In March 2017, there were several reports that a group of American college kids, vacationing in Cancun, Mexico for their spring break, chanted the Trumpist slogan ‘Build that Wall’. The San Diego Tribune, for example, reported that thousands of American kids, after finishing their college studies, go for their spring vacation to holiday resorts, such as Cancun. These are wild parties, fueled by alcohol, drugs, and the youthful vigour of students letting their hair down during a well-earned holiday. One particular group of these kids, while vacationing on a cruise ship sailing in Mexican waters off the coast of Cancun, broke into the chant ‘Build that Wall’. This of course, is a reference to the proposed US-Mexico border wall, a signature pledge of the political campaign of current US President Donald Trump.
Anger on social media
The staff on the cruise ship, and other Latin Americans within earshot, understandably took offence at this display of ignorant xenophobia. The Mexican media, for example the Yucatan Times, elaborated the grievances of the shocked Mexican tourists and workers, who were outraged at the obnoxious behaviour of the American kids. This particular cruise is a ‘pirate ship’, a show put on for the enjoyment of holiday-makers, where they can enjoy the clashing of swords, the firing of cannon, backed up by an endless flow of alcohol. A young Latin American couple on board that ship, explained how their holiday (their honeymoon) was completely shattered – and this display of xenophobic intolerance was not an isolated incident. One report noted that:
The incident adds to a “growing number of complaints” from tourism workers who say that spring breakers have been “offensive, rude and haughty towards Mexican people.”
Social media users immediately denounced the ignorance and obnoxious behaviour of the kids who supported the wall – pointing out the obvious irrationality of calling for the building of a wall to keep out Mexicans – while inside Mexican territory. Numerous media outlets, such as the Palm Beach Post, took up the story, elaborating upon numerous incidents where privileged spring breakers demonstrated obnoxious and offensive behaviour. One story examined how college kids were abusing sea creatures, posting images and videos of themselves on social media, displaying beer-fuelled rowdiness, nakedness and the ultimate expression of individualist self-absorption – selfies.
Growing up with endless wars
The outrage about the offensive behaviour of the spring breakers is perfectly understandable and correct. However, it does not really go deeper into this issue. Why take the time to examine the buffoonery of college spring breakers? This incident tells us not only about the ideas and motivations of the students, but also indicates the type of society in which they have grown up – the kind of society that has created people for whom building walls is a commendable goal. Greg Grandin, writing in the Nation magazine, provides an answer to this question. Grandin, in his article ‘Why those Spring Breakers chanted “Build that Wall”‘, states that we should not be surprised that these kids – around the ages of 19 and 20 – chanted that slogan, because they are the children of unending wars:
Let’s assume they are juniors or seniors, about 20 or so years old. They might have just been conceived when Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the death of half a million Iraqi children was “worth” the “price” of isolating Saddam Hussein. Maybe they were just born, a year old, when Clinton launched one of his children-killing cruise missiles into Baghdad, including one time in 1998, shortly before the House impeachment vote related to the Monica Lewinsky affair, that was described by The New York Times as a “a strong sustained series of air strikes.”
They probably entered kindergarten around the time that Bush and company manufactured evidence about Iraqi WMDs, picking up an assist by the mainstream media to begin the systematic destruction of a country we weren’t at war with, that committed no offense against US citizens. They might have been in the first grade when US forces decimated Fallujah, and in the second grade when those photos of Abu Ghraib began to circulate, kicking off a never-ending debate over whether it is moral or not to torture. They’ve lived through the horrors of Blackwater and global rendition.
They have grown up with the never-ending ‘War on Terror’, that nebulous, ill-defined concept that has legitimised American wars around the world. They were still children when the Bush-Cheney regime began that war – and grew up throughout the eight years as the Obama administration continued and escalated that war through the tactic of lethal drone strikes. They were coming-of-age when former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gloated, in the aftermath of the Western-backed Libyan war, about the savage lynch-mob murder of former Libyan leader Qaddafi by stating ‘We came, we saw, he died’. Clinton. having been promoted as an example of the ‘modern’ politician, a woman breaking the glass ceiling, was upheld for these college kids as an example to be emulated. Her gloating was normalised as just simply part of the spectrum of acceptable behaviour for a politician with presidential ambitions.
Building walls – Fortress Europe and Garrison-State America
Grandin is quite correct to point out the conditions of endless war which has influenced the mentality of the spring breakers. However, there is another aspect which he omitted to mention. Building walls, such as that embodied in Trump’s proposal for the US-Mexico border, is nothing unusual or new for the capitalist system. In fact, building walls to exclude the poor, the refugees, the marginalised, the desperate and the outsiders, is a typical response of the financial elite that finds the capitalist system breaking down. I am an adult, and I do my best to think like one, so here is my attempt at a mature perspective.
I am old enough to remember 1989-90, the days when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, when the (supposedly) totalitarian Eastern bloc dissolved border controls, and people from those countries were allowed to travel freely. Capitalism had (allegedly) proven its superiority by demonstrating its commitment to values of freedom and democracy. Back in June 1989, the former foreign ministers of Hungary and Austria made a media stunt, where they cut a hole in the fence separating their two countries. The removal of those barbed-wire fences, along with the demolition of the Berlin Wall, symbolised the (supposedly) new era of freedom that had dawned.
The removal of border controls between Eastern and Western Europe, signified that the unquenchable desire for liberty had triumphed, and that people wishing to leave the Eastern bloc no longer had to undertake a hazardous and potentially life-threatening defection. We in the West were regaled with moving and heart-wrenching stories of defectors, seeking a new and free life in the imperialist states. Very powerful stories indeed – but it is interesting to note that the defector-traffic movement was a two-way street. Thousands of socialist-minded Afghans, Indonesians, African Americans, made the trek the other way – seeking a better life in the USSR. Afghans who were supportive of the socialist government in their country; Indonesians who were opposed to the CIA-backed 1965 coup in their nation which brought a bloody pro-Western dictatorship to power – made their way to the Soviet Union for a new life.
Be that as it may, the opening up of Eastern Europe and the demolition of the Berlin Wall were exploited to the hilt for propaganda purposes. The newly united Europe moved quickly to remove internal borders, implementing the Schengen Agreement in 1995. Capitalism was to surpass (allegedly) the national antagonisms between nation-states, and the expanding European Union was to bring the joys of liberty and business to the new member nation-states.
Here we are, 28 years later, and militarised borders and fortified walls are being resurrected in Europe and America on a scale unimaginable to the partisans of European unity in 1989-90. The images out of Europe show electrified razor wire, heavily armed border patrol guards, tear gas, and other heavy measures are being deployed against refugees and the poor who are fleeing conflicts instigated and incited by the imperialist powers. Hungary is rushing to hermetically seal its borders with Serbia, while Austria clamps down on traffic out of Hungary.
Europe’s internal borders are being resurrected, with the Schengen-approved free travel zone being abolished. All the nation-state members of the European Union are bickering – and have been squabbling since 2015 – about who should take what groups of refugees. The Mediterranean Sea is itself being used by the European Union as one gigantic maritime wall, a barrier to the refugees fleeing from African and Middle Eastern countries – the bottom of the Mediterranean is where thousands of refugees have ended up, perishing while making the hazardous journey.
Trump’s proposal to militarise the US-Mexico border did not emerge out of thin air. Trump’s plan to deport the undocumented migrants, and erect barriers, has strong precedents in other capitalist countries. It is no secret that Trump has steadfastly praised the example of the Australian government’s punitive detention model of treating refugees. The Australian template, combining cruelty with indefinite mandatory detention, was examined closely by Trump’s chief ideologues. The US-Mexico border, already a place of suffering and trauma for new immigrants, will be a scene of increased misery for the desperate, the poor and the marginalised if the Trumpist wall is erected.
Former leaders of East Germany were put on trial and convicted for the deaths of those East Germans killed while fleeing over the Berlin Wall. They were held responsible for upholding and enforcing policies that restricted in the free movement of people, resulting in the deaths of defectors over a period of decades. Let us wait and wonder if any American officials will be similarly held accountable for the thousands of migrant deaths while enforcing restrictive policies at the US-Mexico border.
Being inside the walls and building bridges
We should not be bewildered or astonished at the spring breakers who advocated the Trumpist wall, given the conditions in which they have been raised and matured. However, blaming them for their ignorance and xenophobia is only part of the story. We must also blame ourselves, the adults, who have allowed such an ideology of fortress-exclusivity to flourish.
It is interesting to note the reactions of other countries at the prospect of Trump’s ‘America First’ platform. Significant sections of Canada’s ruling class, for instance, have advocated that they should accept Trump’s walls, and indeed position themselves to be inside the American garrison state. The Globe and Mail, the newspaper of record for the Toronto-based financial elite, wrote that the political situation today resembles the relations between Canada and America in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when Bush increased the powers and scope of the military-intelligence apparatus:
Ottawa’s goal today, as it was then, must be to ensure that the Canada-U.S. border, Canada-U.S. cargoes and Canada-U.S. travellers continue to be treated differently. The more the U.S. thickens its border with the rest of the world, the more the border with Canada must be relatively reduced. If American walls go up, Canada has to be inside those walls.
Notice that there are no calls for greater freedom or liberty, no anxieties about the restricted movement of people across borders, no stirring calls to honour the eternal values of freedom and democracy. If the Trumpist Fortress America comes to pass, Canada must be inside that fortress. Here is the unashamed, naked expression of privileged insularity – we are wealthy, and the poor and foreigners must be excluded. We should not be taken aback when we read stories that a Trump supporter, after enthusiastically backing his campaign, finds that her husband is about to be arrested and deported – for being an undocumented migrant from Mexico.
Helena Beristain, agreed with Trump’s harsh policies towards Mexico, now faces the fact that her husband Roberto, after living and working in the United States for years, faces deportation. Beristain was sure that she and her husband were among the ‘good people’, and thus remain unaffected by the Trumpian crackdown. After all, they had bought into one of the favourite conceits of political conservatism – those who adopt the values of hard work, small business ownership and family values are the ‘good people’ who will remain unhindered by intrusive large-government bureaucracy.
We should not be surprised when a family of Trump-voting Syrian Christians, who are adamant that they are ‘good people’, found that their relatives from that are being deported under the Trump’s administration’s new laws. Syrian American Sarmad Assali, after voting for Trump, was shocked that her relatives from the same Syrian Christian Orthodox background were deported under the Trump’s administration draconian measures against migrants from Muslim-majority countries.
There is no pleasure or solace to be gained from the emotional suffering of others. Being inside the walls of the garrison state is no guarantee of security. Being one of the ‘good people’ is fine, but not when those ‘good people’ turn a blind eye to the injustices inflicted on their brethren overseas. Building bridges between communities on the basis of humane solidarity is the solution.
Bolivian President Evo Morales spoke wise words, when elaborating on the causes of the current migration crisis. Worsening inequality and unending military interventions are making for an unstable and unjust world. Bolivia’s President stated that his country is hosting a global people’s summit – a people’s conference for a world without walls, which is expected to draw together refugee and migrant activists. The purpose of this conference in June this year is to devise solutions for the migration crisis based on respect for human rights. We should be listening to President Morales, not the apricot-tinted, reality-TV buffoon who emanated from the bowels of financial parasitism.