Monday, February 15, 2016

A Poem for Donald: Mending Wall by Robert Frost

by Nomad

Donald Trump's answer to America's immigration problem is to build a wall at the Sothern border. It may not be quite as easy or effective solution.
Trump's grand plan to cure immigration woes calls to mind a poem by Robert Frost.

The Great Wall of Trump
Republican candidate Donald Trump doesn't like to go into too many of the mundane details of his future policies as president.
Rather surprisingly, his supporters don't seem to mind too much. They just like to hear him speak and it appears the more unrealistic and offensive he is, the more they fawn over him.

One of the ideas he has proposed is the building of a wall on the Southern border to stem the flow of illegal migrants, from Mexico, Central, and South America.
Mark my words, Mr. Trump told his cheering crowds:
"I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I'll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border.  
These are the same types that actually believed Reagan would cut government spending, that read George H.W. Bush's lips about no new taxes, and roared when George W. promised to hunt Bin Laden down, come hell or high water.
Until he lost interest. 

There are so many other practical reasons for not taking Trump's wall idea seriously. Most importantly, it's truly a dumb idea logistically.
The U.S. border with Mexico, as CNBC pointed out, is roughly 2,000 miles long and underlines four states from California to Texas.
That's a heck of a long distance. 

As bold as it might sound, this idea was already attempted and not such a long time ago. It was during the Bush administration with the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

At that time, like Trump, President Bush promised:
"This bill will help protect the American people. This bill will make our borders more secure. It is an important step toward immigration reform."
Almost immediately, however, there were problems with Bush's great idea.

Firstly, there were criticisms about the way the fence was being constructed even before the first stage was completed. A Wall Street Journal article called it "a hodge-podge of metal panels, wire mesh and steel posts."

Additionally, Bush's double fence turned out to much more problematic than any of George's geniuses had reckoned. 
It was easy to talk about a fence, and a popular idea at that time. The public loves it when complicated problems  are solved with simple solutions. However, it wasn't long before it became a fiasco.

Although Senator Obama voted for the Secure Fence Act, he expressed a lot of doubt in the project during the primaries. 
Even Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, went on record and declared it  "an inefficient use of taxpayer money" and the surveillance of the border could be done much more cheaply using technology rather than concrete and rebar.

The Secure Fence Act mandated an estimated at US$4.1 billion for the construction, but that turned out to more than the Border Patrol's annual budget of $3.55 billion. Congress could not justify any further spending after the initial $1.2 billion was exhausted. It was ultimately unfinished. Now Trump not only wants to complete the project but to expand the size of the walls, no matter how much it will cost. 

Trump says he's got that licked too. He will somehow force Mexico to pay for the construction project. Mexico has so far laughed and politely declined to comment much. That's Spanish for "it ain't going to happen."
The Washington Post looked into the estimated costs for a hypothetical 1,954-mile wall with 20-foot walls. and came up with a figure much higher than the $8 billion price-tag Trump has given.

Exactly how much? you might ask, The experts are stumped but they all agree that the actual cost would skyrocket well beyond Trump’s conservative estimate.

To it gently the idea is not practical. It is not cost-effective and it is probably not even possible. 
There's one thing it is, however: it's a dumb idea that was tried and failed. And undiscerning voters just love to bits.

To Please the Yelping Dogs
In honor of Trump's Wall, I offer a little poetry. 

I don't suppose a person like Donald Trump has much time for poetry. And I rather doubt poetry would move him to reflection or shift his views every much. He's not the type.
However, when it came to his proposal to build a wall I immediately thought of a famous Robert Frost poem, Mending Walls.

You'd think that Frost's style, both frugal and straight-forward, would appeal to a busy man like Trump. His mind wouldn't be troubled by all of the "thee's and "thou's" and indigestible frilly phrases you find in earlier poets like Longfellow, Wadsworth and Byron. 

Frost is a Spartan when it comes to words, each one chosen with care.
This poem, like most of Frost's work, is set in rural New England, a snippet of a storyline. Two landowners come together to walk the borders of their property and rebuild the stone wall between their two farms. The narrator questions the necessity of rebuilding a physical dividing line "where it is we do not need the wall."
The neighbor, a man of few words and fewer ideas, simply keeps repeating, (as his father did before him), "Good fences make good neighbors."

Here's the poem, read by Robert Frost himself.

If you wish to read the poem line by line, here you go.

Mending Wall

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time, we find them there.

I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours."

It always shocks me when I hear this last line quoted and attributed to Frost. Good fences make good neighbors. Actually, the poem is a rebuttal- or at least, a challenge- to that idea, especially when there's no need for the fence.
As one analysis of the poem observes:
What impresses itself upon the poet is that, for whatever reasons, men continue to need marked boundaries, even when they find it difficult to justify their existence.
In typical Frost fashion, he seems to refer to a stone age mentality ("like an old-stone savage") which belongs to people who love pointless walls.

When Reagan came to Berlin on June 12, 1987 and called on Gorbachev to "tear down this wall" he was undoubtedly rejecting that same backward notion.
Walls may serve to keep people out, that's true but walls are also the chief component to prisons. 

Trump's absurd proposal to build a wall ("just another kind of outdoor game") recalls the sage advice:

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.

*   *   * 
What has the poetry of Frost really got to do with Donald Trump's dumb ideas? I agree that it might seem like a strange mashup, poetry against the vulgarity of Trump-styled politicking.

To answer that I turn to a speech- one of his best speeches too- by then President Kennedy who memorialized the late Robert Frost on October 26, 1963. (And in less than a month, Kennedy himself would follow the ancient poet too.) 

To the graduating class of Amherst College, President Kennedy observed that Robert Frost saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself. 
When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.
So perhaps poetry isn't really such a bad way to respond to men like Trump after all. 
In this campaign, we seem awfully short of touchstones or even basic truths.