our national memory since the inspiring valor of a military defeat.
Never mind that stopping construction on the border wall would save the incoming Biden administration $2.6 billion: the border barriers that have become the most pricey piece of infrastructure in the nation are still being ironed out by the Army Corps of Engineers, but the visit to Alamo TX keeps alive the defense of the border and conjures the streaming of Mexicans over another wall. The scene of sacrifice that was channeled so effectively and economically by the visit to Alamo, TX, tagged a primal scene of the nation, a drama of perseverance and of loss in the name of the preserving nation that was long canonically celebrated in film, in pictorial narrative, and in local memory as a drama of loss and national vulnerability, and remembered by a mythic “line” that was drawn by Corporal William Barrett Travis who was tasked with its defense to mark the refusal of the “Texian” army to give way from the defense of the fort, during the Texas Revolution or Revolt, as they awaited reinforcements from the north, and sought to secure the camino real of the San Antonio Road and Texian interior, blazed by Mexican expeditions across the Rio Grande, when the refused to abandon twenty-one pieces of artillery that the army had refused to surrender the fort they saw as “key to Texas.”
Trump may have known little U.S. History, but the centrality of the Alamo was long a shrine to the nation in popular culture and to the nationalist right in ways that he wouldn’t have needed to know in further detail.
The ties by which Trump was incessantly identified with the border was the marquis issue, after all, by which he defined his political candidacy outside the norms of politics, before being the marquis of his Presidency. He had boasted his skills as a builder could complete an insurmountable barrier on the border that earlier presidents had failed to construct for the nation, increasing its vulnerability, and he knew best how to create at a good price. The border wall was an image of his relation to the nation, and a film whose reality he is perhaps in need of affirming, as all legal recourse to audit, investigate, recalculate, or discredit actual ballots or the certification of electoral votes have failed. Is it perhaps possible that Trump so narrowly lost in several states in 2020–including Arizona–not only due to a lagging economy, unmanaged pandemic of cascading effects, and official incompetence, but the recession of the borer wall as a compelling argument for law and order? Trump, to be sure, still obsesses of the exact scale of the losses in the popular vote that he still refuses to accept, describing only as evidence of massive “widespread fraud,” at his Save America March on January 6, but remembering the margins of losing the popular vote with such obsessiveness that it seems the margins are cycling over and over in his head.
Although the long-term effects of his Presidency and ties to his base suggest poisonous currents from refusals to obstructing effectiveness of any managing COVID-19, at a time when it seems that the bad film of Donald Trump’s presidency is ending–but the Grand Guignol theater of denying that the lost the election continues–the resilience of an unstable southern border in the national imaginary, and need for a securitized Border Wall, offer a concrete metaphor of the racial order Trump assured his base the nation needed–even if the actual concrete is not poured across over one thousand and nine hundred and fifty miles of often torturous formerly open terrain. Can the restoration of the vision of John Wayne as Davy Crockett firing back at Mexicans scaling the wall of the Alamo provide a compelling reminder of the need to obstruct populations crossing the southwestern border?
It is hard to link a man as chaotic as Donald Trump to the natural order of anything, but beneath the chaos seems to lie the image of a deeply un-American sense of order. Trump is unstable and fluid–he has been ubiquitous if unordered over the past five years, emerging insistently from our devices, twitterfeeds, and televisions in highly mediated ways, filling their space as comfortably as he occupies any actual property, to sell us the sense of an established order that many Americans recognize. Trump launched his candidacy for President, recasting himself as a public figure through the rather shameless manufacture of false memories, launched his candidacy by promising to build a border wall as restoring a ‘natural’ order, even if the border is itself a most unnatural impositions of boundary lines on space. Trump absorbed the graphics that conjured the interruptions of border barriers as sites of vulnerability, exploiting them as a soundstage to orchestrate narratives of national crisis that were mapped as it crisis and border provided terms effectively became interchangeable Mad Libs for challenges to sovereignty able to fragment the nation? The maps we have of the wall’s effectiveness in stopping migrants, embodiments of the statistics of Customs and Border, seem designed to perpetuate the very image of a wall able to stop the onslaught of criminals, drugs, and and gangs that Trump has described the wall as a bulwark against.
Yet as if to respond to a moment of crisis, and insecurity, in a rage of mass shootings, apparent terrorist attacks, and with the nation almost cracking as a container of social unity, he pledged to restore a memory of order by affirming that strengthening of its border would be a mandate to “Make America Great Again.” If walls have been historically constructed as a basis to patrol entrance and exit from states in the ancient world, as the Sumerian Amorite wall to prevent nomadic migrations, or Hadrian’s Wall that sought to prevent incursions of the Picts: but the historical normalization of Trump’s preposterous project as neo-imperial efforts erases the demonization of the other in cartographies of danger without much to do with territoriality, if they present themselves as defending territorial security. Indeed, the majority of migrants crossing the border, once primarily economic, continuing to aspire to a better life, but increasingly seek asylum. But the bombast of the aims to construct the Border Wall still conceals that the Trump administration has, after four years and the procurement of $15 billion diverted from counternarcotics and military construction projects to build or rebuild a border wall has built but four hundred and fifteen miles, a substantial chunk of concrete, but hardly a dent in the coverage of 1,279 miles of unfenced land, and just under two thousand miles–1,954–of the US-Mexico border.
Even if slated to have completed four hundred and fifty miles by inauguration day, and moving full steam ahead to blast through endangered habitat in the Atlas Mountains and Rio Grande Valley, and bulldozing through Sonoran desert habitat and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, even as panels of wall are trucked in, what sort of deference to theatrics has allowed the nation to accept the expansion of border barriers begun to be installed but thirty years ago? The executive actions that allowed the Border Wall to be built are something like theater, but even if President-elect Joe Biden has campaigned on the promise he would not build “another foot” of the wall might save the Defense Dept. $2.6 billion, ceasing work on the project with which Trump has identified his political career and populist appeal may be hard.
Trump promoted cross-border economic transfers, Mexicans arriving for work, alleged criminality, to stage a dramatic escalation of apprehensions and deportations in an era painting migrants movement as dangerous.
The growth of Border Patrol personnel and funds in the Trump Presidency has helped the escalation of apprehensions, as well as the huge rise of Border Patrol officers, if this has also opened the huge risk of law enforcement abuses, and the growth of a culture of violent policing for which south Texas is known.
The escalation of costs of the U.S. Border Patrol needed to be defended as a budgetary ballooning on Trump’s watch, as a new administration was about to reprioritize budgetary needs. The pattern of border migration in the late twentieth and early twenty first century have little to do with mass-migration movements, but any perspective on their global character has been diminished by the focus on borders as impermeable barriers. Trump had presented an even more insurmountable wall across a region America long encouraged economic migration for low-paying agrarian jobs was presented as a way of the economy and civil society. He presented the wall as a showman and as a shaman, “securing” a border including 1,279 miles of unfenced land run across rugged terrain, rivers, and desert unsuited to build a continuous concrete barrier, and often across protected lands. But the point of the wall was less practicality than the soundstage it offered to an ambitious man who tied them to his pubic persona more than to their effect, if the genocidal nature of the closure of the border presented the sort of anti-globalist gesture of thumbing his nose at the International order not only isolationist but elevated domestic interests above international law and civil or indeed human rights.
The anti-globalist discourse expanded deep American roots to the securitization of the post-9/11 era, elevating border security as the primary theater of operations of the entire Department of Homeland Security. Of several of the southwestern border states, Arizona–the state with the most continuous coverage of the border–became a prime site for commemorate the progress of constructing the border wall to court electoral votes more than stop actual migrants’ cross-border routes. While one might better map the border wall in terms of the environmental damage of each section in destruction of habitat, the growing costs of each section of border wall, or indeed their psychic cost, we long continued to map Customs & Border Patrol statistics of cross-border apprehensions, seizures of drugs and narcotics, and indeed imprisonment, mapping the costs of the border from the border, and not on the nation against the specter of urban criminality as unprecedented levels of opioids and methamphetamines were flooding many rural areas, peddled by big pharma and gobbled up by eager Americans who sought to ease existential pains of underemployment far removed from the border.
We have seen the U.S. Customs & Border Patrol enlisted in a theater of the policing of the border, augmenting Presidential authority, in ways that it makes sense to ask, if the Twentieth Century as the Century of Cinema, what sort of use the border has gained as a screen, and what film of terror is played at the border–erasing the many people, cars, and pedestrians, who cross forty-seven official Points of Entry at the border daily–human and economic traffic that reveals the actual trans-border permeability, and demands to be seen by the metaphor of a membrane, not an barrier or site of blockage. As the LA Times patiently reminded California readers by a combination of open data and numbers from the Dept. of Transportation and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data for 2018, at the height of the Trump border nightmare, active transit across the border offers an economic engine daily of $1.7 billion in cross-border commerce omitted in the misconception of the border as a stable edge of national sovereignty–as an image of the frontier and bulwark against globalism that dramatically mobilized supporters and cathected to Trump’s base.
Sections of US-Mexican border wall gained deeply performative functions for Trump akin to a soundstage or a prop for his role as President. After thirty years of border enforcement, Trump redefined the border as a site of dramatic tension and an “edge” of the United States sovereignty and legality. As the border is returned to in maps as a spatial imaginary, it has long offered a wedge to disengage America from globalism–from shared concordats or agreements to monitor refugee flows of the displaced who are destined to arrive from Central America and from responses to human rights abuses. Trump has proclaimed the completion of 400 miles of border barrier as his completion of one end of the bargain, as if he intends, in the final days of a transactional Presidency, to claim something in return, or at least to champion his diminished sense of honor among the faithful for having kept up his side of the deal. But the imaginary in which he is trafficking is truly dangerous to the nation. By placing his own state of exception as the grounds for refusing entrance to refugees, Trump has treated the entrance of the refugee as an invasion of his sense of self–and sense of leadership–as well as his persona, not admitting the refugee to the nation, and, in a terrible echo of how Hitler cast German society as a social body politic at risking endangerment by infection and pollution pathogenic and non-conforming “Jewish bacteria” posed the body politic of the German Volk–in a book that Trump famously kept by his bedside, in his entertainment of the border as a line in the sand that divides racial identity as well as nations.
Unease at the metaphor of bacteria was so apparent that the profits from the first American translations of Mein Kampf were dedicated to aid German Jewish refugee organizations in 1939, both to assuage guilt at its publication and strip Hitler of royalties. Yet Trump relished in the evocation of a cinematic reality, if false history, that the line at the Alamo was a racial divide. When he spoke to cameras at McCallen, Trump recalled the real need for extra protection as a thing of the past, celebrating having “achieved the most secure southern border in U.S. history” in a wall against “cartels, the coyotes, and the special interests, and we restored the rule of law,” but is oddly removed from securing rights, but having, in particularly violent terms, “slashed illegal entries” “seized over two million pounds of . . . deadly narcotics, saving thousands of lives,” and arrested “illegal aliens with criminal records,” removed gang members, and ended, yes, immigration fraud–even if the massive fraud in the tabulation of votes could not be stopped. “We actually had 27,000 Mexican soldiers guarding our borders over the past two years,” he continued–as if this protection would soon be lifted. But in bullying all other nations in the hemisphere, Trump said, he had reduced the chance of criminal entry from any nation–Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador–“to return Asylum to its original meaning and purpose,” rather than respecting international asylum laws, lest “there is no border, there is no law, there is no order.”
Trump conjured an edge-world, where the nation ended, as if the border as in fact a rim, off which the nation might fall, and an abyss of lawlessness that remained on the other side. President Trump clearly privileged the importance of the final word–order–over all the others in his speech, and the term confirmed the central message of what his Presidency had achieved, so that he could relish the accomplishment, and suggest, perhaps, fear of its contingency in American politics. If he had “inherited a dangerously lawless border,” akin to Davy Crockett, the true patriots of Customs and Border Patrol have helped secure a fixed border, protecting our economy and national safety, as he warned that “if our border security measures are reversed, it will trigger a tidal wave of illegal immigration — a wave like you’ve never seen before. And I can tell you that, already, waves are starting to come up from 2,000 and 1,000 and 500 miles away,” predicting an imminent crisis of national security, public safety, and public health as his final gift to an incoming President, that was about to lead to the destruction of “millions and millions of jobs and claim thousands of lives.”
The border wall was incomplete, but the map was permanent and the order of the border preserved, as it had been at the Alamo in the historical memory of those many who might remember the event through John Wayne’s film. While Trump assured his audience, as his Presidency ended, while “we didn’t need walls everywhere, but where we needed them [they’ve been added,” even beyond what was asked. By invoking the imminent fear of the opening “these very walls” of national security, Trump seemed to seek to bequeath a map to his successor, tauntingly. In adopting the perspective of the border to foreground the danger of transnational flows, above and beyond human dignity, he conjured familiar maps of sovereign domain and territorial defense from the edge of the border helped shut the gate and suspend asylum laws long enshrined in American immigration law, by articulating sovereign domain to trump longstanding concepts of individual rights of asylum, distancing himself and the nation from conditions of poverty or what he deemed soiled with deep suspicion, beset by future dangers of pollution outside firm barriers.