The Wall

Build the wall.

If they get a ladder, then we’ll build a higher wall.

Make them pay for it.

During the 2016 presidential election, I was living in Little Rock, Arkansas. Driving around the city, I saw several signs on front lawns, pledging allegiance to a wall which made no sense. I was at a complete loss, so I turned to my Little Rock community to help me understand. During these conversations, I didn’t trust myself to speak much, because my instinctive reaction was incredulous outrage. So I simply asked what they liked about The Wall. 

“The Wall is the best protection.”

“Keeps the bad people out.” 

“They’re dangerous.” 

I asked who They were. 




I asked what this person meant by “Spanish.” 

“Everyone who speaks Spanish.”

I didn’t argue because my goal was to understand their viewpoint. Still, my silent response rang out clearly inside my head: “Wow — that’s a lot of They!” 

Thinking it over, their answers reminded me of my grad school training on a locked inpatient psych ward, working toward my doctorate in mental health. Some patients hated being locked in, but I was surprised by the number who confided that the locked doors felt safe. When I asked why, one patient, Mr. X, summed it up beautifully. He was a middle-aged gentleman, always dressed immaculately in a 1920s suit and bow tie. He blinked at my apparent dim-wittedness, and answered with the weary patience of an elder educating a youngling: “My dear, those locked doors don’t keep me in; they keep bad people out.”  

If you think of a medical model — identifying and treating the disease — the intensity of the cure needs to match the intensity of the illness. A nail clipper can cure a hangnail and a bandaid can cure a paper cut — modest interventions for modest problems. In contrast, an aggressive form of cancer might need surgery, chemotherapy, radiation — an extreme treatment to match the urgency of the problem. If Mr. X needed the locked doors of an in-patient mental hospital in order to feel safe, then his level of fear must have been off the charts. 

Those locked doors were Mr. X’s version of Donald Trump’s border wall, but The Wall is more extreme — which means that our president’s level of fear is also more extreme. Fear is contagious, and our president spreads fear like fire — adding kindling, stoking the flames, stirring the embers, causing sparks to fly. As fear runs wild in our country, keep in mind that the problem isn’t Mexicans or Latinxs or folks the world over who speak Spanish. The problem is overwhelming, consuming, irrational fear. 

Like the locked ward of a mental institution, The Wall comes at a cost which goes far beyond money. Both create barriers, narrow our world, limit our view. But at this point the analogy falls apart. As people healed on the psych ward, they experienced the hospital as increasingly confining.  Over time, working to find the source of his own irrational fears, Mr. X grew mentally stronger. In time, he felt ready to reenter the world on the other side of the locked doors. If Donald Trump’s wall is built, unlike Mr. X, the Unites States of America will deprive itself of the opportunity to outgrow its own irrational fears. 

Our president holds immense power. Donald Trump can force his own government to shut down. He can damage individuals, families and communities. His misguided judgement can endanger the land he’s supposed to protect. But The Wall and The Land Of The Free will never belong together. He might force them together, but they’ll never belong. Nobody, not even our president, has that much power.

*All identifying information about “Mr. X” has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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