Strongman on the Border

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Migrants arrive at Tijuana

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 n wall:commemorated at wall.pngDaniel Gonzalez

 

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J. Omar Ornelas

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

 

 

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Migrant Deaths and Water Stations, 1999-2012

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

image.pngMetric Maps

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

Fence:Wall Trump

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

 

Fence:Wall Trump

The nomenclature is not accidental.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Migrants in Oaxaca, Felix Marquez AP

 

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

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

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

 

image.png.Jose Torres/Reuters

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

The Natures of San Francisco

Although ecosystems are the most living areas of cities, they remain hidden from view on city maps of the built landscape or paved roads that define the mobilty of “urban” life.  But we fail to orient ourselves to the extent of urban environments and compromise our demand for livable space by relying on maps’ abbreviated conventions.

For doesn’t any map server foreground a selective level of local detail, replicating a dominant focus on roads, paved spaces, and buildings, to the exclusion of the constricted habitat that remains on the edges of a city’s built space?  While San Francisco was long a center for nature preservation, and indeed the preservation of the country in the city, as the perceptive Bay Area geographer Richard Walker put it so eloquently, the organization of tools  to uncover and preserve the current relation between ecological niches, natural environments and the built city becomes the project of the recent Nature in the City map, with offers new symbolic tools built on data to explore the urban environment.  The distinct base-map that Nature in the City organization has adopted to invite us to view San Francisco in its most recent revisioning of the green spaces that are distinguish the City by the Bay, rather than the rush of commuting and explosion of jobs and rents for which the Bay Area may be increasingly known–

–by using a base map rich with data sets of the multiple green spaces in the city, from parks to all street trees and gardens, as if they and the surrounding waters afforded a palette

–by which to situate the existing habitat that Nature in the City has allowed to encourage, and would allow viewers to focus on the habitats of specific animals, birds, fish, and plants across its urban space, in a static map that is made for an audience familiar with interactive mapping forms, and the coding of a rich natural space, extending to imagining its lost estuaries, underground rivers and watersheds, and even the historical shorelines of San Francisco before the addition of landfill.

Nature in the City 2018 (detail)

By orienting us to the lived reality on the ground, shores, and waters around San Francisco, the recent remapping of open spaces in San Francisco by which local environmental non-profit Nature in the City has taken the time and effort to refocus attention from its buildings or paved environment, inviting us to appreciate the work of the non-profit in planning active green spaces in the urban space that San Francisco contains by representing the city’s urban space in a distinct cartographic idiom:  as Nobel Laureate Thomas Tranströmer wrote of how the disbelief of Henry David Thoreau “disappear[ed] deep in his inner greenness artful and hopeful,” cartographers worked to allow readers to detecting habitat within the urban environment in a distinctly Thoreauian marveling of how natural habitat exist within a city that goes often undetected and–as only a map can remind us–isn’t hidden but overlooked.

Nature in the City 2018/draft

Nature in the City paper map helpfully addressed a general reader in the age of bespoke data-heavy maps, coded for individual  uses, using graphics to hone a rich set of databases to invite all readers of the map to examine the intersection of layers of greenspace, parks, and urban trees provide a surface that any viewer can navigate to reacquaint themselves to urban space that questions its edges, centers, and the frame of a greater ecosystem of which the “city” is the microcosm and condensation:  the countryside that we place outside of the walls of the city–extra muros–is revealed to lie instead at its center, emblematized by the coyote who raises his or her head as if to exult in being present in the remaining green environment–a sort of pictorial designation of the indexical deictic reminder “YOU ARE HERE.”  The observer is decentered, for  a moment, in the map however, as one examines where species are located, as if in the recent Nature in the City challenge.

The claim that is invested in most tourist way-finding maps is repeated by the images of a sand dollar, magnolia, jackrabbit, California Poppy, shorebird, whale and two butterflies–each included in the key of the map on its left margin–to remind map readers that “they” are here, inviting discovery from visitors to the city its real urban spaceMuch as a legend to the left margin invites you to cross-reference them with landcover, the icons of animals suggest something like a hide-and-seek game for visitors to explore the actual urban environment and its riches of habitat–habitats that Nature in the City has often encouraged.

The claims of copia and urban abundance that was classically associated with chorographic views of Renaissance cities is almost displaced onto San Francisco’s nourished ecosystem in ways that Nature in the City encourages; the map involves  viewers by inspires endless exploration in ways that attests to its own truly inventive design.  Indeed, the involvement of a distinctly innovative battery of representational tools invite viewers to observe the city as it is rarely seen or perceived.  Indeed, while one usually thinks of coastal California as sites of extreme settlement and habitation–

Although pioneering aerial photographic imagery exists of the prewar space of San Francisco, a fantastic hundred and sixty four aerial photographs pioneered by Harrison Ryker from an airplane that left from the Oakland airfields, which offers a detailed image of the foliage, open space, still sandy regions, and of the city in crisply detailed black-and-white composite photographs–

5852167Ryker 1938/Rumsey Collection, Cartography Associates

–that invite viewers to examine its detailed imagery through the stereoscopes Ryker would patent upon opening shop as an East Bay map-maker.  The aerial photographic map promised a precision and detail that foretold remote sensing, and anticipated the deal of the Nature in the City map, despite its monochrome:  the view it offers of the lines on playing fields, basketball courts, and paths in the Golden Gate Park promised a visibility that would make it appealing in World War II, in ways that prefigured the pointillistic accuracy of remote aerial sensing.  The crisp local detail recently that was recently made available in interactive form online by the indefatigable Donald Rumsey lets one  navigate the composite record of now lost shorelines, the fluid ocean coastline, once-sandy Outer Sunset, Golden Gate Park and Duboce Hill–

GG Park to Bay

–of the same expanse of the recent Nature in the City map in a way that anticipates the detail LiDar surveys of the city by the bay.  The non-profit updated the accuracy of local detail of the crisp black and white composites from the interactive map Rumsey Associates crafted, allowing us to examine current habitats, ecosystems, and animal life within the city and the surprising taxa that inhabit its denser blocks, after the addition of highways, a far denser downtown, in ways that allow the areas of tree cover of different heights to pop at the viewer to suggest the lush urban canvas in which they live, and the map to pop in into three or four–if one counts the temporal of the lost coastal shoreline, inviting viewers to witness and negotiate a sort of counterpoint between built space and remaining urban ecosystems, and directing attention to the overlooked.  The new synthesis of art and cartography accomplished by Lindsay Irving and artist Jane Kim expand and enrich over 500 datasets to fashion a new symbology of pictorial cartography across time, inviting us to compare shorelines, interrogate built spaces, and consider the city not entirely a human space but one from which we benefits where green cover and contact with a range of animal species persists and survives, using code that tracks the growth of urban habitat to provide the basis for a richly interactive tour of the city’s natural resources–a record interactive not by mouse, but by interpretation, inviting viewers to excavate historical habitats for birds, marine mammals, insects, and butterflies, in not only a “deep history” of place, but a deep ecology of the ecosystem that underlies the city as a palimpsest.

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Nature in the City 2018 (detail of downtown)Nature in the City 2018 (detail of downtown)

What would it look like, asked the designers and cartographers at Nature in the City, a local San Francisco-based non-profit, to fashion a dynamic map that reveals the habitats that  flourish–and even be nourished–within an urbanized space.  In so doing, the layers of the map act to orient readers to  a counter-map of the built city, foregrounding the spaces of habitat that the group has encouraged across San Francisco and that actively exists on its streets and in its yards.  The new model of urban exploration in the map that is used in the header of this post is based less on navigating the urban space we know, than exploding the nature/urban dichotomy, and pointing us to the cites where nature has taken shape in the urban environment.  The result shocks the viewer, actively inviting them to recalibrate their own reaction to urban space far more actively–and in a more engaged fashion–than one experiences when reading urban maps.  And the practice of reading the map is not only engaging, prompting new activities of looking at one’s own neighborhood or cycling and running route,–but also extremely fun.

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Filed under data visualization, data visualizations, environmental geography, map design, San Francisco, San Francisco Bay

Russian Blues

The projected map was a subliminal reminder of the stakes of the speech Vladimir Putin delivered to the Federal Assembly.

For all its modern appearance, the glowing map of the Russian Federation that recalling a backlit screen, seemed an updating  of Soviet-style theatricality and state spectacles.  As if in a new theater of state, the map of a magnified Russia seemed to cascade over a series of scrims that framed Putin’s head during the annual State of the Nation address, which he had moved to weeks before he stood for reelection to a fourth term from its traditional date.  Putin was projected to win the election, but projecting the map under which he stood identified him as a spokesman for Russia, and identified his plans with the future of Russia–

 

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–and allowed him to present a “State of the Nation” that projected the future global dominance he foresaw of Russia within the world, and allowed him to present an argument of protecting the boundaries of Russia, and the Russian Federation, even in an era when boundaries and the mapping of boundary lines are not only contested but increasingly without clear meaning.  Putin’s involvement in aggressive actions beyond the borders of the Russian Federation–whether in the American elections, as all but certain, if of unclear scope; the invasion of Crimea and Ukraine; or in the elections of Brexit and Hungary, or poisoning of Russians in other countries, all distracted national bounds.  But all were presented, in a cartographic sleight of hand, as a vision of Russia as a state of the twenty-first century.  If our current maps no longer follow the “jigsaw puzzle” of the map that the icon of the luminescent map recalled, and the global reach of Russia’s missiles that he claimed could not be intercepted.

 

Russian Missiles

 

Remapping the Russian Federation was the central take-away from Putin’s speech to the Duma–even while allowing that “we have many problems in Russia” with twenty million Russians living below the poverty line, described the need to “transform infrastructure” and claimed that Russia faced a significant turning point in its history, which would alter its relation to space.  Indeed, the argument that Russia “had caught up” with the mapping systems that were used by the American military since the 2003 Iraq War–one of the first international conflicts that Putin had encountered as President of the Russian Federation–and suggested the lack of clear limits to frontiers, or anti-missile rockets to the global scope of a new generation of nuclear-power Russian ICBM’s.  A statement of the resurgence of Russia–and a renewed defense of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation–all but erased or whitewashed Russian military presence in Georgia, Ukraine, and Crimea, presenting the arrival of Russia on a global stage through an awesome holographic map.

The map offered something of a “warrant” or guarantee of the arrival of the Russian Federation on a global stage, and provided viewers a reassuring image of Russia’s prominence on the global map, despite the fairly dire state of domestic affairs and the limited plans for expanding national employment or social welfare.  The value of the map, mesmerizing in its illustration of the entirety of the Russian Federation, provided an illustration of foreign policy and argument of expanded powers of global intervention, by which Putin, former head of state security, sought to suggest its arrival as a ‘strong state’ despite the historical challenges and setbacks of earlier regimes, and what Putin has long seen as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” the break-up of the Soviet Union.  The map met the need to bolster Russian self-esteem, and indeed identifying esteem with the territorial protection of “Russian rights,” irrespective of the boundaries that were drawn or existed on other maps.  For while erasing Russian intervention in Chechnya, Georgia, Crimea, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine, the map sought to project an image of the consolidation of Russian abilities for “global governance” as an extension of Russian sovereignty.

It is striking that the map was a reflection of the manner in which Putin had long understood or seen the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as an extension of American claims to sovereignty, in violation of international law, and the new image he wanted to create of Russia’s similar abilities to ignore national boundaries and boundary lines.

 

Putin weapon launchVideo grab from RU-RTR Russian television (via AP), Thursday, March 1, 2018, allegedly portraying Russia’s firing of a nuclear-powered intercontinental missile

The map affirmed the arrival of a new consensus in the Russian states and ethnic republics–members of which were assembled before him–to recognize the arrival of a new role that Russia could occupy and would occupy in the global map.  Indeed, the made-for-television map of the Russian Federation suggested the new relation between local and global–and of Russian sovereignty and international abilities for “global governance” that would be guaranteed by an expanded arsenal of nuclear weapons, in ways that demonstrated the expansive reach of Putin’s Russia far beyond its boundaries, in ways that would upstage the American use of GPS in the Iraq War, and the precedent that that war set, in Putin’s mind, for flouting international law in the assertion of American sovereignty–despite the multiple logical problems that were avoided in making such a claim.  But it seems that much as George W. Bush’s headstrong rhetoric of fighting “terrorism” was adopted wholesale by Putin in subsequent violations of the sovereign rights of Ukraine, Crimea, or Syria–and the justifications for defense of Russian interests as the same as sovereign grounds.
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The broadcasting of Russia’s possession of a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles, unable to be intercepted, as well as designed to frighten the United States or a feign to enter into an arms race, were presented as the basis for illustrating the lack of Russia’s need to respect any cartographic lines or continental divides.

1.  The pre-election State of the Union address, as if a continuation of the diatribe Putin launched against the West for “trying to remake the whole world” unilaterally and in accord with its own interests, provided a broadside of the determination of Russia to defend its own interests, rather than seeking through military invasion or moving of its troops across borders to “reinstate some sort of empire.”  But his discussion of how “turning points” in history determined the foundation of cities in Russia and its relation to “space” seem on the point–and a bit of pointed positioning in regard to Russia’s future positioning on a geopolitical map.

As if to respond to the ion, Putin focussed most theatrically on its development of “invincible missiles” and nuclear-powered arms as defensive weapons in a two-hour address before a packed hall that was punctuated by repeated ovations and applause.  He  omitted any mention of Russian presence abroad, but focussed attention on the Russian nation as able to protect its allies adequately and preserve its place in a “rapidly changing” world where some states were bound to decay if they did not keep up with the pace of change.  As an almost entirely male audience uneasily awaited Putin, turning in their seats, greeting each other, staring ahead stonily or smirking and nervously straightening blue ties.  All faced the glowing blue map projected above an empty stage in the new venue, as if into their minds, as if in preparation for how Putin would remind them of the problems of charting Russia’s future course, even as they may have been most satisfied with the unprecedented foreign influence Putin had achieved in much of Europe, Hungary, England, and the United States.  When Putin took stage with triumphal music, describing how the “significance of our choices, and the significance of every step we take . . . [will] define the future of our country for decades,” and a new time for Russia to “develop new cities and conquer space” after maintaining the unity of the federated nation and its stability in the face of great social and economic difficulties but still faces the danger of “undermining [its] sovereignty.”

 

Map crisper curved

 

Projected onto multiple scrims, the glowing image of the Russian Federation lit by glowing centers of population echoed Putin’s discussion of stability, and the need to affirm the “self-fulfillment” of all Russians and their welfare through new economic policies, which he assured them had nothing to do with the upcoming elections, but cautioned that the failure to create technological changes would lead to potential erosion of its sovereignty despite its huge potential.

The glowing national map dominated the room overwhelmingly in which the three-term President spoke, describing the as he aimed to win an election to continue his Presidency through 2024, and convince all Russians of his leadership of the nation.  Below the map, unsmiling, Putin solemnly addressed the nation as if he were its architect and the protector of its bounds; indeed, the projection of the fixed bounds of the Russian Federation onto a set of screens behind him seemed to celebrate its continued power vitality after three terms of Putin’s presidency, even as he recited fairly grim statistics about the state of the national economy.  Describing the need to enhance its civil society and democratic traditions, Putin raised the prospect of once again “lagging behind” other nations, its body politic undermined by a chronic disease, and define Russia’s future, if its modernization was not affirmed in the face of .  The continued coherence of the nation reminded viewers that, notwithstanding threats of dissolution after the fall of the Soviet Union two decades ago, and a reduced GDP and natural resources, the Russian state was back.

The map of Russia was projected in isolation from the world, but the image that resembled a back-lit glowing screen became a basis for projecting the power Russia had regained on a global stage.  Rather than imitating the graphics of a paper map, the iridescent blues, splotched with centers of population, called attention to the permanence of the Russian Federation’s borders and affirmed its new place in the world.  The bounds of Russia were protected, the triumphalist image implied, but the place of Russia on the world stage was implicitly affirmed even if it was shown in isolation:  rather than showing people, or including any place-names, the map magnified the idea of Russia, and its futuristic projection suggested the continued power of Putin to transport the nation to modernity, its boundaries protected and affirmed and its defense of allies acknowledged.  While Putin had recently accused the United States of triumphalism, insisting that Russia was indeed “self-sufficient” and denying Russia was “encroaching on its neighbors” as “groundless,” he seems to have relished a new triumphalism, and famously continued to present the invincible military weapons Russia had developed–lasers, ICBM’s, which, nuclear torpedoes, and nuclear-powered cruise missiles–which, while not revealed “for obvious reasons” would definitively displaced the United States from a position of global power and could penetrate US Defense Systems with ease..

 

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The Revenge of the Infographic?

Long before Barack Obama was a candidate for President of the United States, he took time to chastise the nation about the tyranny of the infographic that divided the nation.  Obama used the occasion of his endorsement of John Kerry’s nomination at the Democratic convention in Chicago to remind the nation of the danger of presuming the divide red states from blue states by the clear chromatic fashion that already increasingly increasingly filtered electoral maps of the United States, and has since come to haunt us in the Trump victory of 2016.  And if we were energized by the notion of “swing states” that might be shifted to the Democratic column back in 2012 and 2008 that increased the involvement and political participation of many in the electoral grid, the resurgent immobility of the electoral map divided between what seem to be continuous regions parsed into “red states” and “blue states”–

 

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–as if it were permanent divide as well as a fluid choropleth that refracted the spectrum of the American flag.  Indeed, the stability of the fractured electoral divide invest a sense of permanence as an electoral landscape, as the two-color infographic seems to have crept into our unconscious:  while it may be a proxy for an urban-rural distinction that has been championed both by the Trump campaign and as a dominant gloss of the infographic, has the divide invaded our consciousness in ways we are able to gain little distance?

America was, after all, once collectively energized at the prospect of tilting against the inevitability of a red-blue divide in the nation.  If Barack Obama sought to chasten readers of infographics in order to breath life into Kerry’s 2004 nomination as Democratic candidate for the United States presidency, his words were not only energizing, but prophetic of his own candidacy.  For they articulated the possibility of transcending electoral divides as a touchstone of his campaign strategy, foreshadowing Obama’s later electoral success.  And when we hear Donald Trump’s celebration of the “heartland” as the ‘Real America’ as if it might be searched for and found on the map, somewhere far away from “coastal elites” or intellectuals, it serves to conceal Trump’s truly narrow electoral victory by articulating a “real America” with which we on the coasts lost touch.  The spate of much-publicized post-election pilgrimages into the “heartland” by Mark Zuckerberg as self-defined coastal elites sought to find”normal america” needs to be rethought:  it seems to project a creation of the very infographics we’ve long consumed to understand democracy, or as a surrogate for democratic elections, more than a real place.  For where we find “the real America” alleged in so many maps in the contiguous sea of red–

 

348px-ElectoralCollege2016.svg

 

–we have recently found that the red is both far more fractured, and even often echoes the very sort of “news deserts” that are associated with the dominance of local news in media markets dominated by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose dissemination of a right-wing agenda to the televisions of 40% of Americans seems to have increased polarization in the last election.  The decline of local press–and the absence of paper newspapers–seem in another reminder of how the end of the local reporting poses deep dangers to our democracy–and invites unpredicted sorts of vulnerabilities.

 

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Vox, using dSinclair Broadcasting Group data cross-checked with Nielsen; darker areas denote where Sinclair runs more than one station

 

The divide between red and blue masks the dominant place of far more determining sites of constituencies that are more up for grabs–and my determine the election as extra-urban areas that are demographically distinct, and difficult to cast as blue or red.  The refusal to divide the nation into red and blue states, an increasingly meaningless unit, opened the possibility for change that the dominance of infographics in mediating and reframing our democracy has militated against.

Back when Obama energized the convention by reassuring the nation as well as delegates who had assembled in Chicago that, despite the evidence of infographics, the fissures of a fractured body politic that many maps continued to project were not destined to divide the nation:  “We’re not red states and blue states; we’re all Americans,” Obama urged, “standing up together for the red, white and blue,” even if we were powerfully represented as contentious factions on electoral maps.  The reservations that Obama expressed was compelling as an alternative vision of national unity; it in a sense under-wrote the mantra of “Hope” for a new way of seeing the nation, although this division seemed to return with a vengeance in 2016, as if it haunts the nation.

 

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The divide was, perversely, as powerful back in 2004, back when Obama first chastised the nation so firmly for having adopted the divide as inevitable.  So rhetorically powerful was the visual image of national unity as a rebuke to the fracturing of the map to announce Obama’s oratorical eloquence to the nation.  It seemed a healing balm for a riven republic, even as the 2004 election, despite its clarity of divisions by state, trumpeted in a powerful infographic that suggested isolated bodies of blue set apart form an apparently alienated flyover country that blared bright red indignantly–

 

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USA Today/BeldarBlog

–in ways that were echoed if not accentuated in the county-by-county breakdown that USA Today issued the day after, and the way Bush dominated what have been called the “battle-ground” states–then Arkansas, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania–as he did nationwide, even if the distribution didn’t break down at all so smoothly along state “lines”–

 

Mark Newman Red:Blue ma2004countymap-final2.png

 

–to muster the bulk of electoral votes out of the hands of California, Illinois and New York and served to create a solid electoral alliance all the better able to isolate Texas.

The “real America” might well lie in the edges of the blue and red, or the “purple” counties where political debate needs to be foster and occur.  Indeed, the image of divisiveness haunted the political imaginary of the nation so much the nation may have yearned for imagining a new collectivity by 2008.  Despite the fragmenting of the electoral map that occurred in 2004, where states seemed to vote red in their entirety, it might be noted that the same map could be resolved, in a district-by-district image of magnitudes, in a far more complex picture of the deeper red areas perhaps aligning more clearly with states than the more selective distribution of the strongest Democratic voters concentrated in regions voting Democratic–the “blue”–

 

The_2004_Presidential_Election_in_the_United_States,_Results_by_Congressional_District

 

–that is echoed in the far more complex county-by-county picture of 2016, whose shadings are much more telling of political truths:  despite the image of a “heartland” or a true America that is red, many of the areas that seem deep red on the electoral map are indeed light pink or shaded, and suggest that these areas–the less polarized–might be the “real” America much more than the deep red areas, which seem in fact the most remote.

 

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The fracturing of the electoral map by manipulating media was not new to such outlets as Sinclair Broadcasting Group:  Trump turned to the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, noted Media Matters, for interviews to reach a broader demographic, using a group notorious for revealing their boosterism for conservative causes, from ordering stations in 2004 to run anti-John Kerry segments over normal programming over the country–

 

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–using 173 television stations in 81 markets along “180 program streams” in 51 markets:

image.pngGray Television Group Station Map

–as Trump sought to eat into Hillary Clinton’s midsummer lead in national polls, by speaking to voting markets in newly “purple” regions as Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Colorado, and West Virginia, to circumnavigate traditional media outlets.  We would do well to remember that, in ways that raised raised eyebrows for some, that by November 8, 2016, areas like Iowa, Ohio, North Dakota and Arizona were suddenly shifting pink–as would Florida and North Carolina, suddenly an increasingly light blue.

 

November 7 projections 538png.png

 

1. There was a time when the red state/blue state divide was not so powerful in our minds.  The power of such an image of electoral unity was already so ingrained in 2004 that its rejection provided more than a powerful rhetorical image for the man who would be elected President in 2008.  The image of a nation that departed from a fractured infographic became central, in many ways, to Obama’s campaign, and a powerful image of a new political future.  Obama recalled the problematic nature of the chromatic division in his own campaigns several times, most famously, perhaps, to rebuke the danger of returning to a chromatic divide in 2012.  In the heat of the Presidential campaign for his second term, President Obama redeployed the refrain in a tweet simply asserting that “There are no red states and blue states, just the United States,” as if to dispatch or denaturalize the splintered red state-blue geography that haunted our diet of infographics in Presidential campaigns.   When Obama penned the figure of speech in 2004, before addressing the Democratic Convention in Chicago, John Kerry so quickly recognized its rhetorical power that he asked to adopt the image in delivering his acceptance of the 2004 nomination, although we’ll always remember it as Obama’s.

State Senator Obama warned somewhat prophetically of the difficulties implicit in any national mapping that ran against national interests; the junior Senator from Illinois took pundits to task for presenting a picture of the nation that served only “to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states–red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats.”  Obama called out the two-color maps as perpetuating a harmful vision, apt to diminish voters’ sense of their ability to effect political change, and diminishing voters’ agency, by inscribing the voting patterns in a static map that fractured the nation into blocks of like-mindedness as if to portray electoral results as predetermined and not contingent.  (The notion of “swing-states” would only emerge as a way to challenge the authority of this two-color map, of course, during Obama’s own 2008 candidacy.)

But the divides that we have come to perpetuate again in the 2016 Presidential election may suggest that the divides were less starkly drawn between red and blue district than Daily Kos Elections calculations suggest, which shows the dissonance between the map of congressional districts were poor vehicles to mediate the popular vote:  for a map of districts distorts geography; the increased crowding of the population in districts that vote “blue.”  Yet can the divide in the nation in fact be best understood by continuing to contemplate this fracturing, and not attending to the sites of smaller electoral margins–where the decision occurs, or at least which create a sense of tipping points, where the truly consequential electoral decisions seem to be increasingly made?  Obama’s caution not to be seduced by slicing and dicing the country seems particularly perceptive, and suggests the danger of trusting a chromatic divide of the country.

 

districts 2014.png

Xenocrypt

 

2.  Obama’s phrase has gained a quite surprising second life in the recent unpacking of how the electoral outcome of the election was sought to be strategically manipulated through the manufacture of a clearer red-blue divide through the voting patterns of purple states.  What were words of caution have gained a new concrete sense after the indictments released by Robert S. Mueller III have revealed outside interest in sharpening contrasts in the electoral map in the 2016 Presidential race, that suggests that the infographic has indeed gained an upper hand in the electoral process in even more dangerous ways than Obama had described.

It’s indeed pretty hard to see the United States divided into “red” and “blue” states, isolated from the world, in the same way again, as if each state shaded pink, light blue or strong red and dark blue in complete autonomy, showing their political temperatures in isolation of from the outside world.  Indeed, although the 2014 House of Representative race was striking for its salmon pinkness–and the deep red of the US-Mexico border, as well as Iowa, such colors are increasingly difficult to be seen as self-contained or removed from the larger world.

 

 

2014 House of Representatives Mid-Term Election 

 

Back when Senator Barack Obama so eloquently endorsed John Kerry as a presidential candidate, his admonition–or quite gentle–scolding struck such a chord not only as an effective image of patriotic identity, and not a reality check.  But the powerful phrasing became a theme of his campaign, and it was unsurprising when Obama returned to it in his 2008 victory speech in Grant Park, and welcomed the good news of what seemed a remapping of the United States, and he took the time to congratulate American voters for having “sent a message to the world that we have never been just . . .  a collection of red states and blue states” and which confirmed that, appearances to the contrary, we “are, and will always be, the United States of America.”  The words had reverberated in many ears with a sense of freshness, from when they were first uttered, as if seeking to disabuse television audiences of the image that had haunted the nation from before the 2000 election, but which had stuck uncomfortably in the background of the nation’s cerebral cortex, creating an image of sharp divisions,–even if those divisions were far less clear on the ground even in 2004, as Obama had suggested–but full of chromatic variations, even when they appeared entrenched, with some eighteen to twenty states mapped in varied shades of purple.  The blurred nature of this dive into voting habits as much as patterns suggests a point-value to political preferences that is misleading, but as a snapshot of the body politic, it suggests diagnostic tool that was valued in altering electoral outcomes as much as the image of individual agency that Bascom Guffin worked to create, using the concept that political scientist Robert Vanderbei had in fact developed for the 2004 Presidential race.  For the map suggested the actuality of the more complicated chromatic divides that Obama had then recently described.

 

purple_nationBascom Guffin, “Purple Nation”

 

Yet the dynamic of the purple regions seems to have been increasingly changed by the emergence in many places of “news deserts”–sites of no or only one local newspaper–in a phenomenon that is increasingly internet-driven, and reinforced by the growing number of news deserts across the nation.  As mapped in interactive form on Carto to reveal the spaces afflicted by the least local news sources–counties with no or one local newspaper, zero suggested by the lightest pink or one by salmon–

 

News Deserts--light pink = zero newpapers; salmon = 1.pngColumbia Journalism review/C. Chisolm

 

–the holes within the information network of much of the nation can be observed that intersect with once purple areas in striking ways, and the hollowing out of a news community in both rural and some urban areas.  The growth of “media deserts” up to 2014 mirror the end of Obama’s second term, and the growth of an alt right movement that has gained an increasingly dominant voice in the American political landscape, where the diminution of local news sources has altered the nature of public opinion have left increasing swaths of the nation dependent on online news sources, altering the information economy in decisive ways that helped allow red/blue cleavages to grow, and polarizing news agencies to reach a larger and more decisive constituency.

 

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Even more compellingly, it suggests the end of an economy of local news over much of the nation.  huge gaping holes have widened to leave the nation like a hunk of swiss cheese, in the southwest, modest, and northwest, as the outbreak of three wobbly but hovering blobs over the nation–including the southwestern border, whose hollowing has left them increasingly susceptible and open to both greater malleability and less reporting of the local consequences of issues of national debate.  In this setting, it is no surprise, perhaps, that internet-driven concerns about immigration, crime, and terrorist threats have been stoked and enflamed with greater ease–and populations most easily subject to outside interference because they lacked the resilience of local news.  In what almost seems a free speech violation, and a difficulty of generating public debate, the growing holes of such news deserts–which, much as it would deprive epidemiologists of needed tools to measure local rates of the growth of infectious disease or influenza–create barriers to assess the local impact of issues exclusively cast in national terms?  Is a decline of local reporting indicative of a qualitative change in the nature of communities, now more likely to adopt oppositional agendas rather than articulate their own?  Or is the rise of “news deserts” congruent with the increase in broadcast news that casts both global policy and national politics in increasingly oppositional terms?

 

Public-health-and-local-media-1024x576.pngDom Smith/Stat News

 

The expansion of such “news deserts” where no or only one source of news exists, according to the American Alliance for Audited Media.  AAUM measured the number of papers that reached at least 1% of each county, and haven’t converted to an exclusively digital form, as a proxy for the decline of news publications, and the increasing reliance on non-local media; while a focus on newspapers is questionable in an era of the dominance of television and on-line news, the hope to measure and map the reduction of local media within issues about issues of national consequence suggested the distinct shift in public debate.  Indeed, shuttering many smaller news publications, both urban and suburban, deprive communities of a local voice in events that seem to spin far beyond the local in increasingly challenging ways, and place global issues–undocumented immigrants; terrorist threats; refugees–in relation to local concerns in ways both challenging and difficult to grasp.

 

one to two souresColumbia Journalism Review–light pink without local news sources; salmon with one

 

Considered another ways, the near-absnence of non-profit news sources outside of metro areas, and few sources of information were available in small towns, and indeed outside the coasts–understanding the “news desert” as an absence of non-profit news, a dearth felt nationwide save in several cities as Denver, Austin, New Orleans, Madison, and Minneapolis–and to consider the different information markets that exist in much of the nation where Trump performed so stunningly.

 

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Each graphic invites us to examine the category and meaning of the ‘news desert,’ a term by no means clearly defined in an era of online news.  Is the fear that a common concern of news media that may itself loose analytic force?   Thomas Jefferson insisted that “The cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate,” but the expansion of areas without local news venues or voices, or meaningful political endorsements, suggests not only a dangerous remove from national issues, but a vulnerability to external threats in an age where most get their news online and through Facebook feeds–and the expansion of online news threatens to make it impossible for all to feel themselves able to stay informed.

 

news deserts.pngDom Smith/Stat News

 

The gaping holes in the above GIF suggests a growing eating out of public opinion.  The hugely successful appeal of Trump’s candidacy in areas of relatively low news presence is not a surprise.  Trump was himself quite acutely aware “I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest with you,” as he told FOX Business Network as the election approached.  Trump’s avoidance of the mainstream media was notorious, although the success with which this became a strategy blindsided many.  But the sectarian–if not almost Manichean–divisions between red states and blue have been fostered and promoted by a decline in non-partisan or non-profit news sources.  And in a new range of articles on the increasingly partisan news offices at FOX or Sinclair Broadcasting, which reaches 39 percent of households in the country before its pending merger with Tribune Media.  Sinclair’s strategy of integrating national messages with local news suggests particularly dangerous ways of masquerading as local news–and driving fear in increasingly oppositional ways, accentuating the blue/red infographic in ways that were not even on Obama’s radar, although he perceptively sensed the divide emanated from screens more than it existed on the ground.

 

3.  The increasingly oppositional divisions are not evident in a stark division of political preference and allegiance within the current national map, and enabled a targeting of the parsing of populations and festering of divides.  Indeed, the success of the Trump team may lie in the address of the purplest populations of the nation, in which the success of the Trump vote can be mapped in what seems an inverse relation to printed news subscriptions:  ‘news deserts’ provided a crucial core constituency for Trump’s success, or at least correlate strongly, if one takes the shaky database of newspaper subscriptions that has been provided by the Alliance for Audited Media–an admittedly incomplete dataset whose questionable focus on subscriptions to local newspapers–not really adequate as a proxy for “news deserts” in an age of television and national news, but perhaps suggestive of the power of the local editorial endorsement–even if the description of “traditional news outlets” remains a questionable metric for access to news information.

 

Politico Deserts.pngLimited Subscriptions to Local Newspapers in America 

 

The growth of online news seems to have removed regions of the south and northwest from the figure of the local newspaper reporter.  Such a divide echoes the rural/urban divide, and may indicate the remove of much of the polity from public opinion, and a deep-set resistance to opinions broadcast from both coasts during the election seems rooted in the erosion of news communities in ways that demand to be mapped.  The growth of venues such as Sinclair Broadcasting provided ways of growing this divide–or fissure–through a virtual stranglehold on news sources in many sites.

 

4.  Obama successfully downplayed deep differences between red states and blue states by more than powerful and affecting rhetorical device.  His bridging of a chromatic divide was not only stirring not only to those in cities, but comforting in small towns.  By 2008, Obama’s audience were happy to accept as an invitation as his own coinage, and take it as an invitation to put aside animosity across electoral divides.  But the very notion of such a blue state-red state divide–and the prominence in such a divide of the purple–has recently gained new meaning and relevance in Robert S. Mueller III’s recent indictment charging thirteen Russians of waging information wars during the election.  For the Russians who were identified as arriving from 2014 aimed to splinter existing political divides by fostering increased dissensus and distrust in the political system in the “purple” states as those where the election of 2016 could be most effectively swung.  Indeed, the very vulnerability of the political imaginary that foregrounded a red state-blue state divide for the global image of American politics made something of an unforeseen return, when it was announced that the Russian operatives who had toured several states to conduct something of a political ethnography of the abilities to create greater political divisions and distrust in the political system focussed on the sensitivity of “purple states” as sites to increase and exploit existing political divides, and create increased political tensions in the United States through the results of its elections.

Taking the occasion of the 2016 Presidential election as an occasion to increase political distrust, and for slicing and dicing the nation For the targeting of what were described as “purple states,” in an unforessen appropriation of maps of a less polarized “Purple America” made after the divisive presidential election of 2000, by political scientist Robert J. Vanderbei .  The new visualization was widely adopted by the news media as a dynamic form of infographic, using colors exclusively to communicate the political temperature of Americans.  Yet the image gained a new second life as it provided a ground-plan for planting social media interventions, Special Counsel Mueller’s indictment reveals that the figure of speech, as well as a concrete metaphor, served to target disrupting political consensus from 2014.   Indeed, “purple America” provided not only a target for winning over the electorate for both political parties, but a target for disrupting consensus evident as much from outside of the United States as from within.

If purple can come to seem a sign of vulnerability, this is in large part because of the possibilities of warping through the electoral college produces clear divides, but which indeed offers a sense of stability–affirming a sense of continuities all too easily disrupted by the dogmatic prism of a red state/blue state electoral map, with a brightest red–actually pink–in the Texas panhandle and Dakotas, but the nation is decisively mottled; even in the divisive 2004 electoral map, “red” only dominated Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho, and redness was evident in blue states, as bluenesses in reds.  Drilling down so far is not, in many cases, an adequate picture of the political process, but offers a counter-map to the electoral map, that reflects a sense of cartographical insufficiency.

 

PurpleStates.jpgEmmie Mears, “These Purples States of America”

 

Emmie Mears’ deeper dive into the data is a striking photoshop map and suggests an even greater expanse of purple.  The contiguity of purple shades that run the vast extent of the nation pointedly challenged the polarities shared by pundits, and reveals, even in the 2016 Presidential race, a widespread admixture of voting tendencies.  Although Obama’s stirring image of overcoming political divides is often retrospectively cast as pandering to patriotism, it increasingly seems an accurate prognosis of a problem waiting to happen.  While Mears’ visualization was intended to affirm the plurality of political opinions, to undo the tension of oppositional confrontation that was generated already in the nightly news, the danger of adopting such a syntax of a census–familiar from the Dustin Cable’s Racial Dot map or the American Community Survey, which show both diversity and stark lines of ethnicity, education, and income, the danger of the vesting of political preference as a question of character–and not a selection in a given time and place–of course dilutes the representational institutions, and poses the problem of whether a two-party system can ever be able to refract our political diversity.

But it also suggests the broad openings for undermining that consensus, as the recent indictment of thirteen Russians who conducted preparatory ethnography as they planned a long-term project of disrupting American political consensus that would intersect in unforeseen ways with the candidacy of Donald Trump–a long-time fringe candidate, whose ascendancy to the oval office had been represented as an unsavory alternate future in Doonesbury, but whose own deep hunger for approval, recognition, and adulation seems to have created a tenacity to court  audiences without much attention to the public good.  Whether or not Trump shared the vision of the electoral map as ripe for exploitation, although his own deep attachment to the two-color outcome of the electoral map hints at how overjoyed he was with the results, the echo chamber of social media certainly helped dilute the deep purpleness of America that political scientists had mapped.

 

5.  If it’s the case that Trump proudly selected a framed map of the distorted division of electoral votes in the White House as one of the first images to be displayed to visitors, he certainly took deep satisfaction at the outcome  which was in part the result of targeting public opinion in divisive ways, even if many of the most powerful and divisive images that announced his campaign promises to the public seem to have derived from suspiciously identified social media sources.  The gap in population density between flatland of the regions of “red America” is thrown into a relief in a prism map that offers a county-results in a tiltable 3-D electoral map between counties voting Trump from those voting Clinton, a gap evident in economic integration, education, and lifestyle, that reminds us of the gap in media coverage increasingly centered in cities; but if it corrects the distorted flatland of an electoral map,  it surely exaggerates that yawning gap, as its blue/red dichotomy erased the purple nature of so many counties where social media news feeds helped worked to fill that gap, allowing Facebook feeds to play an increased role in forming a surrogate public opinion that could effectively intensify existing political divides, so that they appear even more extreme that in previous elections with the sort of “political intensity” that indicted Russians planned to foment.  Did the extension of first amendment Free Speech laws to cover data-driven bots and platforms designed to work by keeping viewers engaged help  expand the blue/red divisions that we’ve come to accept in the electoral map?

 

clintontrump

County-level Margins of Victory legend.pngBlueshift

 

Indeed, the current rash of twitterbots that issued viral memes from #ReleasetheMemo to #Guncontrolnow and #Parklandshooting that hail from Russia–if not St. Petersburg–need to be held to different standards than First amendment rights, but under if seen as speech acts, protected First amendment, although originating in foreign lands, they are able to gain a pressing reality in our politics for their consumers and followers.  The shape of such activity seems especially prominent in creating an apparent groundswell of the alt Right in the last election.  When Mueller’s indictment forced social media giant Twitter was forced to purge thousands of newly suspected automated bots posting from overseas that Twitter’s legal division had seen as protected by Free Speech, deleting 50,000 accounts linked to Russian bots created such sudden drops in the numbers of the followers of figures like white nationalist Richard Spencer or long-time Trump promoter Bill Mitchell that they were suspected as victims of a purge of followers of the alt right.  If the move provoked cries of censorship, we were reminded how much twitter shaped the election in the valleys of areas colored red, where a third of pro-Trump tweets among over a million tweets issued by automated bots, and pro-Trump rallies belying his lower standings in most polls save on Facebook, as millions of bots nudged the geography of the map from behind the scenes through an unforseen barrage of propagandistic images and texts that directed the mental attention of a Durkheimian collective.

Many images displayed by accounts suspected of originating overseas, as of the platform ‘Secured Borders,’ create a quite viscerally striking image of the very geopolitical imaginary that the Trump campaign openly promoted.  But if they echo Trump’s rhetoric, the deeply offensive images identifying migrants as vermin, as if to deny them of legal rights, derive from a right-wing imaginary already current in central Europe, as other images used in Trump’s political commercials, showing hoards of immigrants racing across border, and  betray historical roots in Nazi visual propaganda.  These images created a geographical imaginary rooted in fear, indeed, and promote a geopolitical imaginary–a divide made visibly clear in cartoonish ways in the contrast between the barren lands to one side of the wall and the green lands across it, where the suited Father Figure Donald Trump stands wearing his red tie and flag pin, in a new and creepy image of the defender of the nation–as if to protect the greenness of its grass.  (The creepy smile and richly solid comb over look so little like our supposed President, it is quite oddly designed, if replete with visual triggers, and its hortatory text lacking a comma, its limited punctuation seeming poorly proofread.)

 

 

Secured Borders: immigrant as vermin?

 

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6.  Such a reality seems to heighten not only the “political intensity” but heighten divides along what we map in red/blue terms, despite the limited explanatory power of an electoral flatland’s gaps between blue peaks of populated centers and the far redder expanses. Even after refining the flat electoral map, by adopting opacities to render margins of victory, retaining a contrast designed to foreground sharp differences fails to register the range of purple regions that turned red, driven toward an intensity of political involvement or disaffection by memes of social media still protected as “free” speech.

The issue is not only, moreover, the troll accounts that were tied to a Russian “troll factory” outside of St. Petersburg, Russia.  For the so-called ‘factories’ that mined images designed to provoke visceral responses that would trump reflection released a steady feed of fake news, based on innuendo and insinuation as well as outright slander and attack, that polluted the global media, as they were actively retweeted by the Washington Post, Jack Dorsey, CNN’s Jake Tapper, to fed an information ecosystem that was waiting to be poisoned, as some 3,000 global news outlets inadvertently included tweets originating from confirmed Kremlin-linked troll accounts in upwards of 11,000 “news” articles as the 2016 Presidential election approached, based on an analysis of over 2,700 Twitter handles confirmed to be linked by Twitter to the Internet Research Agency, a group tied to Russian intelligence–including David Duke (@DrDavidDuke), Sen. John Coryn (@JohnCornyn), Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls), FOX News host Sean Hannity (@seanhannity), Brad Parscale (@parscale), Anthony Scaramucci (@Scaramucci), former White House press secretary Sean Spicer (@seanspicer), and Sen. Ted Cruz (@tedcruz)–in ways that transformed Twitter into a tool of information war.  By targeting audiences by zip-code, education, and wealth, raising the specter of those who “come to our country to change our traditions,” and increasing the fear and specter of unwanted refugees.

 

Meltwater

 

Tweets on new issues of 2016, from illegal immigration to voter fraud, circulated from Russian plants–in cringe-inducing claims such as “If Hillary wins, she will amnesty 30+ million illegal aliens and Republicans will never win an election again”, or “#VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands ineligible mail-ins for Hillary votes being reported in Broward County FL”–mirrored the fears of a “rigged” system and election that Trump had repeatedly conjured, and created a new meme in American political discourse that increased skepticism about the political process.

The overlap between many purple regions and regions with distinct patterns of consuming news in print or online media would have only magnified the divides where social media platforms spread disinformation–that infamous “fake news”–to gain a purchase as real in our political system.  Even if the possibility of infection by viral posts can’t yet be traced or measured with certainty as a map, the disinformation moved by bots or “troll factories” created a pitched battle of electoral intensity, that was staged around electoral votes or at least along fomenting clearly defined geographic/regional divides that Russians charged with visiting states in the United States to gain a sense of their ability to exploit a divided political landscape didn’t even need to travel to America to apprehend, as infographics clearly served as a readily available primer on how best to foment increased divisions.  Indeed, even by creating a distracting static whose constant beat eroded dialogue or trust, from internet accusations of the murder of Justice Antonin Scalia, deep distrust of naming a successor, and a year-long vacancy of his seat, as Mitch McConnell forced the sort of divisive deadlock only able to intensify political opposition.  (While the diffusion of the demand among Republicans began from McConnell’s quick tweet incited a sort of collective resistance, issued hours after Scalia expired in Texas, and lent broad currency to the numerous questions about conspiracies of the nature of his death that circulated online.  The  false populism in many ways echoed Trumpism, issued an hour after Scalia was confirmed as dead, and generated disruptive memes on social media–“OMG They killed Scalia” “I hope an autopsy is done to make sure Obama didn’t have him killed”– which supported an unprecedented, as Glenn Thrush and Burgess Everett reminded us, “rebuke of President Obama’s authority” and “categorical rejection of anyone Obama chose to nominate,” irrespective of their merits, to disrupted trust in political consensus during the Republican and Democratic primaries.  (Was it a surprise that McConnell, the senior senator from deep red Kentucky, playing the part of a disruptor, in late August single-handedly blocked bipartisan decisions to alert the American public to FBI reports of Russia’s unwanted involvement in the presidential election, from staging cyberattacks to ties to the campaign of Donald J. Trump?)

The entrance of this gambit within the context of the political election indeed led all Republican nominees to adopt the issue that drove a wedge between red and blue states and their respective media outlets, in what was cast as a rebuke to President Obama’s lack of respect for the institution of Congress to pursue “his personal agenda.”  A yawning gap between red and blue counties reveals the disconnect in our social fabric but of the consumption of news, and sources of opinion, about which the “troll factory” charged with launching disruptive messages into America’s Presidential election from St. Petersburg were able to play a disproportionately outsized role.  The divide was plain in this 2013 map of print news consumption, where yellow shows the swath of land getting news principally from USA Today, a year later by online outlets Huffington Post and TMZ, where the investment in social media may have had particularly pronounced leverage.  And in a period of increased attachment to divisive news sources that intensified an absence of dialogue between political parties, the expansion of divisive posts on social media platforms helped to undermine civic discourse.

 

7.  When Jared Kushner openly boasted that his father-in-law Donald was able to secure a deal with one of the largest media broadcasters in the United States–the Sinclair Broadcasting Group to ensure superior media coverage, and presumably promote attack ads, he suggested that the Trump team was on board in broadcasting their message to purple states within the political map–targeting a similar audience than that reflected in the yellow expanse below of states that were the most apt to share news stories in 2013–areas that already ran pretty red.

 

print-news-consumption-2013Media Map Showing Most Shared News in Each State (2013)

 

tumblr_inline_mu3vemRap61r62coc

 

The metaphorical trolling of the country that foreground the imminent threat terrorists pose to the nation, raise suspicions about Barack Obama’s or Hilary Clinton’s motivations for being President and ties to suspicious organizations, by the same Sinclair Broadcasting Group.  In ways that recall the media attack ads manufactured abroad, news segments ran on the dangers that immigration poses across the nation’s southern border from anchors of chains of local news stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, a media conglomerate which regularly issues “must-run” segments of news to its 173 affiliates, whose involvement in local news markets is now posed to enter urban areas–and making the news corporation the largest in the nation, with 233 stations.  Did the news group offer a disinformation of its own, now seemingly only poised to grow into an urban market with its acquisition of Tribune media?

Would this expand the map’s red?

 

KXQuekP.png

The splitting of news constituencies reached by the Sinclair Group along an urban/rural divide that reflects the Trump’s “heartland” has been noted, and since 2013 offered a basis for “managing” a constellation of stations that worked around FCC regulations on media consolidation that are intended to promote local news diversity.  The lack of diversity in the 38% of households that they reached–now posed to reach 72%–already offered a powerful megaphone for addressing residents in “purple” states–in the Midwest, West, and Southwest–and mirror the “gaping holes” of news deserts, where local news sources are increasingly absent.

 

sinclair1Technical.ly

 

It is not surprising to see Trump’s FCC to take steps that actively aided the expansion of Sinclair media into American households by merging with Tribune Media, by adopting a loophole that once pertains to UHF broadcasting–and is long technologically obsolete–to allow low-budget stations to grow, thereby allowing it to grow beyond the ceiling of 39% of a national audience to diffuse a fairly reactionary message if one maps its media footprint in ways that would allow it to address more than 39% of its existing market.

 

sinclair_area-Artboard_4_copy

 

Politico mapped existing Sinclair stations against their media footprint

 

8.  Although it was habitual to take what seems Obama’s fondness for the phrase as a sense of its particular rhetorical effectiveness, a more charitable interpretation of his attachment to the phrase might be intimations of the deeply corrosive nature of the metaphorical divide of the nation.  The image of an electoral divide perpetuated by pollsters and pundits was shown to haunt the nation not only in the 2016 Presidential election but, as we have heard in the recent expansive indictment that Mueller issued accusing Russian operatives who travelled the United States seeking strategies to sew discord “in the U.S. political system” from 2014.  Traveling in Colorado, New Mexico, Michigan, Illinois, Texas, they defined their mission as  oriented along that very divide.  Defendants Mssrs. Krylova, Bogacheva, and Bovda were charged with conspiracy for not disclosing the motivations of their travels in the United States posing as tourists, developed the idea of targeting “purple states” as sites to foment the greatest divisions–seeking to “create ‘political intensity through supporting radical groups” and transform fictitious personas into “leaders of ‘public opinion’ in the United States” by hundreds of social media account.  While traveling in America a “real U.S. person” advised that they

 

should focus their
activities on "purple states" like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.

 

–and the principle of “targeting ‘purple states'” returned in later months as a ground-plan to disrupt the election, and sew a deeper sense of distrust within our democracy.  Even if the term “purple states” that emerged as sites of targeting may not have been seen as sites where social media platforms could have substantially increased authority, the success of increasing divisiveness readily responded to stark divisions on the map.

The parlance learned in the United States was shaped in the media sphere to enlarge factional divides, if the notion of “Purple America” had been born to give complexity to a blue state versus red state divide.  Avatars on fictitious social media accounts used the categories of political scientists to amplify existing prejudices from troll factories in St. Petersburg, often pedaling prejudices that gained greater reality in what seemed public opinion as the election approached.  The “information warfare” waged on social media that was an odd spin on globalization, that kicked into gear with racial prejudice channeled by Russian hipsters working round the clock in twelve-hour shifts from a designated “Facebook department” in Taylorist fashion within a “troll factory”:  the surprising success of targeting voters in the United States was based on extensive mapping of political divisions, and a design to exploit them through social media.  Were the addictive apparatus of a medium that seeks to command the attention of observers part of the plan?

Such images, texts, comments, and posts designed to stoke divisions were based on ventriloquizing Americans, but pushing the envelope on the standards of address:   in a scene straight of Adam Smith’s pin-making factories, the web of disinformation that was spun from Americans’ social media fabric extended not only what seemed to the Russian who created them incredibly “believed [to be] written by their own people,” and even worked directly with the Trump campaign to coordinate rallies in purple states like Florida.  If Trump didn’t detect that the divisiveness Russian trolls devised on Facebook feeds incriminated his campaign, because Mueller did not reveal direct ties between the desire of the Internet Research Agency to sew disinformation and division was distant from his own campaign–“Obama was President up do, and beyond, the 2016 election.  So why didn’t he do something about Russian meddling?”–what Trump confidently imagined to be a wellspring of popular support for his candidacy may well only have intersect with the more successful than anticipated adoption of the Russian trolls’ stories in Facebook platforms that created the intense emotional involvement which drove an under-the-radar aspect to the campaign, from images linking Hillary Clinton to Satanism to targeted voter suppression to diffusing enthusiasm by openly promoting third-party candidates as effective protest votes.

Indeed, Facebook and Twitter did the heavy lifting of ensuring that trolling from St. Petersburg were sent out across America, and to effectively mask the diffusion of messages along various social networking platforms to create something like an inadequate surrogate for public opinion–even as Facebook was foreign to Russian social networking when the Internet Research Agency was begun in 2014.

 

world-map-social-networks-dec-2014

 

The Internet Research Agency, perhaps an acronymic pun on the Irish Republican Army, worked to foment what seemed a similar faith-based war by manipulating styled prejudices to “spread distrust” to online communities they had infiltrated, warning of misleading “hype and hatred . . . forcing Blacks to vote for Killary” to “Woke Blacks” Instagram accounts in October 2016–weeks before the election–and adding “we would surely be better off without voting AT ALL” than cast a vote for the Democratic candidate.  As well as  unleashing an unprecedented epidemic of trolling, the St. Petersburg “troll factory” staffed by 900 employees posted over thousand times each week at the height of the election from over one hundred Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, in ways that magnified the rifts in the isolated filter bubbles had previously existed in order to turn them against one another.  When Eli Pariser in 2011 coined the phrase to describe the dangers of isolating information ecosystems in selective news feeds forming virtual echo chambers of false comfort in an insulated information bubble,

 

atomization.png

 

the tools of social media sites enabled the splintering to actual communities in an almost mechanical fashion of cause and effect, as if sending ripples able to create the sort of electoral disruption in strategic ways.  In doing so, they mirror the very danger of which President Obama in his final public speech cautioned against “retreat into our own social media feeds” as rendering Americans uncritical information consumers [who] start accepting information, whether its true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on evidence that is out there.”  The warning delivered after the election of Donald Trump and delivered in Chicago saw Obama trying to move out of the bubble, and was delivered near to where his 2008 victory speech celebrating an America able to transcend its image as a nation divided between red states and blue states.  But the bubbles in which selective calls to not go to the polls or demonize the Democratic candidate were launched as narratives may have made them difficult to detect or counteract.

The sort of fragmentation that troll factories Mueller has charged were orchestrated from abroad are described as being planned after reconnaissance in the United States.  The same divides, it is important to remember, could have been as easily gleaned online.  And even if trips to the United States are described as developed by operatives traveling to the United States to discover, much the same sort of prejudice pedaled in postings crafted in St. Petersburg to disrupt the Presidential election based on a fractured public politics could have been gleaned form an infographic.  The disruptiveness of disinformation created feedback loops that only mimicked oppositional racism as much as it mimicked back prejudices observed in ethnographic study of American social media Facebook groups.

Indeed, the stories of Russian hipsters working twelve-hour days on posting divisive comments on Facebook from 2014-16 in St Petersburg, posing as Americans, and required to write an essay in English on Hillary Clinton to determine whether they were suitable for the job, suggests just how invested the foreign government was in addressing social media to purple states to influence the election’s outcome, and doing their best to dissuade blacks and other minorities from supporting Hilary Clinton, despite an overall eligible voting population that was more racially and ethnically diverse than ever, according to Pew Research, but for the first time blacks declined as a share of voters since 2004.   Black voters were not only among the “three major voter suppression operations” Trump advisors worked to lower turn-out, with white liberals and young women, but one of the most successful efforts seemingly tied to Trump’s director of data digital operation in his San Antonio headquarters, Brad Parscale, whose nightly electoral simulations seemed aimed at providing a basis for to partly its data into a new news organization, mirrors techniques of turnout suppression adopted by destabilizing social media divides.  Facebook accounts such as the “Blacktivist” page that urged that voting for Jill Stein–a candidate with close ties to Russia–was “not a wasted vote,” clearly recycled historical images of African-American nationalism and solidarity, in hopes to decrease voter turn-out in Maryland.  The use of the emblem may seek to re-engineer the energy of black voters for past Democratic Presidential victories, and to scare others who might see it.  With other accounts openly urging Muslim voters to boycott the election, the goal was to dilute and splinter the very coalitions that the Clinton campaign assembled by sowing distrust–and indeed, to exploit social media by triggering a clear emotional response, more than making an argument.

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The studies of social media patterns that began from at least 2014, which were, as if by coincidence, marked by huge Republican gains in Senate and House under a banner of the most angry national midterm elections to be directed against a sitting President, was effectively amplified with the encouragement and traction that the bitterness of 2014 elections had set across the southern states and deep south, southwestern Texas along the US-Mexico border, and in formerly ‘blue’ or ‘purple’ states–creating a particularly obstructionist House of Representatives that succeeded to obstruct so any of the policies President Obama sought to pursue in his final two years.

 

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National results of the 2014 House races, showing Republican gains in bright red

 

9.  The proliferation of robo-posts seeking to foster divisiveness upped the ante far more than Sinclair Broadcasting, but the two seem to have mutually reinforced one another–if not using strikingly similar tactics.  The divisiveness continued by injecting increasingly radicalized terms of political debate, and even fundamentalist notions of apocalypticism, that seemed foreign to American political debate, depicting Hillary Clinton as increasingly satanic and promoting open borders, promoting division and distrust around bizarre social media memes.  The offensive cartoonish images promoted by the IRA-sponsored “Secured Borders” borders account, designed to appeal to Trump’s supporters and introducing an icon of his campaign, resembled the icon of the United States Border Patrol to create an image that not only recalled its official insignia–

 

 

 

–but did so to link a specific presidential candidate to patriotism in extreme ways, celebrating the at of rejecting refugees and asylum-seekers and increasing border protection as a need for national protection, creating a false equivalence if there ever was one, and straining any logical linkages.  (The conceit of “liking” advocating political isolationism is a bizarre mashup of Facebook’s prescriptive language of immediate unconsidered emotional reaction and a political position with all too dangerous political consequences.  Was the irony of using social media to raise questions of border protection not ever perceived?  or was the idea to root the image of a tough border so deeply in one’s mind, that one didn’t think that clearly about its politics, consequences or implications?)

 

 

 

Rusian FB ad for Secrured Borders.png

 

 

Indeed, an ethnographic study of Facebook groups might target alone groups living on the southern border, Christian fundamentalists, white supremacists and Black Lives Matter as potential groups to manipulate to stoke divisiveness on partisan lines, and sow disorder on the performance of a two-party system by gaming electoral geography.  There is hope in puncturing the filter-bubbles of Facebook groups, however, by the increased calling out of the need for resolve on a true issue–gun control–too regularly and dismissively side-lined by the staged political debates that were shared in posts, and which seems, if only because of the strength of its blunt actuality, to puncture social media with an urgency that can’t be denied.

 

10.  The decision to direct a social media focus on purple states as sites where divides would stand the greatest chance to disrupt or even to tweak the electoral results reveals a bizarre recycling of what was designed as a classificatory map to increase divisions, and gave a distinctly new ideological flavor and torque to the left-wing concepts of swing states that were so successfully promoted within the 2008 Obama campaign.  By recycling attention-getting image of chromatic divides developed for television audiences, purple states emerged as targets for online spooking, and Facebook aggregation gained traction around affective ideas like casting the color red was a form of patriotism.

But the notion of pressing advantages on social media in states purple, but maybe able to be nudged Republican, provided the deepest rationale for division.  Defendants, posing as members of the group “Being Patriotic,” under the guise of that patriotism offered the idea of pressing their advantage by the notion of a wedge in purple states.  The defendants offered in emails, “we’ve got an idea.  Florida is still a purple state and we need to paint it red.  If we lose Florida, we lose America.  We can’t let it happen, right?  What about organizing a YUGE pro-Trump flash mob in every Florida town?” on August 2, 2106, and offered, “We clearly understand that the elections winner will be predestined [sic] by purple states.”  While not brilliant as strategy, as a selective basis to sew distrust and disorder in one of the most over-polled elections ever, where we watched the results of multiple daily polls as if to deliver the odds on horse races, tweaking the electoral map toward a new color combination was enough.

The “purple” region gained the most striking new sense as sites of information warfare in the United States over a period of years–in ways that might be detached from the actual campaign.  The figure of speech born of data visualizations gained a newfound torque as a form of divisiveness, and the chromatic metaphor operative force, as “focusing on purple states such as Florida” became, for the fictional identity “Josh Hamilton,” a strategy proposed by a false grassroots efforts that was communicated to Trump campaign officials.  White most tracks were concealed, a few were not.  And although the Trump campaign didn’t need to be advised, necessarily, “to focus on ‘purple’ states like Colorado, Virginia, and Florida,” the targeting of areas where there didn’t seem a clear polarity promised to create a far starker one.   But Russian use of a language of infographics served to materialize, in a starkly divided map, existing fault-lines that one needed only to exploit, push apart, and throw into relief to engineer a surprising electoral result, using images that recovered more subtly shaded areas where blue met red as tools that were able to be exploited to show the world a far more bitterly divided United States, as if even raising the specter of a deep red region could sow considerable distrust in a Democratic system, or just vacate whatever appeal its constitutional rights held in Russia and Central Europe.

 

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New York Times:  2016 United States presidential election results by county 

 

The organizing of false grassroots efforts according to the Mueller indictment not only to organize rallies that would “focus on purple states,” but to create a divide in doing so that best exploited divisions in our electoral maps.  Indeed, the notion of such a divide that had been picked up by Nate Silver and across the art of political forecasting was not something that would have had to come from any sort of special informant, being in the air of 2016 and widely broadcast on the airwaves, as the “Purple America” coined right after the divisive presidential election of 2000, by Vanderbei, as a way to come to terms with starkness of the opposition between Bush v. Gore; Vanderbei recast what seemed a polarity in the context of a variety of political opinion, leading to articles after 2004 to insist that America is not divided into sub-nations, or on the brink of a second Civil War, and continued to map the mutation of purple America in future elections.

 

11.  The conceit of Purple America rescued to some extent the simplified opposition implied by a chromatic divide between red v. blue.  Articles ran entitled “Most Americans live in Purple America, not Red or Blue America” rather than in a blue or red state, created a sense of consensus and diversity, befitting a democracy, but the yawning gaps in areas of intense redness meant that purpleness provided a language of opportunity for those seeking to grow division and craft heightened political dissensus.  Vanderbei offered the original “Purple America” to help refine a clearer statistical image of the dynamics hidden between the political polarization of a body politic, and to give greater agency to a varied range of political opinions in most states.  By embodying a red flyover zone, or a blueing of the coasts, the intention was to encourage a deeper dive into the national vote, as well as to retire the tired glossing of the electoral map:  the bridging of a division that Obama would make in his speech in support of John Kerry’s Presidential candidacy fenced the hegemony of a similar symbolic divide, and cast it as at its root dangerous to democracy.

 

 

PurpleAmerica2000

Purple America (2000)

 

But it didn’t remain there.  The migration of a language designed for a broad market of TV news infographics to a language of political operatives interested in subverting the democratic process is perhaps instructive.  The map was perhaps replayed in the media as it contained sufficient dramatic tension to foreground problems of crafting political consensus, as if social policies and political opinions were identified with an area in the country, and as if every issue in the political platform was fundamentally designed to capture a divisive issue of political debate–around abortion, social security, gun control, climate change or global warming, environmental regulation, and monetary policy or fiscal restraint–whereas the options on the table were not, in fact, that divergent.

The maps however naturalized the divisions, and, paradoxically, left them open to be exploited, perhaps not so much since we were fractured into filter bubbles as because pundits wanted to create the necessary degree of dramatic tension, and to craft and foreground the dramatic arc of an election season, as if the notion of a ground-plan and an electoral strategy could be portrayed and represented as a military as much as a political one.  The guiding metaphor of divisiveness and division that was foregrounded in this map–as if blocks of population existed with one preference, despite the subtler variations in voting, despite the blue/red divide imposed by majority victory–

Mark Newman Red:Blue ma.png

–even if such a decision, a sort of hold-over from a pre-parliamentary languages of democracy, that privileged the notion of a ruling party in a quasi-monarchical way, obscured the variations once one drilled down into voting patterns–

 

votes- red v blue, by county and interest level

 

–but obscured the huge number of “ghost votes” across the less inhabited areas, where isolated communities, suspended outside of the metropoles, were magnified in an electoral college that robustly enhanced their political voice in ways bluntly reflected by the flatness of the two-color map in stubborn wasy.  But as Chris Howard, inspired by the blended voting maps created by Robert J. Vanderbei of the 2012 election that showed purple America, and the cartograms of Mark Newman, transparencies could capture the magnification of political voices of low-density in the electoral map, in ways that might have suggested the potential for electoral disruption to those seeking to do so–even if such a perverse reading of the language of infographics was hard to imagine.

 

howardmap

The graphic language, migrating from electoral processes to the nightly news, may have provided a basis for newscasters to naturalize a drama of political  contestation, more than conversation.  Whereas we are increasingly talking not of “states” that suggest the fragmentation of the union, we live in an increasing economic divide largely oriented not along pitched lines of battle, but by urban/rural divisions, if the divide is belied in the flat pasteurization of space of electoral maps.  The growth of megacities across America have raised multiple divisions electoral maps fail to capture, with its fundamental insistence on the county as a unit of voting, despite the increasing evacuation of its meaning as a unit of political representation.  But as a metaphor, or master-trope, the fracturing of states was something of an invitation to a foreign nation to seize up and try to pry apart, however, as French cartographer Luc Guillmot showed in an alternative cartogram, sized by votes in red states in the so-called heartland of the midwest, in the manner of Ben Hennig’s cartograms.

 

 

deep-blue-cities-hennig

 

But President Obama’s own words come back to haunt us.  In the electoral maps for the 2016, indeed, the masking of gradations of division produced the sense of a democratic result we were bound to accept–

 

2016_presidential_election,_results_by_congressional_district_(popular_vote_margin).svg.png

 

 

–even if it brought an intensified red that was really clinched at the margins, or in Texas, Florida, Michigan and Virginia, but whose deep red “heartland” created the sense for the victor that he was indeed recognized by the “real Americans” he so desired to court.  Trump was so taken with the electoral map to have it framed, and has been so personally obsessed with imagining the scale of his supposed victory to be present in the intensity of the square mileage of red hued states to take a truly personal offense at the idea that voters swayed by Facebook pages and Instagram groups are seen as diminishing the status of his victory, and an election he imagines a total victory he pulled off by bravado, and dismiss concern of dangerous effects of foreign disturbances of the voting process.

 

12.  Widespread exploitation of such divisions, and indeed the language of opposition, subverted the democratic process by a vision of polarization that maps reinforced.   And by exploiting that narrow margin of purple states of the nation, local consensus was ready to be flipped, and precedents of civility overturned.  By stoking an an enthusiasm that few saw as even in reach on the eve of electoral night, America seemed to fall into two camps, but with the electoral collect staying clearly in Clinton’s camp.  (The hold on the lighter blue states like Florida and North Carolina were tenuous, however, and the loss in Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania tipped the scales.)

If the blue states seem able to hug the red core to prevent it overflowing to both coasts, the glare of the divisions between blue and red states was so starkly naturalized to masquerade the extent to which flipping purple states would in fact flip much more of the nation red, and alter the outcome of the electoral count in ways that renders the flat dichotomy of a two-color prediction irrelevant.  The flipping of purple and pink states upset the predictive power of a map, but did so in ways that seem only to have reinstated the logic of the divided nation we have created in our infographics which may, in the end run, do far less to inform.

 

Cahnc of Wining.png

The fact stubbornly remains that it wouldn’t involve that much demographic science or pinpoint precision polling to know that enough pressure in the purple states could create a crisis in consensus enough to blur the outcome of the vote.  But we clearly can’t go back again to seeing the national shores as creating a red/blue divide that is taking the current temperature of public opinion in each state, in isolation from the rest of the world.

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Filed under 2016 US Presidential Election, Donald Trump, electoral maps, News Maps, Presidential Elections

Fruitvale Station

When I took public transit to a legal clinic near Fruitvale Station in hopes for help to contest an eviction notice my family and I had received this past January, I felt a growing sense of entering a new social topography that I didn’t often see–and not only because it was the first time I had experienced eviction or anticipated a legal confrontation with my landlord.  While the visualizations of massive displacement in the Bay Area have charted the escalation of evictions in a changing real estate markets that long suggested the change in notions of public space in the city over the past decade, as Oakland emerged as a prime site of private residence and rapacious landlords, so that the point data map of unlawful detainers issued across the city suggest a swarm of ladybugs, not on a march, but feeding on the city’s neighborhoods, which seem to be nourishing a form of master-slave relations across neighborhoods of radically different income levels.  Even in the cordoned off area of North Oakland where I lived, the invasion of unlawful detainers issued across so much of the city was felt not only from afar.

 

 

ladybug crowd.png

 

The extraordinary density appeared to track the outbreak of an epidemic or urban virus, the embodiment of the affliction of the city by landlord evictions mapped from 2005-15 seeming to be spread in strikingly uniform manner from North Oakland, where I lived, to Fruitvale in an evil effervescence or infestation of increasing gentrification and urban displacement.

 

Alameda Evictionswere a maps of the

 

Over the previous years, I had only watched largely through maps at how evictions had transformed much of the East Bay–an area already fractured with strong social divisions–and the Bay Area at large.  But the foreclosure landscape that had transformed the Bay Area was something I hadn’t seen at first hand, but had suddenly become disorienting after receiving a 60-day notice to vacate the premises of what was my family home for almost fifteen years.

 

Unlawful Detainer Notices Filed, 2005-15

 

The surprise news had left us facing a legal landscape little familiar, but increasingly ready to reach out to social services with which we’d had no familiarity, and to face a landscape of landlord evictions that has been the byproduct of rising property values across the East Bay.  And so the ride to the social services non-profits that are congregated around Fruitvale Station, a community that has long been of special resilience, seemed the only hope we had of legal redress.  And the remapping of that station–where I headed on public transit–by renaming the station in gesture to a decade-old event piercingly revealed the unstable ground of social justice in Oakland, and made me feel better than since we were first served notice.  The alternate embodiment of that map, created by a decal, seemed a powerful gesture of resistance as BART approached Fruitvale Station, and I reflexively looked from the map to the panel that hung above the BART platform a few times.

 

east bay

 

Although my dispute with my landlord was resolved, if quite contentiously, the sixty-day move-out notice concretized the economic pressures that have rewritten Oakland communities, and the deep disparities between landlords and renters–and the increasingly adversarial roles of landlords and predatory buyers of buildings in the face of the promise of greater rents– reminded one of the possibilities of legal contestation or assertion of renters’ rights for many in a city where I’d been tensely aware how rents had increased immensely and property revaluations was actively pressing populations on something of forced migration to far flung suburbia from Modesto to Visalia to Fresno to southern California.  Arriving at Fruitvale Station to avail myself of public services was entering, if temporarily, into the unknown landscape of the disenfranchised.

 

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Filed under Bay Area, counter-map, mapping BART, mapping place, Oakland

National Security and Personal Bests

Was it only a coincidence that on the eve President Donald Trump boasted in his State of the Union address of an era “we no longer tell our enemies our plans” that the release of a live global heatmap pinpointed the location of U.S. military installations?  The release by Strava Labs of a spectacular heatmap that celebrated the routes where folks exercise worldwide suggested the flows of itineraries of physical exercise by running, biking, or skiing in stunning lines to reflect increased intensity, that appeared as if engraved on a dark OSM base map.  Indeed, the open nature of the data on military positions offered to any viewer of the heatmap seems as pernicious as culling of internet use long engaged in by the NSA, but for the state–as well as for the safety of soldiers who share their location, or fail to use security settings, as they exercise while completing military service abroad. Is this approaching a new level not only of broadcasting plans to an enemy, but failing to protect military positions in internationally sensitive zones?

While the map had been around for several years, its detailed update was so much more comprehensive than the 2015 version included–and was released in a time when internet observers scrutinize data visualizations.  The updated heatmap was a big deal for how it illuminated the world in a ways that few had seen, both in its own architecture of a spectacular network of athletes that reflected its expanded use, and the huge data included in aggregated routes for training, but illuminating clear divides between its users; but it gained even more attention foregrounding the presence of isolated groups of athletic performance abroad with an eery precision and legibility that quickly raised concerns reminiscent of the scale of unwanted intruding or monitoring of physical actives, even in an app that based its appeal in the data density of tracking it provided.  While promising individual privacy or anonymity, the benefits promised by the fitness app seemed almost a runaround of the appeal of PGP, Tor, and Privacy Badger that promised a degree of privacy by encrypting data from online trackers and privacy self-defense; rather than ensure the anonymization of the internet connections, however, the platform posted patterns of use whose legibility did not violate individual privacy, so much as state secrets.  Indeed, the surprising effects of how the Strava app made individuals suddenly legible so that they popped out of darker regions was perhaps the most striking finding of the global heatmap, as it illuminated stark discontinuities.

The newly and vastly amplified dataset included zoom functions of much greater specificity:  so richly detailed Strava was charged with betraying once secret locations of U.S. military worldwide, even if unknowingly, and creating a data vulnerability for the nation the would have global effects.  The heatmap made stunningly visible rasterized images of the aggregate activity of those sharing their locations that it gained unwanted degree of publicity months after it went live in November, 2017, for revealing the actual location and global military presence of American soldiers tracking their exercise and sharing geodata–including American and European soldiers stationed in the Middle East and Africa, and even in South Korea.  Although the California-based fitness app rendered space that seemed to celebrate the extent and intensity of physical exercise in encomiastic ways, as if the app succeeded in motivating invigorating exploration of space, and tracking one’s activity that guaranteed anonymity by blending data of its users in brightly lit zones, as for the Bay Area–

 

Bay Area.png

 

–the image that had clear implications of announcing its near-global adoption registered in the more isolated circumstances that many members of the American military increasingly find themselves.  The data set that Strava celebrated in November, 2017 as “beautiful data” on the athletic playgrounds of the world took an unexpected turn within months, as Strava came to remind all military users to opt out of sharing their geodata on the zoomable global heatmap, that aggregated shared geodata, lest secret locations of a global American military presence that extended to the Middle East and Africa be inadvertently revealed.  Whereas the California fitness app wanted to celebrate its global presence, the map revealed the spread of secret bases of the U.S. military in a globalized world.  The map of all users sharing geodata with the app were not intended to be personalized, but the global heatmap showed bright spots of soldiers stationed in several war zones.

The narrative in which the map was seen changed, in other words, as it became not a data dump of athletic performance across the world, that was able to measure and celebrated individual endurance,  but a narrative of hidden military and intelligence locations, tagging CIA operatives and overseas advisors by indelibly illuminating their exercise routes in a field of war in ways that seemed to foretell the end of military secrets in a world of widespread data-sharing. And Strava Labs for their part probably didn’t exactly help the problem when they took time to assure the public that they indeed “take the safety of our community seriously and are committed to work with military and governmental authorities to correct any sensitive areas that appear” in the web-maps,” as if to assure audiences they privileged the public interest and public safety of their users.  (But as much as addressing public safety in terms of operational security, Strava’s public statements were limited to caring for the community of users of the app, more than actual states.  The disjunction reveals very much:  when Strava labs saw their “users” or customers as the prime audience to which they were faithful, they indeed suggested that they held an obligation to users outside of loyalty to any nation-state, and indeed celebrated the geographical distribution of their own community across national frontiers.)  Indeed, the app’s heatmap disrespected national frontiers, by suggesting an alternate space of exercise that was believed and treated as it had nothing political in it.

In contrast, the landscape that American President Donald Trump presented in his first chest-thumping first State of the Union returned to the restoration of American security seemed incredibly to deny the consequences of recent availability of military geodata and indeed military base locations, in announcing that in his watch, we “no longer tell .  our enemies our plans.  For whereas President Trump boasted the return to an era of national security and guarded military secrets, the app broadcast a pinpoint record of the global dispersion of American troops, military consultants, and CIA “black” sites and annexes.  Indeed, for all the vaunted expansion of the U.S. military budget, the increased vulnerability of special operations forces has been something that the United States has poorly prepared for, although the release of the heat map prompted Gen. Jim Mattis to undertake a review of all use of social media devices within the military, so shocked was the news of the ability to plot geographical location by the exercise app. If the activities tracked and monitored in the hugely popular fitness app suggested a world taking better care for their patterns of exercise, it revealed scary patterns as a proxy to chart American presence that map the recent global expansion of the United States military in the beauty of its global picture across incandescently illuminated streams–

 

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–as when one zoomed down to those running in Kabul, and geolocated the movement in ways that betrayed military footprint from intelligence personnel to foreign operatives to contractors overseas.  The data harvested on its platform appears to endanger American national security–and offers new ways to combine with information culled from social media–as it seems to pinpoint the bases around which military take their daily runs.

 

Strava sites?Strava heatmap, Kabul

 

The recognition of the scale of personal tracking by soldiers sharing data on exercise apps grew as one exploited the heatmap’s scalability, and examined areas in which few locals were using it–or had access to the First World problem of registering how many miles one ran.  While the data was not only sourced from Americans, the anonymity of the aggregate map–which can be viewed in multiple shades–provided an image of ghostly presence that seemed particularly apt to describe concerns of security and suggest an aura of revealing secret knowledge.  The cool factor of the Strava map lit up the hidden knowledge that echoed the longstanding surveillance of the communication records of Americans in the bulk data collection that the Patriot Act allowed, although now the dragnet on data use was being done by private enterprise, suggesting an odd public-private sharing of technology, as what had been viewed as a domestic market suddenly gained new uses on an international front.  The poor data security of U.S. forces abroad reminded us that we are by no means the only actor collecting bulk data, but also the scale of digital dust that we all create as we entrust information about our geographical locations to companies even when they promote the value of doing so to be salutary.

Multiple accusatory narratives quickly spun about whether the release of the new global heatmap by Strava Labs constituted a breach in national security.  The soundbite from the State of the Union proclaiming a “new era” described changed conditions by referencing Gen. Michael Flynn’s charge, first raised during the 2016 Presidential campaign on national television news,  that the United States had sadly become “the best enemies in the world” during the Obama years, as he attacked the government of which he had been part for being itself complicit in how “our enemies love when we telegraph what we’re doing” by not maintaining secrecy in our military plans.  Flynn’s assertion became something of a meme in the campaign trail.  And President Trump sought to reference the fear of such changes of a past undermining national authority abroad when he claimed to bring closure to lax security, choosing to message that the loopholes that existed were now closed, and respect had been achieved.  The fictionalized imaginary landscape seemed to distract America from danger or unemployment in celebrating its arrival in a better economic place.  The message seemed as imaginary as the landscape of an employed America, which had arrived in a better economic and place.

General Flynn’s metaphor of telegraphing was even then quaintly outdated, as if from a different media world.  But the allegation that had become a meme on alt right social media during the campaign to discredit military competence, gaining new traction as data security became increasingly a subject of national and international news.  Since President, despite having quickly issued one of executive orders that he has been so fond of signing on cybersecurity, Trump has in fact been openly criticized for a lack of vision or of leadership in addressing  national vulnerabilities in cybersecurity.  As President, Trump has preferred to pay lip service in the executive order, by far his preferred medium of public communication, to the growing frustration of a number of cybersecurity advisors who resigned before clarifying best practices of grid security.   Broad sharing of geodata by military and intelligence raised red flags of security compromises; it would, perhaps, be better raise a clarion call about our unending readiness to aggregate and be aggregated, and the unforeseen risks of sharing data.

The patterns of tracking exercise–biking, running, swimming, windsurfing–created striking pictures in aggregate, reflecting the collective comparisons of routes and itineraries, and showing a terrain vibrant with activity.  But while the app did not specialize in tracking individual performance or local movements, the new context of many apps transformed foreign counties where military travelled to sites where their data sharing stood out.  The sense of accessing the platform was so second nature to American soldiers moved across space, in fact, ignorant of the platform on which it was aggregated and its effects–or the audiences before who it was broadcast and displayed.  The ability to detect bright spots of athletic engagement around American bases, military camps, and CIA outposts suggested an unwanted form of data-sharing, RT television newscasters proclaimed with undisguised pleasure at the ease with which soldiers could be observed in different locations across the Middle East, from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan, to Pakistan, and crowed that Americans are so unwary about being surveilled so as to provide evidence willingly of their own global footprint’s size.

 

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It’s striking that government secrecy has become a public hallmark of the Trump administration.  But if Trump wanted to inaugurate the start of a fictional landscape of securing state secrets in his first State of the Union address, his words were pronounced with no acknowledgement of the release of the heatmap and the concerns of leaking security operations.  The map that Strava labs designed to celebrate the global extension of a triumphal image of the expansion of exercise in a triumphal image appeared in new guise as the latest example of breached military security secrets–suddenly made apparent at high resolution when one zoomed in at greater scale to Syria, Somalia, Niger, or Afghanistan, and even seem to be able to track the local movement of troops in active areas of war, and not only identify those bases, airfields, and secret annexes, but map their outlines that corresponded to the laps that soldiers seem to have run regularly around their perimeter while sharing their geodata publicly, or with the app.  While the app was designed to broadcast one’s personal best, as well as log one’s heart rate, sleep patterns, and performance (personal data which remained private), it collated in aggregate the patterns of activity across national borders.

For its part, Strava had only boasted it could “create the ultimate map of athlete playgrounds” by rendering “Strava’s global network of athletes” in a stunning heatmap from directly uploaded data.  If there was a sense that the “visualization of Strava’s global network of athletes” described a self-selected community, the beauty of the data set created from 13 trillion data points provided a new sense of exercise space, as if it sketched a record in aggregate of individual endurance, or a collective rendering of folks achieving personal bests.  But the illuminated “maps” of the global network of those exercising and the distribution of US military bases and sites of secret involvement raises complex issues of data-sharing, and the shock at the intersection of leisure space and military secrets–somewhat akin to the stern warning military commanders issued to years ago about using Pokemon Go! in restricted areas of military bases, mapping a comprehensive global map of military over-extension is an odd artifact of globalization.  And it was odd to see RT seize on this issue, as a way of describing the presence of the actors they id’d as “Uncle Sam” to suggest how zooming in on the global map revealed the reach of the United States in Afghanistan or Syria, as if playing a computerized game to see where clusters of forces might be illuminated, as if to exploit fears of revealing military secrets through geolocated data.

The story was pitched on RT suggested a market-driven surveillance network of which the Americans were themselves the dupes.  In its own spin on the story, RT reported of the leaks with glee, for rather than arriving from hackers, or Russian-sponsored hacking groups, military security was compromised by the very tracking devices, it was argued, that soldiers, military intelligence, and CIA officers wore.

 

 

 

 

 

By imposing outlines of national maps on the dynamic rasters of the web map that Strava released, the position of military forces or advisors indeed seemed able to be roughly revealed as military secrets by zooming into locations, much as RT announcers asserted, as if the “bracelets” of fitbits provided tools to geolocate soldiers as if they were manacles, reminiscent of the ankle bracelets given to many parolees, sex offenders, or prisoners, by using a GPS tracking system to monitor released inmates all the better to monitor their acitivities, in a practice that has only grown in response to overcrowding conditions in many federal and state prisons–GPS tracking systems were billed as able to save prisons up to $9,500 per inmate, or up to $25 a day; but rather than provide tools to surveil non-violent offenders, the effective monitoring of military bases and what seem CIA field stations provided a multiple security vulnerabilities of unprecedented scale.

But the real story may have been how so much data was available not only for state eyes, but for a broader public:  in an age where surveillance by the state is extending farther than ever before, and when we need, in the words of Laura Poitras, “a practical and metaphorical road map for navigating the post-9/11 landscape,” the maps of Strava have shifted the landscape of surveillance far from the state, and deflected it onto the internet.  For the far greater geographical precision and detail of a diverse user group may prefigure the future of data sharing–and the increased vulnerabilities that it creates.  The live data map broadcast not only an image of global divides, but of the striking patterns of the aggregation of geodata that reminded us of  the pressing problem of data vulnerability in the military’s extended network of secret military bases and dark sites.  Indeed, when a student at the Australian National University in Canberra, Nathan Russer, first noted that the Strata search engine created an Op-Sec catastrophe for leaking locations of US military patrols and bases, his observations unleashed a storm of pattern analysis and fears of compromised national security.  It indeed seems that the vaunted agility that allowed American forces to deploy in much of the world could now be readily observed, as we zoom into specific sites of potential military involvement to uncover the presence of Americans and assess the degree of involvement in different sites, as well as the motion through individual sites of conflict.  The spectral map that results suggests something quite close to surveillance–at time, one can scrape the place of individual users form the app’s web map–but that is dislodged from the state.

The notion of a private outsourcing of data surveillance to the public sphere is hardly new.  One can think, immediately, of Facebook’s algorithms or personal data-harvesting or those of search engines.  Although the U.S. Department of Defense has urged all active military abroad to limit their active presence in online social media, no matter where they are stationed, the news reminded us yet again of an increased intersection between political space and social media, even if this time the intersection seems more shaped like a Moebius strip.  The divisions within a global geographic visualization of Strava’s users reminded one of a usage landscape that suggested a striking degree of continuity with the Cold War–with an expanded iron curtain, save in scattered metropoles–whose stark spatial division reminded us of the different sort of lifestyles that public posts of athletic performance reveals.  As much as showing a greater openness, the heat map suggests a far greater willingness of posting on social media use:  the intersection suggests a different familiarity with space, and a proprietary value to the internet.’

 

strava1Strava Labs

 

Indeed, in only a few months to notice how American soldiers’ presence in coalition military sites suddenly popped out in the darker spaces of the Syrian Civil War, where different theaters of action of coalition forces that include American soldiers are revealed, and panning back to other theaters can indeed revealed the global presence of U.S. military and intelligence.  Against a dark field, the erasure of any sense of national frontiers in the Strata labs data map suggests the permeability of much of the world not only by interactive technologies but by the isolated groups of soldiers who deal with the stress of deployment by bike rides and runs while they are stationed in Afghanistan.

 

 

Runing In Kabul

 

Although the fitness app saw its aggregation as registering geodata in the relatively apolitical space of physical exercise, fears of political and national security repercussions ran pretty high.  Indeed, the tracking of running laps, cycling, and daily exercise routines revealed U.S. military bases in Syria so clearly that it proved a basis to locate and orient oneself to an archipelago of U.S. military activity abroad in the global heat map, and lit up American presence in Mosul, Tanff, north of Bagdad and around Raqqa, providing a historical map able to pinpoint airfields, outposts, and secret stations in the war against the Islamic State.  Security analysts like Tobias Schneider argued they helped track the movements and locations of troops and even extract information on individual soldiers.  In place of an image of the global contagion of tracking exercise, the patterns of performance provided a way to look at the micro-climates of exercise on a scaling that were not otherwise evident in the arcs of the impressive global heatmap.

Sissela Bok classically noted the ways that secrecy and privacy overlap and are linked in some collective groups, as the military, but the absence of privacy or secrecy on much of the Strava Labs heatmap raised questions of the increasing difficulties to maintain a sense of secrecy or privacy in an age of geographically growing war.  In an age when more and more are living under surveillance, and indeed when the surveillance of subjects has only begun to gain attention as a fact of life, the fear of broadcasting an effective surveillance of exercising soldiers seems particularly ironic–or careless.  The practices of secrecy were more than lax.  For the United States military has in fact, quite vigorously promoted Fitbit flex trackers among pilot programs at U.S. bases to lose calories, and provided devices that measure steps walked, calories burned, and health sleep as part of its Performance Triad;  Fitbit trackers were provided as part of a pilot fitness program from 2013 with few issues raised about security, and placing restrictions on American soldiers’ use of mobile phones, peripherals, or wearable technologies would limit military volunteers.  (The Pentagon has in all distributed 2,500 Fitbits as part of its anti-obesity program, in more flexible wearable form, without thinking of the information that they broadcast.)  Yet soon after the map appeared, folks noted on Twitter with irony that “Someone forgot to turn off their Fitbit,” and it became a refrain on social media by late January, as the image that tracked American military outposts not only in Kabul, but in the Sahel, Somalia, Syria and Niger all popped out of a global map–embodying the very outlines of the camps around which military run.  ‘

Although the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center informed the intelligence community of dangers of being tagged by “social media postings,” the imagined privacy of exercising soldiers is far less closely monitored than should be the case–resulting in a lack of clear vigilance about publishing Strava data.

 

Runing In Kabul.pngKabul, Afghanistan, in Strava Labs global heatmap

 

The heat map so strongly lluminated itineraries users ran, biked, or skied, tracked in incandescently illuminated streams, and even zoom in on specific locations, where they stand out from considerably darker zones of low use of the app, that some national security officials wanted the app to take time to take the maps offline so that they could be scrubbed; worries grew that one could even to scrape the itineraries of individual soldiers who exercise on military service in the heatmaps.

But the two fold ways of reading of the map’s surface suggest that their contents were difficult to free.  The same map celebrating the app’s global use revealed deep discrepancies between the brightly illuminated areas of high-use and data input and its dark zones.  Data mapped on Strava’s website also seems to enable one to id the soldiers using the Strava app with far greater certainty than foreign governments or non-state actors had before, in ways that would create multiple potentially embarrassing problems of delicate foreign relations.  While in part the fear may have derived from the hugeness of the dataset, the fear of being compromised by data raised an increased sense of emergency of a security being risked, and fears of national vulnerability.  Partly this was because of the huge scale of geospatial data.  The updated version of the heatmap issued by Strava Labs illuminated the world in a way that few had seen, and not only because of its greater specificity:  Strava had doubled its resolution, rasterizing all activity and data directly uploaded, and optimizing rasters to ensure a far richer and more beautiful visualization, along glowing lines to reflect intensity of use that looked as if they were in fact vectors.  It made its data points quite beautiful, stretching them into bright lines, eliminating noise and static to create a super smooth image that almost seems to update the Jane Jacobs’ notions of public space and its common access–and the definition of spaces for exercise.

To some extent, the highlighting that the app did of common routes of exercise seem to mirrored the metric of walkability, the measurement of active transportation forms like walking and biking and stood as a surrogate for environmental quality.  The fitness map improved on the walkscore or its cosmopolitan variants, by involving its users to create a new map of exercising space.  The abilities to foreground individual and collective athletic performance in a readily accessible map provided what must be admitted is a pretty privileged view of the world; but the self-mapped community it revealed gained a new context just two months after it went live, as the map drew attention to the patterns it revealed of using an app to track one’s activities, as much as register work-out trails.

 

San Fran Strava dataset  San Francisco in Strava Labs Heatmap

 

The new map attracted attention not only for the fitness crowd, a self-selecting demographic, in short, but as an interesting extension of the beauty and the huge amount of datasets it uploaded and digested in a highly legible form:  indeed the legibility of the data that was able to be regularly updated online suggested a new form of consensual surveillance.  The data-rich expansion of what was the first update to the global heat map of users that Strava Labs issued since 2015 encoded over six time more data, and promised a degree of precision that was never even imagined before, notably including correction for GPS distortions and possibilities of new privacy settings, in ways that amplified its ability to be seen as a tracking device most notably in those areas where the aggregate of Strava users was not so dense, first of all those military sites where American military and operatives were stationed and perhaps secretly engaged, but gave little thought to the day sharing app installed on their Fitbits or iPhones, and may even have seen the data-sharing function as a source of comfort of belonging to a larger exercise community.

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