USA (Divided: Why We’re Living in an Age of Walls)

Sud Alogu
5 min readNov 27, 2023

In the second chapter of “Divided”, Marshall recounts how after the day after Donald Trump was elected President, conservative commentator Ann Coulter jokingly made a plan for his first 100 days in office, mainly about building a wall on the US-Mexico border. This plan was not taken seriously, as it was more for show and unlikely to happen.

Trump had promised to build this wall to stop illegal immigration. However, he faced problems like high costs, political opposition, and difficult terrain. His talk about building a big, beautiful wall was popular with his supporters but was not a practical basis for such a big project.

Soon after Trump’s election, Republican senators like Lindsey Graham changed their tone, suggesting that “wall” was just a metaphor for better border security. This change was to avoid political damage, even though Trump had described the wall in detail. Despite this, a funding bill signed by Trump included no money for the wall.

The wall, though not built, became a symbol of division in the US and of certain American values like defending culture and heritage. The idea of the wall resonated with some people’s desire to see action taken on immigration issues.

The book also discusses how the US has tried to unite people from diverse backgrounds under one nation. It mentions how the increasing Hispanic population in states like Texas might lead to changes, like Spanish becoming more prominent alongside English. This demographic change is causing concern among some Americans about the country’s identity.

Finally, the book covers the history of the US-Mexico border, including its establishment after the Mexican-American War and earlier disputes between the US and Spain over territories like Texas. This history shows the longstanding complexities of the border issue.

Most early American settlers in Mexican territory were Protestant and slave owners, conflicting with Mexico’s Catholic-only and anti-slavery policies. Despite Mexico trying to limit immigration, Americans kept arriving, outnumbering Mexican settlers ten to one by 1834. This led to Texas declaring independence in 1836 and later becoming a U.S. state in 1845, despite initial hesitations due to political and slavery issues.

The U.S. then expanded westward, leading to the Mexican-American War in 1846. By its end in 1848, the U.S. gained a large portion of Mexican territory. The U.S.-Mexico border, established after this war, was initially loosely monitored.

During Prohibition (1920–1933), the U.S. saw increased smuggling from Mexico, leading to the creation of the Border Patrol in 1924. As drug smuggling replaced alcohol smuggling, and migration for jobs increased, the U.S. began building more barriers. In the late 20th century, immigration policy fluctuated, with periods of stricter border control and amnesty programs.

Under President George W. Bush and later President Barack Obama, the U.S. significantly fortified its border, although these barriers were often ineffective in completely stopping illegal immigration. Obama’s policies combined increased deportations with attempts to integrate undocumented immigrants already in the U.S.

Despite efforts, barriers have been only partially effective in reducing illegal immigration, as economic opportunities in the U.S. continue to attract migrants. Additionally, many illegal immigrants enter legally but overstay their visas. Ironically, Mexico has stricter immigration laws than the U.S., often highlighted in political debates.

U.S. immigration policy has been influenced by terrorism concerns and President Trump’s tougher stance, including travel bans, a proposed border wall, and stricter deportation policies. However, there’s little evidence linking terrorism with illegal border crossings or refugees in the U.S. Most terrorists involved in U.S. incidents have been citizens or legal residents.

The effectiveness of physical barriers like walls in stopping illegal activities, such as drug and gun smuggling, is questionable. Economic cooperation and a thriving economy in Mexico might be more effective in reducing illegal immigration. Trump’s approach to immigration and trade reflects a broader trend of U.S. isolationism, which has historical precedents and consequences. The feasibility of building a border wall is complicated by legal, financial, and geographical challenges. The wall is symbolic of deeper national divisions, including racial demographics, with the growing Hispanic population reshaping the U.S. demographic landscape.

Anti-immigration rhetoric, especially against Latinos, has increased tensions in the U.S. President Trump’s negative portrayal of immigrants contributes to rising discrimination against Hispanics. Despite progress in racial equality, racism remains a significant issue. The racial divide is most evident between white and black Americans, rooted in the history of slavery. Black Americans generally face worse outcomes in health, wealth, education, and legal matters compared to whites.

This disparity starts from infancy, with higher infant mortality rates among blacks. Educational gaps appear early and persist, with black students facing more disciplinary actions and having less access to experienced teachers. Black Americans also face higher incarceration rates and are more likely to live in unsafe neighborhoods. These systemic issues contribute to a lower life expectancy for black Americans and fuel movements like Black Lives Matter. The root causes of these disparities are complex, but racism plays a significant role. Despite over 150 years since slavery’s abolition, there’s still much progress needed in addressing racial inequality in America.

The U.S. is religiously diverse, primarily Christian, with growing numbers of other faiths. This diversity challenges the nation’s melting pot ideal and fuels identity politics, leading to increased polarization. The 2016 election highlighted these divides, exemplified by Trump’s criticism of Muslim Gold Star parents, suggesting a narrow definition of American identity. Political divisions are deepening, with increasing ideological entrenchment and mutual contempt among Democrats and Republicans. This polarization has a geographical aspect, with Democrats concentrated in urban areas and Republicans in rural regions. The divide is often characterized as urban globalists versus non-urban nationalists, with mutual disdain and misunderstanding exacerbating national divisions.

Political activism in the U.S. has led to increased intolerance and violent rhetoric, especially online. This is evident in the shift from traditional TV news to polarizing cable channels and social media. Younger generations are increasingly intolerant of opposing views, challenging free speech ideals.

Extremism is also present in education, with radicalized students and professors creating a hostile intellectual environment. Incidents like the Evergreen State College controversy, where a professor faced backlash for opposing race-based policies, highlight this trend. Political polarization is reducing middle ground, with extremists on both sides promoting hatred. The 2017 Charlottesville violence and Trump’s response exemplify this division. Racial and political rifts are deepening, threatening the nation’s unity. Obama’s vision of unity contrasts with current divisive politics, emphasizing the need for a more inclusive approach to national identity and politics.