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Metageographical Pavement

Who’s not disoriented today? One of the consequences of the pandemic is a far keener sense of the rapaciousness of surveillance capitalism as we both rely on online ordering and increasingly devote time to web-searches that come to haunt us in quick succession. But if we are tracked in our daily motions, step counts, and position, I was struck by how mapping tools stared back, from the pavement, in surprising ways, offering added respite and reflection on morning strolls over the year since the first stay-at-home orders hit the Bay Area. If all mapping is a process, the process of mapping mortality and infections of COVID-19 made me seek to map place in new ways, and to do so as a form of something like counter-mapping, as much for therapeutic balance as to come to terms with the shifting lay of the land during the first year of the pandemic, even as I watched infections spread far removed from where I lived, or process the high rates of infection and loss of life far away and nearby. If the walks we make are often tracked by GPS, the evidence on the sidewalk of past Berkeley’s offered a set of distancing operations to get through the day.

My friend Jeff told me that when I moved into the neighborhood I now live in Berkeley, I would be often walking into a time warp. And his words hit me in unexpected ways in a few years. Taking stock of the local in West Berkeley, I walked on foot on in what were often surprisingly restricted routes, meditating on their details in moments like walks for coffee, talking routes I knew well but that of course also seemed utterly changed. Balancing the spatialities of local and global was alternately pressing and depressing. Exploring the neighborhood streets that I got to know again on foot with increased regularity, I found myself seeking landmarks and sites of reassurance–and often revery–as a needed form of distraction, and a resting place of sorts, perhaps to calm the sense of distraction that hemmed in indoors, searching for a revery but also of new ways of inhabiting and opening up my own personal sense of space, seeking needed stability, either while sheltering in place or as all purchase on security and stability was compromised by the pandemic, set off from the natural world., to find some sense of stability a century removed in time. Was this a middle age crisis coinciding with the pandemic?

C. E. Burnham Co., Raymond Street, Oakland CA
The oakland Paving Co, 1911, Prince Street below Telegraph Avenue

In one version of the story, with archives and libraries closed, I traveled to outdoors archives of the streets and pavement as if reading of a local necrology of the neighborhood. The strikes of concrete pavers in deserted streets seemed to tap local memories preserved in the pavement as a needed purchase on place about to fade–the 1908 strike placed by C.E. Burnham, now worn down by footsteps of passersby. The displays of these names distilled something like an object lesson of the world, a stripped down concrete experience of the local, or an urban panorama of the past.In another sense, not satisfied and disturbed by the maps of infections, I shifted from the global and national scales of space to the local, finding solace and affirmation where it occurred on sidewalks of the streets where I lived, the surviving strikes amidst much of South Berkeley’s historically cracked pavements. These names of these “old Italians,” those who have been dying, as the late Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote in 1979, who “have been dying and dying/day by day” and who “for years” were dying–Joseph Cantucci of Cassano delle Murge, in the province of Bari; Frank Salamid or his brother Angelo of Monopoli in Puglia; Lino J. Lorenzetti and his fellow Pugliese Nat Lena–were lying on the cracked pavement by my feet from over a century ago: these odd messages as the imprint of P.M. Henning placed proudly on Hillegass Avenue, seemed time-stamped messages of a more removed time than ever before, offering something like access to what might be a less troubled world.

P.M. Henning (1928), Hillegass Avenue, North Oakland CA

If Walter Benjamin’s injunction to “lose oneself in the city as one loses oneself in the forest . . . calls for a different sort of schooling,” the pavers of the neighborhood provided a way of familiarizing myself with the global outside the preoccupation of COVID-19, taking refuge as if a local antiquarian with these elegantly framed calling cards that seemed placed in the concrete that became new objects of attention on early morning walks. When Benjamin had famously described the urban flâneur as one “who goes botanizing on the asphalt,” in Walter Benjamin’s famous phrase, he wasn’t talking about pavement, or urban foliage, but scientifically exploring streets whose personal details could only be individually mapped while sheltering in place.

For Benjamin, the flâneurs were a new social type who explored cities as if they “opened out, becoming landscape.” They explored urban geography as a landscape best learned by wandering and during the pandemic, trips to get coffee offered urban odysseys; the strikes of pavers framed by squares or diamonds offered imaginary orientation on the city and an archeology of space, as the birds which had migrated to the city, as if the Sonoma coast’s avian population–save shorebirds–arrived at my stoop, issuing insistent cries and sliding scales from their tiny lungs that seemed a discussion of bird banter that filled the quieter skies, air travel eliminated entirely or reduced, ambient sounds of traffic pausing, and increased pirouetting of birdsong seeming to expand its register.

Writing in the early twentieth century Paris, Benjamin sought a science of wandering in the city or getting lost–the art of the flânuer or street-walker whose urban itineraries the poet Charles Baudelaire saw as a signature of modernity, a man who saw the urban crowd as his habitat, as much “as air is for the bird or water for the fish,” whose built environment and its anonymous crowds became both a passion and indeed profession to engage as a spectator of others. While Benhamin tried to define the basis of these poetic bonds to the nineteenth century Paris whose streets he explored, he pushed on the notion of an urban habitat, declining to separate sciences from the enjoyment of art, and deny “botanists can awaken a feeling for the beauty of landscape;” and in my fixation on that habitat, ephemeral strikes formed a forest of names I ventriloquized, as if to substitute for the absence of passersby. The time-stamped strikes were less as an antiquarian exercise of collection, than an archeology of place, as if redeeming pasts that rose to the surface of the sidewalk for an instant, set apart from surrounding foliage as tactile evidence of a past. Pursuit of the ephemeral drew me to pavers’ marks long passed over without remark, as if they held some sort of meaning about the urban space I seemed less part of that ever before, but wed. If Benjamin had found in Paris confirmation of how Baudelaire had privileged the city as a site of the fleeting, transient, and contingent, in the heightened contingency of the first year of the pandemic, the stability of the stamps on the sidewalk were sites of looking back in time, to earlier spatialities, outside of the tyranny of maps.

J. Catucci, Gen. Con. (1916), 62nd Street/Oakland CA

Were the signs underfoot something of a benefit squeezed from city walking, as air travel, motor travel, and trains were forestalled, and my attention focused on the local pedestrian space as an untapped pedagogy of idleness, born of a desire to lose one’s self, more than one’s way among the relatively restricted routes of walking, not following a guide, but finding the lives of the pavers who had, around the turn of the century, transformed the ground I’d long walked over without looking much at it or giving it attention? While the online archives of paving stones provided a basis for adding information to the concrete strikes, as if each walk was a way of finding concreteness in an urban archeology of an old urbanized space, the names seemed more and more absurdly to acquire import as epitaphs at a time when we were all gripped by uncertainty about futures in more alarming ways.

Regent St., Oakland CA

Luigi Villata had arrived from Piedmont to join his brother Angelo in the pavement trade, laying sidewalks in much of North Oakland in the early 1950s, but G. Musso had lain pavement from the 1920s in Oakland, but did his name gain any added significance after Mussolini had gained authority in the Italian state since 1922? Mussolini openly proclaimed America destined to decline due to the lower birth rate of whites vis a vis blacks, but natalist beliefs were not viewed as un-American, but rather of a piece with segregation enshrined in the Claremont neighborhood when racial covenants restricted ownership of homes to those of “pure caucasian blood; Musso, an established Oakland contractor who often laid polychrome concrete, displayed his pavement stamp as B. Mussolini insisted on the purity of race and Italy’s spazio vitale, as he set sights on an “impero Italiano” in Africa, when home ownership was predominantly restricted in much of Oakland and Berkeley to exclude any “person of any race other than the Caucasian or white race.” Confronting such offensive racial covenants prove traumatic in the Bay Area–and taxing, as the legacy is perpetuated by hard to fill out necessary paperwork at the office of the County Clerk, and if deemed unenforceable in 1948, their legality was not contested until the Civil Rights Act. As renaming spread across the Bay Area, questioning public memorialization with hopes to the purification of public memory, Musso’s signature jumped out-predating Mussolini’s first racial laws to segregate residences of whites and Africans in the “Africa italiana” as he built the first forts in Ethiopian land by 1930 that renewed claims to empire by 1936–eliminating the last independent African country and eventually erasing African independence from the map.

What hidden spatialities of identity were present in the pavers that seemed dated August, 1931? The state geographical institute had enshrined Ethiopia as Abyssinia–enlarging the “spazio vitale” of Italy’s third empire, of course, even if that meant denying the independence of the only independent nation in African continent.

It seems more than necessary to remember the map of the sole remaining independent African nation that this new remapping wiped off the map of the continent and all but erased for a bloody century of war.

1. As our world was fracturing on multiple divides, the textured plaques of immigrants who paved concrete in the early twentieth century offered a textured pedagogy of immediacy, making present on less traveled pathways how the old city grid in almost redemptive ways. The excavation of that grid was a way of orienting myself to the past inhabitants of the region oddly comforting, and not only as a way to explore the nucleus of the urban sprawl.

1. We were balancing the local and the global with renewed acuity, by tracking the rates of infection and hoping for better orientation as the pandemic spread, and what that meant about where where. The bigger picture was insistently disturbing. The increasingly steep divides that exist between rates of infection across the region, a year later, suggest a scary divide uncomfortable to map, whose sharp divides escalate as one pans out, that remind one of steep inequalities of infection rates and public health challenges in the rather sharp inequalities that span from 2700 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants in the zip code where I live to almost double to 5701 per 100,000 nearby, and surpass double at 6941.3, taking the freeway down past San Leandro, encapsulating or condensing a gaping divide of our nation, sharper than that between “blue” states and “red” states as inequalities across the nation emerged insistently enough to make one do more than scratch one’s head, as the pulse of the pandemic seemed to pop out in ways fractured along clear divides in the Bay Area, as in the rest of the world.

COVID-19 Case Rates by Zip/Alameda County Public Health

As we watched the pandemic unfold on those most stripped-down and essential tools of data visualization, the time-series line graph, to try to chart the magnitude of death, case of infection, and indeed of hospitalization over time. Even if the tallies of such numbers seem called into question, and were eerily disembodied from space, or territoriality, we clung to them in an attempt to register our purchase on the pandemic whose numbers were so hard to aggregate in meaningful ways. From early on, we understoo that increases in income inequality and poor confidence in government institutions correlated closely onto the highest rates of death, and recognized the problems of low trust in government that was being shouted from many state capitols and the US Capitol was itself a dangerous driver of mortality. For the advancing of COVID-19 was a disease of globalization not only in how it was transmitted by routes of global transit, across spatial networks, or in indoor air, but advanced by the increased income inequalities that globalization drove. But these lines were rising with a terrifying rate of doubling that my own lines of navigation on the ground may have been an attempt to distance myself or just keep at bay.

Cumulative Deaths from COVID-19 Forty Days from Tenth Confirmed Death/McGill University

There was, in short, more than enough reason to be looking at the ground, and enough sense of dislocation to make us feel unmoored from any bearings on how so much virus had had such devastating effects-even if we were also caught staring at time-series iine graphs to materialize a sense of bearings in our disoriientation. On these walks of the pandemic, I re-explored the neighborhood, re-navigating it as if it a map with its own temporality, as much as a place I live: an unexpected encounter with a benchmark in the neighborhood, laughing at the sense of stability that it provided as I sought orientation on a street emptied of pedestrians or street sounds. In an eery intermingling of rural and urban, categories that seemed ever more fluid–the skyrocketing number of sightings in the last Great Backyard Bird Count that the Cornell Ornithology Laboratory noted suggests a wonderful long weekend of citizen science this last February–the expansion of birdsong had no doubt lead many to orient themselves to calls and songs by consulting apps like eBird with far greater readiness. After all, my stoop was sounding increasingly like a bird shop, with calls and songs of finch, scrub jays, white-crowned sparrows, crows, chickadees and towhees crowding the street in what seemed a more contented and far livelier conversation, from persistent “k-kh-kh-to–wheet!–wheet!–wheet!” to the sustained staccato trills that tapered off only later in the morning. The biosocial bees in the back yard hives, the Spring certainly brought an outpouring of what seemed happily content activity. Is it a coincidence that a striking loss of avifauna in the last fifty five years across speices and biomes in the United States have been by no means limited to grasslands but have included some of the most common species–from finches to sparrows to warblers, swallows and starlings–

–in what has been a striking widespread loss of populations and losses of biodiversity to occur during my life. Was the chorus of birdsong and cries that I heard as an aural biosocial embrace as I walked down the street, what I imaged as a triumphant riconquista of avian airspace, defiantly calling, cooing, and performing extended trills of eight to nine beats, as if in amazed response to one another by bravura performances not a response to the huge loss of avian biomass that is difficult to contemplate, created by interrupted migratory routes, light pollution, and other anthropogenic disturbances–disturbed from the routes of migration in the contiguous United States that bode the fearsome possibility of avifaunal collapse, particularly steep in flyways from the Pacific northwest, if less than in the grasslands of the center of midwest where agribusiness has compromised birds’ migratory routes?

Birdsong became mooring of biosociality each morning, whatever the reason, dependent on listening for a sense of the vital in the cacophony of birds that start chirping for several hours. A crowded chorus of birds intersects with my walk to the coffee shop. As more birds migrated by mid-March, it seemed increasing experimentation with songs, calls, and trills of growing range arrived each morning, offering something of an alternative biosociality to inhabit, in preparation for a daily calendar when few face-to-face meetings were scheduled or would occur. The persistent calls, often ending in trills, clucks, and cascading compositions ending with squawks accompanied by the occasional alto moans from mourning doves created a new aural register of place, reminding one of the soundspaces that wooded warblers, sparrows, finches, and larks once created across the country.

Each morning from about six to seven thirty, I tried to make a sound map of the street that replaced the usual rumble. I was unclear if more finches were on my street–it seemed so when I turned onto it, however, hearing the sounds that were almost recognizable that began each morning at about 6:00 am, which replaced real concerrns about the decline of sparrows’ languages in the Bay Area, drowned out by ambient noise that seemed to obliterate once distinct calls and “dialects” of sparrow communities. While acoustic ecologists had monitored since around 2005 the abandoing of distinctions among the distinct dialects in once distinct communities and populations due to anthropogenic noises of transportation and low-frequency rumbles, to the background sounds of airplane flight, the background that had obliterated once distinct flourishes from sparrow calls might be imagined to return.

To be sure, the recent loss of historical dialects of sparrow populations in the Bay Area by the dominant dialect of urban white crowned sparrow notwithstanding, finch populations on Prince St. seemed to benefit from pandemic shifts in ambient noise: they seemed to be insistently adding terminal flourishes with innovative abandon, in bravura finales each morning. The morning trills that seemed to have expanded as my neighborhood grew as a site to explore bird language, from trills repeated three and four times that finished with flourishes, to smaller chirps after nine o’clock, useful to clear my mind from anxieties, as if the important birding areas near the Bay Area had intersected with a less busy or noisy urban ambient, leading to more varied range of song and calls, even despite the declining pathways of bird migration in recent years.

After the first weeks of social distancing that stopped just short of a lockdown that broke the lack of face-to-face that seemed to make birdsong place me into a new sense of social situatedness after months of sheltering in place, remind me of how, for lack of a human contact, Darwin’s belief that birdsong–“the sounds uttered by birds”–were indeed the closest analog to human language, that the “same instinctive cries expressive of [birds’] emotions” was not only more believable. As we reachedi a year into the “stay-at-home order” in the Bay Area, to check the spread of the novel coronavirus, exhausted by zoom and realizing others’ exhaustion at the medium, the analogy seemed all too pressing, that finds confirmation in how the expressive patterning of birdsong that young birds learn from imitation, both neurologically and genetically shared over fifty genes linked to speech and vocal learning that are also dubbed “language genes” or FOXP2: if birdsong lacks the mapping of a lexical network onto the network of vocal imitation and processing, the patterns of expressive communication seemed able to remedy the need for sites neurological activation while sheltering in place, a welcome neurological wake up call.

Athanasius Kircher, Musurgia Universalis (1650)

LIfted the overhead rumble of airplane jets with the sudden erasure of global air traffic from Bay Area skies, the sonic swoons, jackal-like titters, and arching song from the trees restored something akin to an alternative cosmic harmony akin to what Jesuit Athanasius Kircher had described in the seventeenth century ˆMusurgia Universalis as a great art of consonance and dissonance, and a new Harmonia Nascentis Mundi that seemed a needed re-enchantment of place. What were heard as optimistically insistent calls of acoustic experimentation seemed to restart what Kircher so influentially described as the music of the spheres along the proportions of divine creation–sanctus, sanctus, sanctus–at a time when the world was readjusting to being jerked out of whack. Did we benefit in particular from the proximity to birding areas on the Sacramento and range of local watersheds?

–that made me wonder about the expansion of designated birding areas around the Bay Area, and the greater diversification of local song, as the white crowned sparrows in my neighborhood–and in much of the region–had suddenly reached into the recesses of their memory to expand their songs, recalling the recordings of birdsong from seventy years ago, five years after researchers worried about the apparently endemic decline of variety and specificity of the languages of white-crowed sparrows long used to court mates or defend nesting grounds, as acoustic ecologists pondered how the ambient anthropogenic sounds had drowned out birdsong, and blurred the once-famous geographic specificity with which white crowned sparrows combined trills, buzzes, and whistles to a pattern that was able to compete with the urban rumble or new nature of the city, reducing once distinct dialects by sacrificing specificity to retune their songs to the noisiness of urban sprawl and blanketing noise of airplanes, learning a more effective song to mate with far fewer of the terminal flourishes detected in birdsong of the past, in what has been described nationally as a reclamation of “favored frequencies” after the sudden reduction of traffic and vehicles, to create a new “song space” by expanding the virtuosity of their vocal performances, in an optimistic illustration of ecological reslience. Were the songs heard in bird habitats changing across the state?

If Berkeley had always been a sight for coastal warblers in upper treetops, as well as white-crowned sparrows, song sparrows, finches, scrub jays, towhee and chickadees, the sounds of birds in treetops were hard not to imagine as voices of an enhanced biosociality, if not music of the spheres. The Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher’s attentive notation of the song of the cuckoo in his 1650 treatise on musical sounds may have influenced Bach to Respighi, to say nothing of Wagner or Messaien, but all rhapsodized birdsong in its company of birds; nature has long attracted, and there was something recognizable in the desire to preserve the sounds of “nature” in artificial means that led some of the first two-minute Edison cylinders were used to record bird song in 1898, for the 16th Congress of the American Ornithologists’ Union in Washington, D.C.,–and first 78 recordings in 1910!

When I was listening to finches in Berkeley, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was indeed different, or a mythic- return of nature’s resilience of the sort that used neoliberal rhetoric to suggest the return of long lost natural conditions on social media, in falsified posts that proliferated to offer some comfort as we social distanced, offering pictures of dolphins that had allegedly returned to the lagoons of Venice, now that it was not being polluted by Vaporetti and barges, to say nothing of ocean liners who line its lagoon, as if ending pollutants emitted into the lagoon over earlier years: optimistic clickbait entertained needed environmental fantasies of the resurgence of e “Venetian” dolphins arriving in Venice, or rambunctious elephants without a care for social distancing engering the fields of farmers in Yunan province created an alternate globalism to the pandemic. The false optimism curried as clickbait in those image of exotica offered eye candy deceptively rhapsodic in its staged counterpart to sheltering in place, akin to how I entertained expanded local birdsong of finches, even if Berkeley seems closer to natural habitats than Venice’s lagoons. But perhaps while staying indoors, the outside seemed so far away that the cries of finches were important to continue as most of the greenspace I saw was confined to my back yard, and nice to fancy as the biosociality I had been trying to come to terms with doing without.

Athanasius Kircher, Song of Cuckoo (1650)

2. If social distancing left us pondering the effects of the absence of social contact for a year, as increasing conversations bemoaned the lack of human contact and indeed of looking at human bodies, save online, even if birdsong was not a clear grammar, the apparently optimistic calls of song seemed to substitute for the absence of contact, as an expanded range of intonation, tonalities, and calls, punctuated by the primordial calls of ravens, offered pretty credible testimony of vocal repertory of expressive registers, if not linguistic skills. Kircher had studied in Aristotelian fashion the comparative anatomy of the ears of horses, humans, dogs, rodents, pigs, cats, and geese, more than birds, but the ear openings of birds’ auricular feathers allowed a better spatial awareness of the origins of sounds, and a heightened sense of biosociality while we sheltered in place, under the stay-at-home order, the street sounds offered something like a solace that I increasingly valued over zoom or flat-screen TV.

Most of the Bay Area to Start New Stay-At-Home Order on Sunday – NBC Bay  Area
March 2020 Stay-at-Home Orders in Bay Area

3. The surrogate of an absent extended social network of the neighborhood was something I started to recognize on the pavement of the ground. Rather than moving with downcast eyes, I was reacquainting myself with place in walks to a shop, to get coffee, or to venture outside, for evidence of a place that I had perhaps missed before, that invested the benchmark placed on the boundary of a local parklet with surprise as a relation of place to the global, or a perspective on the meaning of place–or relation of local and global, taken for granted in pre-pandemic times, looking for bearings amidst increased uncertainty. And the discovery of an improvised marker, reminding me of the grids that wrap around the earth, that had been tracking the progress of global infections, seemed punctured for a moment by the mock benchmark, emulating the over a million geodetic markers in North America–tidal benchmarks noting elevation in reference to a geodetic datum, survey points that act as controls for lat, long, and height, that acted as surveyors’ control points–but conflating the genre with the personal nature of the meaning of place. If the current geodetic datum have replaced and as standards of spatial classification antiquated earlier benchmarks, they lie beneath the new networks, traces of past spatialities like the old contractors’ names. Benjamin was no bird-watcher, but the strikes were “object-lessons” affording almost sensory experiences of a changed sense of urban space.

A heightened sensitivity to one’s surroundings, perhaps brought by sensory deprivation, was an unforeseen and almost positive by-product of the pandemic, stretching from the play of sunlight on leaves to song lyrics, and extending to budding magnolias or dropping seed pods of sweet gums and their off-red leaves.   And at the same time as such spray-painted pavement markers offer ubiquitous reminders of protocols of social distancing in the pandemic, I’ve been reading marks on the pavement for far more permanent or material signs of spaces we inhabit. In an age of global and national maps of the COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations due to the virus, human mortality, and lives lost, the retreat to the local seemed manageable, the faux benchmark that was hardly noticeable became something of a a symbolic center of an imagined geography I retreated, a point of orientation for an imaginary community–and spatiality–that was born in the age of social distancing.

Walking past the marker, and other benchmarks of surer history, raised questions of how these spatialities mapped onto one another, with a quite compelling sense of surprise: in the constant absence of face-to-face interaction, or the lack of embodied discussion of which we are all reminded daily, the spatiality to which that faux benchmark gestured became a source for private reverie, foreign to Thoreaux or Rousseau, to be sure, against the tracking of the spatial advance tracked of coronavirus infections. The place marker was a monument to the precision of coordinates–if the area you are describing would probably take six decimal places, to offer a sense of real position, even if the suboceanic antipode didn’t seem to demand much precision.

Who is to say that this isn’t a better use of mapping tools, after all? In the several square blocks of south Berkeley CA I found myself over the first year that COVID-19 spread globally, where I’ve lived on and off for almost thirty years, those stretches of sidewalk that had not in need of replacement from cracking or house construction offered a memory theater of some sort of, imprints of pavers a register of signatures of contractors whose marks, at a moment of heightened mortality, gained greater commemorative functions as a sort of public memory in public space, calling attention to themselves to punctuate walks in a pleasant material interruption of the past that I had long overlooked. And as ways of commemorating and accounting for escalating fatalities seemed somehow stuck in the craw of the nation, blanketed by the denial of a state of emergency or even viral communicability, the names pavers stenciled in the sidewalk underfoot gained a poignancy as commemorations–sites registering the temporal flow that seemed to be pouring across the world now like a crimson tide.

4. ConcreteT markers on the public property of the streets seemed to be a surface whose reading offered a new sense of taking back public space, in a very local way, as our sense of the public spaces open to us had corroded and grown frayed. Across the street from that benchmark noting antipodal relation to the Indian Ocean, the strike of a paver jumped out at me to register a deep temporal flow from over a century earlier, and the first era of the paving of sidewalks in the Bay Area, not long after Nat Lena began his craft, and early twentieth century pavers like J.A. Marshall–who set the earliest surviving strike on a sidewalk in Berkeley, CA–began what must have been a booming trade to pave public sidewalks. What was a rather straightforward insertion of an old-school calling card for contractors were now archeological discoveries that conveyed mortality not present before, as the pavement I was increasingly pounding underfoot conjured the lives of earlier generations of engineers and concrete craftsmen, the builders of public spaces in the East Bay: if the pandemic suggested a stoppage of time, from the first days of shelter-in-place policies, or lockdown, the paver gained an unexpected pathos, offering material bearings only on a past world over a century earlier–offering a fresh way of looking at the neighborhood whose streets I would be spending substantially more time, and a way of getting bearings on its built space: even this marker stared back at me, with a sense not of nostalgia, but of presence, of a past inhabiting the present’s own augmented sense of mortality, measuring these strikes as if they contained a mystical properties in a truly early modern sense as touchstones for exploring the city in my early morning walks in a newly empty city-space.

Prince Street, Berkeley CA

The “Oakland Paving Co.” was founded in 1902, exploiting the availability of local quarries to provide pavement for Berkeley and Oakland when concrete had become a boom industry, profiting from a local Rockridge Quarry that lay off Broadway and 51st St. to provide paved sidewalks in Berkeley that only grew after the devastation of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, pancaking many residences and prompting fearful migration East Bay.

Perhaps an echo of that catastrophe was in a sense legible in the imprints of pavers who had laid “art stone” on the ground or plank roads on Prince Street a century ago, as the survival of these strikes on what might be some of the less traveled streets still crisply stood out on the ground, that paralleled the pavement of once open space–and providing what indeed seemed to fit the demand for “art[ificial] stone” to dignify its pedestrian space.

The classification of concrete marks and strikes made such botanizing of the asphalt apt for capturing pandemic melancholy that was concretized in concrete of these older artifacts of the urban environment. There was something akin to a botanizing of the pavement in the search for signatures of the local past, personifying the ability of “botanizing on the asphalt,” not to get lost in the city, but orienting oneself by its signs: the first introduction of pavers’ marks was “art[ificial] stone” and a form of urban artifice, framed by the grasses, but where walking suggested new forms of attention that transcended the natural.

Walter Benjamin, who grew up in Berlin, but felt himself most at home exploring modernized spaces of Paris that Baudelaire described, a flâneur walking not by orienting oneself by a map, but by losing oneself in urban forests of shop fronts, signage, and street names. The goal to sense the city naturalized its built space as “the wanderer [moved in the city attentive to built surroundings] in the manner of a twig cracking and snapping under his feet, or the startling call of a bittern in the distance, or the sudden stillness of a clearing with a lily standing still at its center” as the urban organization emerged only while wandering as a way of familiarizing oneself with its constructed space, from heightened attention to its new inhabitants and walkers as an urban observer who was engaged n “botanizing on the asphalt,” a turn of phrase both suggesting the new habitat of the late nineteenth century, as an ethnographer of urban space that linked nature and manmade concrete creation.

Prince St. at Halcyon Court, Berkeley CA

From 1906, newly laid grid of the city of Berkeley had beckoned settlement in its multiple tracts from local realtors, to meet demand for resettlement that expanded after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake shocked the Bay Area, at a time when the East Bay was more distinguished by unpaved open space, and far, far less sprawl to wander.

Looking with attention at the ground, finding myself a flaneur in an area I knew well, the streets started to speak back, as if with voices of the past gained a surprising testimonial vitality about which I almost grew passionate. The stamps offered a sense of transport at a time when we could no longer travel far, and lived with preoccupation. There was something comforting in re-reading the neighborhood, its sense of place and relation to space, that I could internalize in the somewhat tentative walks that led me to look for new bearings, and saw much more of and with different eyes than I had in the past, as if looking for new bearings to orient myself to the lay of the land, and to look back at its inhabitants about a century earlier in time. If New Yorkers feel like those acknowledged to be true New Yorkers not only knew the buildings or coffee shops of the neighborhood but what stores they had replaced, and what stores were replaced by them, stretching ten or twenty years past, to describe and rank their levels of familiarity with a built space, knowing who paved the streets’ sidewalks n the younger city of Berkeley seemed to offer an index of the intensity of familiarity with place at which I aimed: these men, if many dropped the helpful habit of naming the date of laying concrete over what I imagined a bit romantically was a dirt road until then, provided guideposts to the region which had mostly all fell below the radar in previous years.

Fulton St., Berkeley CA

Or perhaps there was something elemental as a system of orientation to these names, that made up for the absent crowd of passersby on the streets. More than the shifting names of university buildings, public schools, and even cities, recently enacted based on a hopeful if misguided decision to cut ties to the past, the names embedded in the pavement seemed signatures of oddly fragile testimony about the past.

Esterly Construction Co., Prince Street, Berkeley CA

Etched in what had been the once modernist medium of concrete, the often worn stamps of J.A. Marshall, perhaps the John Marshall who in 1905 was a “cementwkr” Berkeley’s directory, left his escutcheon as a calling card that gained epitaphic quality, as a trace of the everyday as I fled the outside noise and pandemic fears: what some describe as “fossils in concrete” triggered a sense of musing on the everyday and marking of place rooted as much as anything else in a search for historical redemption beneath my feet, including an imagined network of modest community Italian-American immigrant pavers whose concrete sections have survived a century.

J. Catucci, 63rd below College Avenue, Oakland CA
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Filed under Bay Area, collective memory, geodetic survey, Urban Space, USGS

Fear of NAFTA

Our jobs are being sucked out of our economy by the deal her husband signed,” bellowed Trump pompously during the final Presidential Debate of 2016.  If he didn’t provide much evidence for the departed jobs that he conjured to suggest his opponent had encouraged the decline of the American economy, he conjured fear from the audience with apparent desparation.  Despite prominently referencing the bad trade deals made by the United States government from the 1990s, Trump wanted to lay blame at the feet of Hillary Clinton for a treaty that has become quite a symbol of the danger open borders pose to the conservative media as well as to Trump supporters.  Trump evoked NAFTA in a terrifyingly effective way, even if the sort of association Trump was trying to make ignored the benefits of NAFTA brought to both states–but he linked the signing of the treaty to an “open borders” policy as if it were pegged to a narrative of national economic decline.  Calling NAFTA “the worst trade deal ever signed” was no mean feat of exaggeration, but conjured a geographic imaginary of fear more effectively than might be realized–given its quite unfirm grounding in fact–only less than a month before the Presidential election.

 

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Trump’s rhetoric rehabilitated the call a fence along the Mexico-United States border proposed by Pat Buchanan of the Reform Party.  The Donald, in Trumpian fashion, amplified the fantasy of an expansive 2,000 mile fence, into a “beautiful wall,” towering forty to fifty feet height, rather than the six-eight foot tall pyramids of rolled barbed wire long ago favored by Buchanan and conservative Sir John Templeton.  Trump imagined the structure designed to “control our borders,” at over ten billion dollars, as a promise to the electorate of which NAFTA was something of an inversion.  For the spectacle of wall-building transcended questions of policy, transforming a slogan and a promise to take action on the image of departing jobs into a geographical imaginary, able to do triple duty by responding to departing jobs, rising crime, and being left behind by the currents of global trade.

 

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Karl Marx long ago prophesied consumer goods would move seamlessly across borders in the mid-nineteenth century, the fears of jobs moving across the border and Mexicans entering the country played well to the electorate, even possibly including Latinos, over a third of whom supported the candidate in the 2016 Presidential race, against all predictions.

 

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Trump’s ominous evocation of NAFTA was a figure of speech similar to his promise to build the border wall, signifying a staunching of impending economic deflation.  For by blaming NAFTA for breaching the boundaries of the nation, exposing it to the rages of globalism in ways Trump promised to exorcise, NAFTA  decidedly resonated with his voting base:  after all, the map in this header shows imagined corridors of trade that move from the lower forty-eight states to the light turquoise land of Mexico.  But the spatial imaginary of NAFTA that he sought to communicate to television audiences during the final Presidential debate of 2016 was of an undue burden on our economy, destined to prevent true economic growth, and a terrible deal inflicted on the United States from which he presented himself as able to liberate the nation.  Opposition to NAFTA provided a talisman of Trump’s commitment America First commitment, and his unwavering defense of the danger of leaving national borders open.  If the idea that border security led the notion of a “giant wall across our borders” to be something of a fetish for far-right groups as WeNeedaFence.com, which tied its necessity to terrorist threats, the image of NAFTA is something like the negative of such an expansion of border patrol, meant to evoke feared gaps in our national borders.

 

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For the fear of NAFTA seems to have haunted the election in ways that Trump sought to perpetuate.  Karl Marx so famously argued that capital rendered national frontiers artifacts of the past, swept away by the flow of trade move across national borders rendered antiquated artifacts , as industrial products are consumed across the globe across borders:  yet the fears of NAFTA seems to haunt the current Presidential election with a vigor Marx could never have imagined.  For if the circulation of goods may have rendered border lines obsolete, trade protectionism and advocacy of punitive tariffs have helped to resurrect the specter of NAFTA that has continued to haunt the current Presidential election, and has become a mantra that has infected Trump rallies–to the point where, dislodged of any actual truth, it has come to signify among supporters a point that cannot be disputed.  Yet as the place of the treaty in Trump’s campaign rhetoric went virtually unchallenged by Clinton’s campaign, and its place in the spatial geography of Trump voters only grew.

 

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To nourish our economy, runs this line of thought, we must reinstitute border lines to prevent “our” jobs leaching, factories relocating, and trade imbalances growing–yet treaties threaten the local economy in what Trump has painted as if it were only a zero-sum game, predicting that the same harm would be the result of the TPP.  Marx argued that the “instability of life” of the bourgeoisie meant that “the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe . . . [and expanding markets] must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.”  As if deeply uncomfortable with that image, Trump argued repealing the treaty would keep commodities and jobs in the United States.

 

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Trump pointed evoked NAFTA for the benefit of his audience, in ways that recalled the construction of a border boundary wall–a wall that already exists for Mexican migrants–as a talisman of his protection of this frontier, by describing NAFTA as a treaty that pushed capital and jobs south of the border, or as if by a vacuum sucked them south of the border.  Indeed, Trump may have performed a crucial pivot to gain appeal across many midwestern states by presenting NAFTA as “the worst thing that ever happened,” he takes “the worst trade deal signed anywhere” as if it were a synecdoche for the globalization that has actually seemed to suck jobs out of the United States.  Trump has represented the trade treaty as a way to explain the economic shocks of the new dominance of China–and Chinese imports–in the manufacturing industries, according to the recent study by David Dorn of MIT and Gordon Hanson of UCSD, which mapped regional vulnerability of job markets in manufactures to the growth of Chinese imports to the United States from 1990 to 2007–changes that occurred long before Obama’s Presidency, but are still deeply felt and cast a shadow over the nation from Wisconsin and Iowa to Texas and New Mexico.

 

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The specter of economic deflation is again haunting our Presidential debates, thanks to Trump, who re-introduced it into the 2016 election as a way to redraw the constituency he might best assemble beyond the Republican party–even if this means pivoting from Republican dogma on Free Trade.

 

cracks-in-the-foundation-16-42d5b8.pngThe Nib/Andy Warner

 

Despite Trump’s very limited sense of national geography, the image of NAFTA created a blueprint for something like a national policy.  The liposuction-like prospect of jobs being sucked out of the country was coined by Ross Perot back in 1992, when he contributed a memorable metaphorical onomatopoeia to the political lexicon in a Presidential debate with Bill Clinton and George Bush, leaving the legacy of a much-viewed meme Trump has resurrected and made his own.  Without mentioning the legacy of the claim from the late Reform Party, Trump has used it as a convenient shorthand for impending economic ruin, and a rudimentary spatial imaginary that sounded something like an executive function.

When Trump evoked fears of another unwanted breaching of borders, he adopted Perot’s inimitable evocation of a “giant sucking sound” to conjure factories and jobs shifting en masse south of the border when he ran for president against Bill Clinton and George Bush.  For Perot, the sound of vacuuming presented the cross-border migration of jobs to Mexico as inevitable–if in ways that evoked the scenario of a low-budget horror film as much as macroeconomic theory–and the image of loosing economic vitality across the border was long recycled in Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign.  But Trump’s suggestion that the similar inevitability of a breaching of founds of an economic frontiers as a form of national betrayal lies, eliminating national tariffs–one of Trump’s own most favored economic punitive policies of retaliation–seemed like an instance of Clintons caving on leverage in trade imbalances, but also a betrayal of workers, adopting the charge voiced by the AFL-CIO to assume a populist mantle.  (When Pat Buchanan took the Reform Party torch, he also argued that such surrender of border tariffs was a surrender of Congressional authority on trade.)

Trump’s accusation of intentionally exposing the American economy to job-deflation resurrected a lost or largely forgotten charge of national betrayal that he wants to lay at the feet of the Clinton family.  The fears of losing jobs are proven to resonate, but has this occurred?  NAFTA has helped expand a third of our trade exports.  The numbers of jobs exported to plants in Mexico since 1992 does seem cumulatively significant to many.  Indeed, the increase in jobs moving south of the border seems as if it might provide new evidence Ross Perot was right about the inevitability that that “giant sucking sound” of jobs going south, drawn by cheap labor markets in Mexico, altering the American economy forever–

 

jobs.jpgGEI Analysis/Business Insider

 

Yet NAFTA has also led to a growth in corporate profits, with many of the jobs moving to Mexico being for American-owned factories.  And the departure of manufacturing jobs is difficult to lay at NAFTA’s door:  in comparison to the enormous trade deficits with China and the European Union, rising trade deficits with Mexico since NAFTA are miniscule–and most “trade deficits” with Mexico include goods produced by American firms relocated to Mexico–roughly 3,000 factories have drawn jobs just  barely across the border, but outside the American workforce, that have grown the American GDP.  NAFTA’s passage created significant growth of GDP, as growth in exports to Mexico rose 218%, helping manufacturing–improving GDP all around for all three countries, if not producing the “level playing field” Bill Clinton had  once earnestly guaranteed.

 

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NAFTA has produced, it can actually be argued, an expansion of American manufacturing and trade in ways that have helped not only US manufactures, but allowed an economic decentralization in Mexico that led to a tripling of trade between US and Mexico, and the creation of a North American economic behemoth that expanded possibilities of economic competition south of the border and changed the political dynamic of that country in important ways.

 

image002Cato Institute

 

And yet, the metaphorical power of NAFTA has created a very deep fear of national compromise, as many see NAFTA as embodying a fundamental erosion of national protections and identity, locating an abandonment of American jobs and a compromise of American independence in the NAFTA flag–often imaged as a threatening compromise not only as of American economic independence, but of national sovereignty for the alt-right, who saw the treaty as concealing a far-flung plan from multiple governments to destroy American liberties in an integrated North American Union, about which Ron Paul had already warned an increasingly credulous electorate back in 2006.

The same slippery borders that whose dissolution and departure Marx had prophecied as a natureal result of capitalist markets became cast as a loss of national integrity, evidenced symbolically in fears of the abondonment of the stars and stripes.

 

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The metaphorical power of NAFTA grew in ways less easily measured in charts than in the geographical imaginaries that fed and nourished fears of economic decline, in ways no data visualization can adequately reveal.  The fears haunt the minds of Trump’s constituents and haunt his oratory, linked to right-wing conspiracy theories that long evoked NAFTA as a question of national betrayal far, far beyond issues of trade–and ignoring the five million new jobs NAFTA has created in America or that jobs the treaty with Mexico has created increased revenues by billions of dollars in all of the fifty states.

 

 

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NaftaMexico/Segretaria de Economia/@MxUSTrade (September, 2016)

 

Trump has rather relentlessly portrayed “jobs are being sucked out of our [national] economy” as a violation of an almost embodied integrity in order to evoke fears of a loss of sovereign power, and the belief of a national catastrophe that NAFTA has perpetrated on the United States economy, echoing Trump’s assertion that American industries packed up and left en masse” since NAFTA was approved.  The longstanding fear of weakening America, launched with increasing eagerness by opposition parties but reaching a crescendo in the Age of Obama, has shifted from wrong-headedness to deliberate perpetration in ways that suggest that the map is being destabilized, as it has migrated from the AFL-CIO to an issue of national integrity to become a pillar of the Reform Party platform.

 

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Shortly before the NAFTA treaty negotiated by then-President George Bush went into effect, Reform Party candidate Ross Perot conjured the unwanted effects that would be the result of the as-yet unsigned treaty as one of jobs being sucked out of the United States back in 1992, inviting viewers of the 1992 Presidential Debates to imagine the effects on their pocket books of the trade treaty in strikingly concrete terms as a “giant sucking sound going south” whereby jobs funneled south of the border as a mass migration–a cartoonish sound.  The auditory effects were no doubt intended to be commensurate with the massive migration of as much as 5.9 million American jobs–as factory owners were compelled by lower wages.  While his appearance on television reduced his popularity, Perot launched an early memes of the early age of digital memory–officially transcribed as “job-sucking sound“–in a haunting spatial imaginary driven by fears of unwanted inexorable economic deflation, and Trump couldn’t let it go.

If Perot’s figure of speech went viral, as many were left scratching their heads at an expression somewhat ill-suited to describe job displacement or to concretely render economic fears, the ugly onomatopoeic simile conjured a departure of jobs in effective ways.  The sound-bite was meant to distinguish Perot from either candidate from the two major parties against which he ran–Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.  Although the expression mostly struck audiences as funny because of Perot’s largely dry delivery of the line, it lingered in political discourse with a long afterlife, and was repeated by Pat Buchanan during his subsequent run for President, has reappeared as a rhetorical figure of speech in discourse on free trade in the European Union, and was used often to express the departure of jobs from wealthier nations before being adopted by Donald Trump as a rallying cry of economic protectionism.

The sense of suction mapped economic fears of geographic displacement in many ways, but the fear was embodied in new ways as it was used by Trump to evoke a national betrayal in ways that were inflected by paranoia of the far right.  Indeed, the departure of jobs has not occurred as they shifted south of the border, despite the broad economic displacement in manufactures as a result of globalization.  The migration of jobs was not mapped by Trump by the maquiladora industry that thrives on the border-region, but as a massive movement of industry.  NAFTA stood for a growing fear of jobs being reassigned to Mexican workers, especially in the auto industry–with Mexico slated to be building a quarter of North American vehicles by 2020, according to the Detroit Free Press–

 

Screen+Shot+2015-08-10+at+7.32.18+PM.pngWorld Socialist Website (2015)

 

635698318093916797-dfp-auto-nafta-mexico-plants-map-prestoMexico’s Auto Plants/Detroit Free Press

 

–and the aerospace and defense industries located in Mexico located close to the border:

 

mexico_ad_2014.jpgAerospace Industry in Mexico

 

This is particularly impressive over a longue durée:  from but four automobile assembly plants located in Mexico in 1980, the blossoming post-NAFTA of an “auto alley” of light vehicle production, aided by low production costs that compensate for the costs of export, have encouraged the expansion of assembly plants in Mexico, even if the sites of parts suppliers are clearly centered in North America–and indeed, the spatial distribution of parts production is clearly centered around Detroit, also a center for assemblers, although some assembly plants of electronics parts that are most labor intensive were pulled south of the border to maquiladora plants just inside Mexico’s northern frontier.

 

img-1-2.pngThomas Klier and Jim Rubenstein

 

maquiladora_industry_4_web-700x352Assembly of car radios in Matamadoros, just south of the Mexican border/World Socialist Website

 

Trump mapped his adoption of a vaguely onomatopoeic description of job displacement onto a narrative of national decline with a decidedly new twist, in the sense that it promised a return to a never quite existent past and a basis to work against globalization.  For Trump co-opted the image of suction to bemoan the impending deflation of our national economy, and suggest his hopes for returning to a status quo ante that is not likely within reach.  For Trump seems to have sought to remind constituents of his promises to protect “our” borders and “our” jobs he used shorthand for globalization, claiming to protect our interests within a transformational process transcending national frontiers.

The trade deficit with Mexico has indeed grown:  it has quintupled to $107 billion from 1992 to 2004.  But US exports elsewhere also declined at the same time by two percent.  The decline of manufacturing jobs in America in broad terms during the first decade of the new millennium don’t suggest a clearly determining link to the signing of NAFTA–if it does suggest a measure of “voter anger” that might be placed at the doorstep of broader trends of offshoring, globalization, and automation since 1980 that have in tandem led the US economy to shed  7 million manufacturing jobs over just twenty-four years, with a rapidity that was more impacted by more far-reaching changes than can be mapped onto NAFTA–however compelling NAFTA appears as a target that might be in our control, and a basis to turn back the tide of globalization within a President’s control.

 

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Candidate Trump evoked NAFTA as a basis for geographical over-generalization, as a somewhat clumsy synecdoche for globalization:  by presenting the treaty as a part of a whole, he mapped the state of the economy to embody the notion of a departure, localizing fears of a funneling of jobs at one site as a focus for orienting audiences’ attention to globalization:  whereas institutions as the World Bank might be more properly as a synecdoche for global finance, which in turn might be taken to stand in for the world economic system, NAFTA is located in the sense that it stands as a synecdoche for globalization from an American perspective:  rather than disembodied, it is a sound of trans-border movement of capital, jobs, and employment, emptying out a closed system of economic goods and benefits, and mapping the downside of globalization for Americans, and manages to label that on actors who are allegedly working against American interests.

This is most probably not consciously done.  But Candidate Trump presents NAFTA as a symptom of a government committed to a logic of globalization rather than American interests, raising a specter of national betrayal long cultivated by the Alt Right, and to which he tries as hard as he can to oppose himself and to which he presents an imagined alternative:  Trump’s conflation of an economic treaty with globalization, and suggests his ability to work, single-handedly, to achieve a Deal that will resist globalization and undo its wrongs.  When Trump invoked the old sucking sound, without acknowledging its role in the Reform Party, he used it to raise fears of a spatial imaginary of jobs going south.  Trump wanted to lend currency and concreteness to the image of involuntary deflation to conjure fears by casting Hillary Clinton as a job-slayer, and link the deflationary trade accord to Bill Clinton, who signed the treaty–if he of course did not negotiate it–by treating “[Hillary’s] husband” as red meat for red states.

Although NAFTA was a product of George H.W. Bush’s presidency and in 1992 was no longer really on the table, Bill Clinton had celebrated its arrival after it went into effect on January 1, 1994.  But NAFTA stood as bogeyman and surrogate for the greater evil of “globalization,” loosely defined as the system of worldwide integration by which goods, capital, and labor travel frictionlessly across national border-lines, and the consequent ceding of control over the paths of global capital, and a consequent decline in state sovereignty–even if Mexico is not “offshore” of the continent, it seems visually emblematic of a permeability of cross-border traffic that Trump believes it lies within the power of the President to re-negotiate, largely as he sees the office as an expansion of that of the CEO, and understands all treaties as open to more advantageous renegotiation to recoup national interests.

 

renegotiateDonald J. Trump for President Ad, “Deals” (October 18, 2016)

 

For NAFTA has become emblematic of the fear of erasing borders haunts much of the spatial imaginary of the alt-Right, and presented as a decline of manufacturing that seems something of an undercurrent to how American needs to be Made Great again, or what it once was–even if the net effect of the treaty has been widely judged negligible, despite the growing trade deficit.  (After all, NAFTA remains hard to disentangle from the overall rise in employment in the United States.)  Yet “open borders” are so linked to illegal immigrants in his mind, and “amnesty,” as well as to the danger of open borders that failed to keep out all those “bad hombres,” themselves in turn linked to accusing Hillary Clinton of welcoming into our borders the “ISIS-aligned” Syrian refugees.

Trump casts all as targets of his wrath and threats to the nation, in a Mad Libs style of debating usually works, even when it is ad-libbed, although he soon strayed into the realm of free association.  “Building a wall against Free Trade” has almost become a platform of Trump’s candidacy, as if safety lies in disaggregation–to repurpose an older cartoon poking fun at Canadian national claims–

 

70563_600.pngPatrick Corrigan, Toronto Star (10/28/2009)

 

or a more recent one that suggests the security that Trump argues the wall would bring to civil society–and it indeed seems the only concrete proposal that Trump has offered to increase safety, save the scary policies of mass-deportation of migrant workers:

 

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The peculiar after-life of Ross Perot’s unlikely figure of speech had been transformed by a world where borders and border walls seem symbols meant to staunch the flow of jobs in a globalized world seems like a new mercantilist project, lest they be sucked out as Perot, and later Pat Buchanan, sought to make the electorate increasingly fear.  But real wages have steadily grown in all three countries, and few jobs have migrated to Mexico, and if the US employment rate started to rise by 2008, the predicted inevitable giant sucking sound was never heard, despite a trade deficit, as imports markedly did as well, jobs grew, and free trade also raised living standards across both borders, despite Trump’s claim of having personally visited sites in recently on his campaign, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida–badly concealed shout-outs to the residents of swing states, cast as mapping sites from which “jobs have fled” across the border, promising that the author of The Art of the Deal could renegotiate the deal or “terminate” it in favor of making new “great” trade deals–both echoing his earlier promises to auto workers to “break NAFTA” and the image of Trump’s Reality TV successor in the wings on The Apprentice, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Current memory of Perot’s sound bite may be somewhat dim, and the genealogy of Trump’s language in the Reform Party faded, but the echo of the party  of which Trump once aspired to be Presidential candidate, before he discovered Reality TV, stuck in some heads, even as Trump packed his sentence with claims to repatriate jobs and  money, even if Hillary Clinton didn’t start smiling until Mike Wallace cut him off.  Trump almost created a new meme of his own about NAFTA’s proposed termination, but evoked the suction of jobs “out of our economy” as if a feared deflation had already occurred.  The fear of suction extracting jobs from the southern border was resurrected in all its onomatopoeic glory to promote a deflation of the economy that fit the themes of deflation to which Trump has returned repeatedly when banging his drum about the dire state of the nation, if with a post-Perot twist:  the loss of jobs unveiled a new campaign strategy, aired soon after the third Presidential Debate in the Trump campaign’s “Deals” ad, asserting that the Clintons collectively have been involved in “every bad trade deal over the last twenty plus years” with the promise to “renegotiate every bad Clinton trade deal in order to put American workers first,” as if to rally midwestern states behind his candidacy.

 

Trump-Ad-NAFTA-640x480.jpgDonald J. Trump for President Ad, “Deals” (October 18, 2016)

 

The Donald’s demonizing of “The Clintons” is rooted in labelling NAFTA a Bad Trade Deal–evidence of the involvement of “The Clintons [as having] Influenced Every Bad Trade Deal Over the Past 20+ Years,” in an economic fear-mongering intended to make folks wary of potential economic losses, while Trump boasts his ability to “Renegotiate NAFTA” as a response to Clinton’s arrogance in “shipping our jobs offshore,” wherever that is, forgetting that “our economy once dominated the world” and borders were more hermetically sealed:  the renegotiation of the weakness as the border seems to be at attempt to find new focus for a flailing campaign.

 

Renegotiate.pngDeals,” October 18, 2016

 

Although free trade was long considered the best benefit to a nation’s economy, the renewed insularity evident in Trump’s open embrace of America First as his slogan and doctrine, and the spatial imaginary he has promoted.  Trump has actively cultivated fears of the danger of movement of manufacturing from our shores and beyond our national borders; images of corporate relocation seem the most pernicious ways government is doing bad to its people, and promoting an economic weakening against national interests:  the absence of sealed borders seem to be a way to cast the United States, a huge beneficiary of economic growth brought by globalization, as in fact afflicted by its ill–rather than developing economies who are most likely suffer from the costs of the frictionless circulation of global capital, and a global economy that increasingly immobilizes cheap labor in foreign manufacturing centers.

Economic integration have provoked a new economic protectionism, reconstitution the frontier, echoed by the actual “crises” of globalization, as a symbolic front of defense to protect local economies, fed by streamed images of refugees moving across borders in search of work, as the relations of stronger developed countries to developing countries are comparably understood as biologically inflected invasions of outsiders–which “we” no longer can unilaterally prevent or contain.  The notion of jobs going south of the border is laughable–the presence of Mexican migrants have a large place in the US urban economy, most concentrated in the nation’s south, but the contribution of Mexican immigrants to the American economy is all but erased, and all too conveniently so.

 

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Moreover, the mutual benefits of NAFTA considerable–and not clearly linked in any way to the symbolic magnification of the border as a site of illegal immigration–an image of cross-border permeability that Trump has perpetuated and rendered as a terrifying object of national concern.

 

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New York Times

 

Fears of NAFTA were recently inflated by Democrat Bernie Sanders, if reducing the loss of jobs south of the border to 800,000, and “tens of thousands” in the Midwest, where he was when he spoke, in Michigan, labelling it a disastrous trade agreement for corporate America, boosting the trade deficit, although the analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, although others differ, and the greatest change seems to have undeniably been the normalization of trade with China–and the expansion of auto making in Asia.  In comparison, the notion of job losses tied to NAFTA seem exaggerated at best, even if AFL-CIO calls NAFTA’s “job killing” trade accord the basis for displacing some 700.000 jobs–although maps this in a way that is deeply out of skew with its color-choices–

 

Jobs-Displaced-Due-to-Trade-Deficits-with-Mexico_videolarge.pngAFL-CIO

 

–and a more grim image that Trump meant to evoke was more like the following, grim totaling of jobs that seem difficult to identify as “NAFTA-related” with any precision, but creates a wonderfully gloomy image of the national economy at the same time as it has in fact grown.

 

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Yet is the alleged displacement of jobs related to NAFTA alone, or its consequence?

Yet the loss of jobs aren’t clearly tied to NAFTA, as much as it seems to make tacit sense that they are, in comparison to the expansion of trade deficits with China, and the WTO, which create a data visualization that tells quite a different sort of story, expanding to a broad level of jobs lost in many eastern and midwestern states, if the mapping of such losses date roughly to the start of Obama’s first presidency, or the economy he inherited from George W. Bush.

 

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The question phrased in micro-economic rather than macro-economic terms may, however, play to some states well–and may indeed describe the Trump/Clinton divide.  For the factories making cars moving south of the border aren’t Ford, Chevrolet, or General Motors, but Toyota, BMW, Audi and KIA, who weren’t driven there by NAFTA, but by globalization writ large:  foreign automobile companies have invested some $13.3 billion in Mexico since 2010, and few American car makers have voiced plans to relocate–Ford’s assembly plant is the only one of the $23.4 billion in passenger cars Americans buy that are built in Mexico exceeds the entire $42.2 billion US-Mexico trade deficit.

In fact, Mexico’s low tariffs with most South American countries and Europe encourages the deal, not the microeconomics of wages, despite Mexico’s car-manufacturing workforce growing to 675,000 and rising employment by car makers in the United States, whose presence in the United Stats largely depends on the ability to shift ‘low-paying jobs’ to Mexico over the last two decades, essentially protecting the 800,000 jobs of car making that remained in the United States, including engineers.  There may be some difficulty, however, as well as little comfort, for those out of work to thinking in macroeconomic terms among the very audience that the current Republican party considers the base which it most wants to get out to vote or that it considers its most dependable rallying cry.

The recurrent Republican demand to shore up our borders and boundaries to keep jobs at home is an illusion in a globalized world, where jobs are lost to sites far further overseas.   Along the northern border, the renewed fear of border-breaching has created one of the weirdest manifestations of a surveillance state to our northern borders, with the clearing of trees on the US-Canada border, known locally and colloquially as the “Border Slash.

 

US-Canada Border Slash.pngUS-Canada Border Slash/Google Map Data © 2016–Creative Commons

 

As the border barrier that Donald Trump has proposed, but already underway, the “Border Slash” would materialize the boundary through 1349 miles of forested land in the forest along the 5525-mile border between the Canada and the United States, in part running along the 45th Parallel, and plans to extend from Houlton, Maine, to Arctic Village, Alaska–to leave no one unsure of a boundary line that exists only on a map, even if its existence on maps since 1783 has been rarely altered, and was better defined in 1872-4.

Fear of jobs fleeing to Canada are not yet articulated, but creating an area for potential surveillance and apprehension that may have started out of concern for forgetting overgrown monuments on the border needing to be cleared has blossomed into the performance of the boundary line is an odd exercise is isolationism.  The Slash, running ten feet into US territory and three meters into Canadian territory, created by the International Boundary Commission, concretized a cartographical divide quite similarly to how Trump has proposed “beautiful” barrier on the US-Mexico border, if markedly less obstructive in its appearance or design.

 

4773248534_1f5de418ca_o.jpgCarolyn Cuskey/Creative Commons

 

Perhaps the lack of clear borderlines mirrors the suspicion of the actuality that mapped borders continue to have, as pressures of economic migration have combined with state security apparatuses to refashion the border as a site of national interest.  The fear of border-leaching jobs has grown in a world where walls seem designed to keep out job-seekers has led to the expansion of so many multiple projects of national self-definition that the notion of protecting jobs by “terminating” NAFTA seems to make sense.  The mounting attacks on free trade, presented as the prime obstruction to economic growth in the US in this most recent Presidential campaign, has been incarnated in a variety of maps that fly in the face of accepted economic consensus that free trade benefits jobs by increasing trade, and cultivate ungrounded if existing fears of the breaching of economic border-lines as an act of national danger.

But the specter raised in cartographical imbalances that have been described as the unexpected if inevitable by-products of trade agreements waged by a political class who took their eye off the interests of the country suggest the monstrosities of free trade has created range from widespread unemployment to a trade deficit of untold proportions that have leached the nation’s virility and emptied its future hopes.  Current maps of trade corridors, presented as leaked documents worthy of Wikileaks or the Panama Papers that are to be perpetrated on an unknowing nation, have been widely re-presented as evidence of the hopes to drain the country of jobs, by a measure of deceit almost analogous to the Protocols of Zion, as if jobs ran south with the pull of the gravity exerted by lower wages south of the border, echoing old fears that images of trade corridors were in fact intended as superhighways, begun as a reporter at Fox News described “NAFTA Superhighways” as if similar violations of the national integrity of our economy.

 

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The globalism fears of the introduction to the national highways of a secret “NAFTA Superhighway” has been widely described online as a scam perpetrated by George Bush to dismantle the nation, and create a North American Union, with the maps provided to prove plans for public-private partnerships the would use Texas as the grounds to lease the highways out to toll highways whose funds would be exported from the United States, allowing Chinese goods to be distributed from the “inland port” of Winnipeg, combining three nations into a transport web for a North American Union which would be but a step toward global government, conjuring the geography of a secret highway system as the infrastructure of a network of corridors of transport replete with inland ports and systems of water redistribution, even if they might also as easily recall oil pipelines, and conceal an attempt to convert the United States into a North American Union that will betray the nation’s constitutional ideals:

 

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Although the corridors of trade may provide a basis for the interconnected economies of North America, they suggest a breaching of the interior–and a potential erasure of economic dominance for those who see our future as in manufacturing jobs:  for presented in slightly different terms, the corridors suggest an “offshoring” of industry that mirrors a relocation of factories outside of our territorial bounds, and outside our jurisdiction.

 

NAFTASUPERHIGHWAYJune 2006 NASCO website image of I-35 Corridor

 

The affirmation of effective transport routes runs against the image of national Autarky–the flawed economic ideal of nations who suspected banks and big business–in favor of dangerously open trade flows, which seem to overwhelm the symbolic uniqueness of American exceptionalism, effectively re-dimensioning the nation in a global context and signaling an active eroding of national integrity.

 

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Striking at the heart of the American economy, others connected the “NAFTA land-grab” to the closure of Wal-Marts, as if it offered evidence of the destruction of local jobs in small towns as a result of the growing “NAFTA super-highway” by lowering property values through the closings of War-Marts and K-Marts on which small towns depend, from Wal-Mart Express stores (blue icons) to Wall-Mart stores (red), Supercenter stores (purple), and Neighborhood Market stores (green) suspiciously mapping onto “red states”:  the bizarre paranoia that seems to have begun from mapping the closure of a string of 154 Wall-Marts–affecting 10, 000 workers, but giving rise to a bizarre conspiracy theories mapping closed stores onto Red and Blue states or secret government plans that takes the distribution of store closures as revealing foreboding patterns of potential political import from planned conversions to FEMA training grounds or underground military tunnels.

 

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If the distribution of War-Mart closures was tied to hidden NAFTA plans, the expansion of fears quickly found cartographical grounding for a range of deep-set economic unease, that necessitates a new sense of security which economic policies alone can’t provide, and that only a “wall” blocking transnational movement is able to provide reassurance.

The alleged uncovering of the globalist conspiracy of a “Port-to-Plains” corridor was demonized as prefacing a dismantling of the integrity of the nation, and heralding an inter-continental union that would in fact lead to the re-writing of the Constitution, as the map is presented as if it provided a crazed confirmation of American identity under renewed attack.

 

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Dots can be easily connected to the worsening of the local economy and disappearance of jobs as factories head south of the border and the trade deficit starts expands, reducing employment in those very areas where corridors of trade seem to exist–after we had gotten comfortable with billions of trade surpluses, which steadily shrunk from $5 billion in 1960 to just $607 million in 1969.  Those days are long over, but the institution of reciprocity brought with it record numbers of job displacement, on the heals of growing trade deficits:  the image of “jobs displaced” called for a recipe for their repatriation that has provided a significant source of steam to the Trump train, even if it now seems more likely to crash.  Indeed, the image of jobs “displaced” since NAFTA seems to have led to the notion of a motion of jobs to Mexico, even if more have been shifted to India and China than remained in this hemisphere.

 

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The result, for Melanie Taub, is a state-by-state emptying of the workforce by shifts in employment that confirms that the national government was just not provident when it signed those trade accords, exposing the US to a rush of outsourcing by the very same companies–NABISCO; Ford; Pfizer; even Wal-Mart–that Trump claims led “millions and millions of jobs, thousands and thousands and thousands of plants,” in somewhat inexact economics, to depart the nation that once nurtured them as 680,000 job displacements occurred across the country by 2010.  Blaming many of the displaced jobs on trade deficits that “decimated” the American workforce and led “good jobs” to vanish ignores a record expansion of deficits, before NAFTA encouraged a small if significant trade surplus:

 

uploads-irw_displacedjobs_06_16_2011v2-2Melanie Taub, Investigative Reporting Workshop

 

Encouraging fears of the outsourcing of American labor, as well as the fearsome byproduct of globalization, threaten to cut at the source of American ingenuity and capital, and are depicted as poised to threaten to eviscerate American wealth and economic resourcefulness:  jobs have crossed borders to unprecedented degrees, and trade deficits expand to the incalculable of $400 to $500 billion that seem impossible to sustain.  But the  attempts to forestall their departure–Chris Christie and Donald J. Trump forego Oreos, for one, until Nabisco brings back its cookie factories to the continental United States.  For the jobs that we need to create in the country are not jobs in cookie plants, although any and all jobs are to be valued, but more highly paying jobs for trained workers.

While numbers of guest-workers in America, often not documented, have surely risen steadily in recent years–

 

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NAFTA trade corridors will increase the traffic of goods between both countries in undeniably productive ways, significantly helpful for the infrastructures of both countries.

 

 

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For Trump, the sound remains one of some sort of unsightly evacuation, or just a painful blood-letting, that the spectacle of a wall–as if one doesn’t already exist–conjures an onomatopoeic simile seen as likely to be staved off, ominously indicating an impending deflation of absolute economic value.  By the end of the debate, he somewhat fittingly seemed most spent, the energy sucked out of his face as he was able only to assemble some vague closing remarks of recycled triumphalism after gloating that he would “keep us in suspense” about his intentions to respect the election’s outcome–the response he seemed happiest to deliver all night, remembering how he had started the campaign “very strongly,” before descending into conjuring fears of folks disrespect, inner cities that are a disaster, and words for people with “no education and no jobs,” before pivoting to the specter of four more years of Barak Obama and the concluding and not that rousing the ad feminam taunt of final and utter exasperation, “that’s what you get when you get her.”

 

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Filed under 2016 US Presidential Election, borders, Donald Trump, Mexico-United States Border, NAFTA