He was there that day to celebrate the completion of about 450 miles of barrier along the country’s nearly 2,000-mile southern border.
“It’s steel, it’s concrete inside the steel, and then it’s rebar, a lot of heavy rebar inside the concrete, and it’s as strong as you’re going to get and strong as you can have, but we gave you 100 percent of what you wanted, so now you have no excuses. I didn’t want you to have any excuses,” he said. “You set records, and we can’t let the next administration even think about taking it down, if you can believe that.”
It was a fitting final scene to the presidency of a man who will be remembered for building barriers. Between countries. Between political parties. Between relatives and friends and neighbors.
Whether you support Trump or despise him, the one thing everyone can agree on is this: He was divisive, in character and in action.
Nowhere is that clearer now than in the nation’s capital, where his presidency led to the creation of another wall — this time between Americans.
The seven-foot-high fence, which was erected around the Capitol after Trump supporters violently forced their way into the building on Jan. 6, was supposed to be a temporary security measure.
Washingtonians were supposed to, eventually, get their scenic landscape back. The people’s house was supposed to, eventually, be accessible again to the people.
And yet, that fence is still up. Still blocking views. Still dividing us.
On Tuesday, D.C. lawmakers called on congressional leaders to remove that fence. A letter, signed by every member of the D.C. Council, argues that “a hardened security perimeter topped with razor wire is the wrong solution for the failures that took place on January 6.”
The letter, addressed to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), describes the local lawmakers as writing on behalf of D.C. residents “who witnessed and experienced the trauma of the insurrection in person” and “the millions of Americans and visitors from abroad who travel annually to walk the grounds of the ‘People’s House,’ to stand in awe of the beauty of the Capitol dome, and experience its grandeur from all sides, up close.”
“Even as we fight for full representation in this very building, we recognize that public accessibility to it is essential,” the letter reads. “It facilitates the necessary closeness between the government and the governed that is fundamental to our democracy, and must be held in the highest regard as both a symbol of our republic and integral to our local community.”
The letter also points to a concerning practical reason that the fence should come down: It has created delays in getting emergency services to people who live and work in that area by forcing police, medical and fire response vehicles to use longer, less direct routes.
Emergency response times. Democracy. A lost view of grandeur. Those are all strong arguments for removing the fence.
But the most powerful one comes toward the end of the letter: “It was not the lack of a permanent fence or a hardened perimeter that led to the breach of the Capitol by armed insurrectionists.”
“It was overlooking or dismissing the widely known planning by extremist groups that took place out in the open in the months and days leading up to January 6,” the letter says, “and the failure of our nation’s intelligence apparatus to take seriously white supremacist violence, much of which has already been acknowledged in ongoing congressional oversight.”
Fences, walls, and metal detectors are simplistic security measures that allow law enforcement officials to do less, not more. They don’t require the hard work that is needed to actually address the problems that created the security concerns.
Consider a home that has an alarm system in a neighborhood where people are growing increasingly desperate. That alarm offers some protection. Making sure people aren’t desperate offers more.
That wall along the border may have seemed to Trump supporters an immigration solution, but in reality, it does little.
I grew up in Texas, where “la migra” was part of the vernacular, said as threats and the punchline of jokes; and the same issues that were driving people to cross the border without legal documentation then still exist. To truly address the country’ s immigration issues, we need to fix a flawed system that does not allow clear, timely paths to citizenship for people who want to legally contribute to our country — and, if allowed, might even return at times to their home countries to help improve the situations that force people to leave.
A fence around the Capitol may look like a towering symbol of safety. It’s not. It’s a reminder of how badly law enforcement officials failed on Jan. 6. and how much work they need to do to make people actually safe and not just give the appearance of safety.
Several years ago, I stood in a high school with metal detectors, interviewing students who had seen too much in their young lives to view those machines as offering protection. They had lost several classmates to violence, including one who was stabbed in the heart in a classroom.
They were teenagers, and they knew more was needed than a physical structure to keep them safe.
The D.C. Council is right — the fence needs to go.
The council is also far from alone in that cry. People have expressed outrage through social media and with yard signs.
The message on one of those signs begins by listing all that the fence has taken from the community: “GIVE BACK OUR Backyard, Playground, walking path, dog park, community, bicycling plaza, sledding zone, visitor pride, streets, library, national park, jogging path, gathering place, outdoor gym, star gazing, and CITY!”
It ends by calling on Congress to take action: “Take Down this Wall.”
Read more from Theresa Vargas: