My Turn/Blanchette: Day by day, our freedom as Americans seems to fade away


Published: 2/19/2017 4:40:45 PM

Whenever I hear President Trump talking about “the wall,” my first thought goes to an image of the Berlin Wall with barbed wire and graffiti, gun towers on the East Berlin side, and the cry of President Ronald Reagan, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Is this really who we’ve become? Now that we have a president who seems serious about building such a wall on our border with Mexico. Discussions on news programs go to the cost (and how Mexico will not pay for it) or how other methods of border control would be less expensive, more practical, or how the money would be better spent on upgrading our infrastructure. None of which addresses the fundamental issue of our nation as an open society — one that is welcoming to the world.

Obviously, we want to protect ourselves from criminals and terrorists entering the country but as far as I know, our border with Mexico has not been a major entry point for terrorists. For the most part, those coming across our southern border are people seeking work and a better life. The 9/11 terrorists flew in on commercial airlines and were given entry with visas from Saudi Arabia. Lots of drugs come over the Mexican border, and criminals involved in the drug trade, but weapons going into Mexico from the United States is frequently cited as the bigger issue. Over the years, we have increased security on both the Mexican and Canadian borders. If anything, the issue of the wall has grown out of an attempt by some in Congress to put off immigration reform, which at one time everyone seemed to want. Somehow, once Obama got elected, the obstructionist Republican Congress decided to demand better border security before they approved any changes in our immigration laws. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump called Mexicans “murderers and rapists…” That got him a lot of criticism but also a lot of support. It rang as truth to a lot of fearful people. As campaign rhetoric, it worked.

Now comes reality. In addition to discussions of the complexity of building such a wall, the cost, the effect on commerce in the border towns, there should be a discussion about what we as Americans think of adopting policies that resemble foreign countries who have shut their borders to the world. A few come to mind: China, North Korea, the Soviet Union. Is this who we think we should emulate? Do we really want to close our borders, become fearful and isolated from the world? If you don’t think that’s the direction in which we’re heading, consider other “democratic” nations that are moving in authoritarian directions. Listen to the news and you will find leaders in nations around the world fighting to stay in power after elections they’ve lost.

Turkey’s President Erdogan was beginning to move towards a more democratic, secular nation but since a coup last fall he has begun jailing and executing his political opponents. Could an American president declare a state of emergency and start arresting his opponents? One thinks not but President Trump did talk about arresting Hillary Clinton during the campaign. Are we crazy to think he is capable of going down this road? Would the American people support such behavior? I guess I think it depends on how scared they are.

I would like to remind people that after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, New York City was not full of National Guardsmen deployed throughout Manhattan and the boroughs. There was additional security downtown around the smoldering remains of the World Trade Center, but that was mostly to protect those working at ground zero and whoever might wander into a very dangerous place. The city emptied out in the days after the attacks and it felt strangely quiet but restaurants were open, people went about their business for the most part although I would say many businesses closed for several days out of fear and sorrow. Once everyone felt that the danger had passed, life went more or less back to normal even if those of us who lived there didn’t feel normal. Posters of “missing” people lined the walls in Grand Central. A candlelight vigil filled the plaza at Union Square. American flags hung outside buildings large and small to honor the dead. The people followed their hearts and did what they felt inclined to do to mark this extraordinary attack on our city but the world kept turning and after a while, new college students filled the streets, businesses opened their doors, coffee shops went back to serving coffee and bagels in the morning and life continued.

President George W. Bush said the terrorists attacked us because “they hate our freedom,” and wanted to take our freedom away. I can’t help feeling they are succeeding as we do it to ourselves. Terrorist threats move us more and more in a direction of limiting the freedom of people in this nation to freely move and work and associate with whoever they wish. No matter what our constitution says, unless the people of this nation are vigilant, those freedoms could one day be gone.

Ellen Blanchette lives in Greenfield.


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