The Wall: Monument to American Stubbornness

Jan. 4, 2019

As the partial government shutdown enters its third week, politicians on both sides of the aisle continue the stalemate over the wall, America’s first built structure to cause the government to come to a grinding halt.

As the partial government shutdown hit the two-week mark, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, that “We’re not doing the wall. Does anybody have any doubt that we’re not doing the wall?”

In response, Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News after Pelosi’s statement that, “I think the president’s made it very clear: no wall, no deal.”

Since the budget and appropriations process was enacted in 1976, there have been 22 gaps in funding, 10 of which included furloughing government workers. The 2018-2019 shutdown marks the first time that employees have been without work over the funding for building a structure.

(Photo: Border Patrol vehicle patrolling along the fence of the international border between San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico. Credit: Sherry V. Smith)

The President’s Promise

“The wall” is a theoretical structure measuring up to 550 miles long across the southern border of the U.S. It would block access to the United States along what President Trump sees as vulnerable territory to and from Mexico.

[Another serious topic: The Terrifying Resurfacing of Asbestos]

It was a cornerstone of the president’s campaign promises. (Note: The border between the U.S. and Mexico is nearly 2,000 miles long, although the president recently stated that much of that is mountainous terrain or separated by the Rio Grande, and therefore only 550 miles of wall would be needed.)

Never before has a built structure been the topic of such controversy that parts of society literally come to a halt due to a government shutdown.

Although Trump made statements that much of the wall is in need of repair rather than replacement, he said that “115 miles worth of wall” were “given out” in Texas for construction beginning in January.

He added that “we’ve [already] built a lot of new wall” in remarks on Christmas morning during a teleconference with members of the military. The government, he said, will continue to be shuttered until budget agreements include $5.6 billion for the border wall.

The pay of nearly a third of federal employees is impacted.

What Has Already Happened with the Wall

In February 2017, the Department of Homeland Security issued an official presolicitation giving architects and engineers 14 days to submit concepts. Six companies won the bid to create eight prototypes: four made of concrete and four made of “other materials.” (Two of the companies were allowed to design for both.)

  • Fisher Sand & Gravel Co, Tempe, AZ
  • KWR Construction Inc., Sierra Vista, AZ
  • Texas Sterling Construction Co., Houston, AX
  • Caddell Construction Co., Montgomery, AL (submitted for both)
  • ELTA North America, Annapolis Junction, MD
  • W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Co., Philadelphia, MS (submitted for both)

Wall designs needed to fulfill the following:

  • At least 18 feet tall, but 30 feet is considered ideal.
  • Designs should include anti-climbing features that obstruct climbing aids.
  • Exposed fixtures need to be on the U.S. side to prohibit tampering.
  • The U.S. side should be visually appealing, taking into consideration color, texture and the surrounding environment.
  • It should not be possible for any person to make a hold larger than a foot in diameter in under an hour using hand-held tools.
  • The design must be cost effective to construct, maintain and repair.
  • Accommodate Border Patrol pedestrian and vehicle-sliding gates.
  • No one should be able to tunnel from below for at least 6 feet.
  • Must accommodate surface drainage and also be constructible on slopes of up to 45 percent.

The prototypes have been constructed across from Tijuana, Mexico and were unveiled in October 2018.

[Related: Keep and Bear Puts “The Wall” in Children’s Hands]

While the debate rages on in Congress on whether or not to provide the additional $5.6 billion needed, supporters of the wall have started a GoFundMe fundraiser, with $18,896,717 donated by 312,477 people within 18 days. An impressive amount, but a far cry from the $1 billion goal.

A Congressional bill introduced by Rep. Warren Davidson, R-OH, on Nov. 30, 2018, would allow for the public donation of funds to the border between the U.S. and Mexico. It has yet to move beyond introduction.

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The Wall Has Become a Monument Instead of Merely a Barrier

At this point, the mythos of the wall is larger than the wall itself. As Rich Lowry points out in his op-ed for the National Review, obstructions already exist along the border that were agreed upon by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the past.

In fact, the president’s proposal would mean either repairing or creating obstructions along places where the current barrier is failing or vulnerable spots where a barrier doesn’t currently exist.

If the wall is ever constructed, we suggest it come with a plaque: The Monument of 21st Century American Pride and Stubbornness.

But the legend of the wall has been built up to extravagant proportions with many Americans – on both sides of the argument – misunderstanding that the final result will not be a single behemoth scaling across the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico 2,000-mile border.

Before it is even built, it has become a monument in a 21st century catch-22.

Monuments have each come across their own controversy, which has never been more obvious than in recent years as monuments come down around the U.S. Even one of the most well-designed monuments, the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., designed by Maya Lin, has run up against arguments.

[More Trump coverage: American Workforce Skills Shortage]

But it is the arguments for and against the wall that give it historical importance, marking it as a monument to American society and politics in the 21st century. Borders have been constructed before without note, but the more controversy that continues to surround the wall, the more it is secured as a monument in today’s culture.

Never before has a built structure been the topic of such controversy that parts of society literally come to a halt due to a government shutdown. Never before has construction in America been the focal point of philosophical debates over the ethics.

If it’s built, even the wall won’t be able to live up to its own legacy. It will be diminutive across stretches of desert and will most likely be met with grumblings of “That’s it?” in the future rather than awe and wonder. As designers know, 30 feet tall is nothing to write home about.

Before it is even built, it has become a monument in a 21st century catch-22.

It is the mythos of the wall that is threatening to continue the shutdown. For a country that works in the trillions, $5 billion is nothing. But on both sides of the aisle, it’s become the hill to die upon, dragging hundreds of thousands of livelihoods along with it as well as the shuttering of civil services.

For the first time in American history, a built structure has brought the government to a stalemate.

If the wall is ever constructed, we suggest it come with a plaque: The Monument of 21st Century American Pride and Stubbornness.

[From The Wall - Interactive Map Exploring the U.S.-Mexico Border]

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About the Author

Kadie Yale | Former Architecture & Design Expert

Kadie Yale holds a BA in Industrial Design from San Francisco State University and MA in Decorative Art History and Theory from Parsons the New School.

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