This piece took ten years to place. I first drafted some of the arguments found in my new piece, Trumpworld, in 2006 while I was working at The Washington Post.
Then, as now, political chatter centered on border security issues, an “invasion” via the U.S. Mexico border. Politicians and the press considered the function of the border simply in terms of the migratory path, a weakness in our national armor. Lost was any consideration of the border’s function within U.S. politics and culture. The perspective was firmly outward rather than reflective and the 2006 piece was never published. Ten years later, this election season has created an opportunity for such needed reflection about our national narratives, the definition of heroes and enemies.
The rise of Donald Trump was made possible because of familiar rhetoric about the border that it is far from unique or new.
The aging sheriff surveys the frontier lands where the dead bodies have turned up, some eight or nine by one count. The enemy roaming the border has become more ruthless, more vicious. It’s a new kind of war. “I ain’t sure we’ve seen these people before,” he tells a rattled young deputy. “Their kind.”
The scene from Cormac McCarthy’s bestselling novel No Country for Old Men found a real-world parallel this election season when Donald Trump described an immigrant threat, its size and scope unknown. “We have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out,” he said during the final presidential debate.
In Trumpworld, I explain the nexus of frontier myth, border rhetoric and the existing Trumpworld.
In border tales, real and imagined, any man willing to confront a perceived threat is imbued with virtue, his flaws easily overlooked for the sake of our collective safety. By casting himself as the hero on the border, Trump has largely escaped political backlash from Republicans. After all, his violent messaging is safely wrapped in terms like “legal” and “foreign,” which stoke racist undertones while skirting the nation’s black/white racial paradigm.
Trumpworld is all around us–in our press, our popular culture, in the demeaning statements made by politicians from local government to Washington. And it will not disappear after the election.
Therein lies the frightening likelihood that, regardless of the election outcome, the longstanding cultural paradigm that predates Trump will persist after him, unexamined and unchecked even as it shapes public perceptions of heroes and political change.
You can find the essay here: Trumpworld.