The wrong wall

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

After signing executive orders regarding trade, abortion and Obamacare, President Trump has begun addressing the issue that propelled him to the presidency: illegal immigration. Specifically, he wants that wall on the border with Mexico built, and he still wants Mexico to pay for it.

Enforcing the border is a core responsibility of government. But is this the right kind of wall?

This is 2017. Everything about our lives that can move from the physical to the digital is doing so. You can deposit a check with your cell phone. The U.S. Postal Service is going broke because we’re all texting and emailing.

Walmart, king of retail, is focusing much of its efforts on online sales. Many products can be bought online and shipped to your doorstep, for free. In many cities in Arkansas, you can order groceries online and then have them brought to you in the parking lot, again for no extra cost.

This is happening because Amazon sells goods that way, and Walmart must compete. Just as Walmart started with one store in Rogers and then took over the country, Amazon started by selling books and now sells everything to everybody. Like Walmart, it’s constantly innovating. The latest news is that it’s been awarded a patent for a giant blimp that would dispatch package-carrying drones to households like bees buzzing from a hive. Meanwhile, the company is opening physical stores, including one that doesn’t have cashiers. Customers with smartphones just place their item in their physical cart, and it automatically registers in their virtual one.

Walmart has seen this script before. It knows that Amazon can do to it what Walmart did to Kmart and Sears. In business, you can be on top, and then you can be gone, and it can happen very quickly. Walmart doesn’t want Bentonville to be the next Detroit.

But bricks and mortar aren’t simply being replaced with the digital world. They’re supplementing each other in constantly changing ways. Walmart is meshing its online sales with its physical locations. Amazon, the digital company, is opening physical locations.

And that brings us back to the wall. The border between the United States and Mexico is about 2,000 miles long, and 700 miles are already fenced with a barrier that snakes across the frontier and through cities.

So what do you with that remaining 1,300 miles when you share it with a neighbor whose past and future are inseparably linked with yours?

If your only goal is to keep people out, then a physical wall is better than no wall. True, resourceful people will find a way over it, under it or through it. A ladder is an extremely effective tool for climbing things. But not everyone is so resourceful.

But building that wall would be extremely expensive – $15 billion is one estimate, and of course it would have to be maintained and guarded.

Moreover, this wall – along with Trump’s vow to make Mexico pay for it – does not exactly represent diplomacy at its highest. It’s kind of a slap in the face to the entire Western Hemisphere. So it’s not surprising that, on Thursday, Mexico’s president cancelled a meeting with Trump.

Keep in mind that Walmart isn’t going digital just because it’s more efficient. It’s also doing it because it must look like a 21st century company to younger generations, lest it become Sears or Kmart.

Branding is as important for countries as it is for companies. A 2,000-mile barrier between the United States and everything to the south sends a truly awful signal about what the United States is becoming. This is, after all, the country whose Statue of Liberty faces the open water and is inscribed with Emma Lazarus’ poem, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” I’d rather be known for that than a wall.

We’d be better off following Walmart’s and Amazon’s lead and mixing both the physical and the virtual, by innovating and being flexible. Along with the wall that already stands, and maybe some more, make greater use of drones and satellites and other technology along with a mobile and flexible border patrol force that’s allowed to do its job. Since we apparently must argue, let’s argue about the degree to which the model reflects Walmart (more physical) or Amazon (more virtual). Also part of the strategy: Don’t bully your neighbor.

Let’s not be Kmart. This is, after all, the era of smartphones. The country doesn’t need just a tough border policy, but a smart one.

Related: Out of the shadows

3 thoughts on “The wrong wall

  1. Excellent thinking!
    BTW, I wish I-49 would be completed between Texarkana and Fort Smith rather than wasting money on a border wall.

  2. We are being led by a 5-year-old child who knows only how to bully and insult people. Those who don’t worship him are his enemies. He’s the kind of leader who arises in times of hyper nationalism, hyper partisanship, and xenophobia. In times such as these wall building is much preferred to diplomacy, mutual cooperation, and friendship.

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