Ethical Living

“America First”: white supremacy and the (non-existent) ethics of a border wall

By Yasmin Begum

For over a month now the United States government has been on shutdown following a deadlock over US President Donald Trump’s wall across the USA-Mexico border. This has had some severe implications for the American state and a huge impact on US politics overall, much to the awe of the wider global public who watch this dance from a distance.

One of Donald Trump’s key campaign pledges was to create a wall spanning the entire border between the two countries, along with reversing the perceived encroaching of the state on private life. It’s had huge negative consequences as the whole government has shut down, public parks have been shut and food banks are seeing more people than ever come to them.

The wall cannot be extracted from the wider race and immigration politics over the past 10 years, such as the Dream Act and Obamacare. These bills were focused on helping underprivileged citizens and enabling undocumented people to access crucial necessities like education and healthcare.  The demographics of the country are changing dramatically owing to falling birth rates amongst some groups and a rise in immigration has led to racial panic in the American public where Around 60% of white Americans voted for Trump. This is where this idea stems from: the wall.

It’s not just a wall, though: it’s a 2000 mile hard border between two countries that separates groups, communities and the natural environment itself. A border so big, it can even be seen from space. Indigenous groups are just one of the reasons why this wall cannot be built: Trump has said that if groups don’t sell this land to him he will ye his presidential power to purchase the land and continue building his wall.  Except the whole government has been shut down after rejecting the funding of $5 billion to Trump’s wall causing government payrolls to cease and civil workers put on temporary leave. In turn, food banks are seeing a huge influx in people as government workers haven’t received their payslips since December.

How ethical is it for a millionaire to force people below the poverty line to not receive a wage to force a government to vote through one of the widest symbols of colonialism the world has ever seen? Very, very, very rarely is the question asked. This isn’t ethical.

This is the longest shutdown in the history of the United States. Deportations, extrajudicial drones, war and austerity greatly increased under Obama. In 2013, the third longest government shutdown happened under President Barack Obama to ensure Obamacare was implemented and voted in the government. But it’s undeniable that if Obama had forced a government shutdown over a hard border, he almost certainly would have been impeached by now.

That is, theoretically, where Trump’s immigration wall is located. It is located as an elongation of the ever-growing settler-colonial project in the USA. The USA is an ongoing colonisation process, and we can see this in their actions most recently in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Hawaii. This has been demonstrated in the philosophy of Manifest Destiny, where the American government incentivised land grabs of indigenous people while subjecting these indigenous groups in the USA to the largest genocide in history of indigenous people on the continent (we haven’t the space to fully synthesise all of Howard Zinn’s the History of the United States of America). After being dismayed at a lack of adequate teaching resources on the history of the USA, left-wing teacher Zinn wrote a handbook looking at people’s history in the country that has been widely read ever since.

The Senate is going to vote on his proposal to fund the wall, after having initially rejected $5.7 billion for some of the border wall in December. The President’s approval is at an all-time low at 34%. That money is money, to quote a poem Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal sampled on a song by hip hop artist Immortal Technique,  that is “money that will never be spent on; education, on healthcare, on the reconstruction of crumbling public housing or to train and to place the millions of workers who have lost manufacturing jobs in the past three years alone”.

January marks the nominations for the Oscars. This year, Spike Lee has been nominated for Best Director for ‘BlacKkKlansman’, a film set in the 1970s about a black cop who manages to trick the Grand Duke (allegedly rumoured to portray David Duke, former Duke of the Ku Klux Klan) of the white supremacist KKK into a friendship. What does the wall, Donald Trump and Spike Lee have in common? Trump’s often used term “America First” was actually a rallying slogan for the KKK in the early 1990s. David Duke was keen to articulate his position is supporting and voting Trump. Black feminist author bell hooks writes lots on the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy as a concept to describe the lived experience of people of colour: if this wall is built, it is literally an embodied metaphor of the ongoing colonisation of our world. Let’s see what happens.