Build the wall — with words

Build the wall — with words
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On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan famously said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Many believe that this verbal challenge played a key part in setting in motion the Berlin Wall’s demise. Now, we may see President TrumpDonald TrumpJudge rules Alaska governor unlawfully fired lawyer who criticized Trump Giuliani led fake electors plot: CNN Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE’s desired wall along our border with Mexico become a reality because of words.

Democrats and Republicans recently maneuvered themselves into agreement on policy. Now, they need to find a face-saving way to get to resolution.  

Let’s review the situation and the route to success. The “wall” is one of the issues that are part of the deal to address the DACA (Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals) issue, the estimated 800,000 children brought into the United States by parents without legal status, illegally.


President Trump made the “big, beautiful wall” one of his signature campaign pledges, an image and commitment that resonated with his voters — while the discussion of a solid, several-thousand-mile barrier seemed insane to his opponents.

President Trump called it a “wall” deliberately. He didn’t call it a “fence,” which according to Merriam-Webster differs from a wall “in not having a solid foundation along its whole length.” It just sounds more flimsy. “A big, beautiful fence” doesn’t have the same impact, although they debated the difference at the Jan. 9 Cabinet meeting. Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDems block Cruz's Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill Overnight Defense & National Security — Differences remain between NATO, Russia Senate Democrats unveil bill sanctioning Russia over Ukraine MORE (D-N.J.) was quoted saying, “If you’re talking about replacing that fencing and strengthening it, maybe that’s possible,” language echoed by Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinEffort to overhaul archaic election law wins new momentum Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Manchin, Collins leading talks on overhauling election law, protecting election officials MORE (D-Ill.), who noted that they discussed “whether it really was a fence.”

The words created the opening for a resolution. Democrats endorsed additional “border security” and President Trump opined that a wall need not be a contiguous physical presence — smart, since it couldn’t possibly have a solid foundation anyway, given the mountainous areas and the fact that some of the border runs down the middle of the Rio Grande River, not to mention that much of the land along the border is in private hands whose owners will fight eminent domain to their last breaths.

So, now we have Democrats saying they favor increased border security but can’t stomach a “wall,” and the president saying it has to be a “wall.”  

Back to definitions: a fence is a structure that encloses an area. Synonyms include “barrier.” A wall also “encloses an area,” is also a synonym of “barrier,” and — here’s the key — “especially to protect” whatever is on one side. Isn’t that what border security is all about? Various homeowners’ organizations, as well as development regulations, define “barriers” as including physical components such as gates, fences and walls, but also ponds and other water components, as well as hedges and just expanses of land.

Current news reports reinforce the idea that lots of substances can be viewed as a wall. There can be a wall of water (potential collapse of California’s Oroville Dam) or a wall of wind (Florida University’s hurricane simulator) even a wall of words (see innumerable computer games where players overwhelm each other with words).

Technology has overtaken the definition of walls. A team at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab has built a detector that can see people through walls. Israeli company Vayyar has built sensors that use radio frequency signals to create 3D scans. A quick Google search provides articles such as one from, “Forget Building Walls, Technology is Tearing Them Down.” For the tech geeks, read about “telepresence robots,” and if you think avatar is a movie, learn that it is “the best of converging exponential technologies.”  

No surprise, border security already involves drones and will use more. Democrats such as Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut were quick to integrate drones into their talking points. Drones are everywhere, as are satellites. Even NPR’s Planet Money managed to get its own satellite, Pod-1. It only took them three shows to get it into orbit.

The obvious way to solve the issue — leave the definition to government bureaucrats. That’s what Congress does on so many other matters. Empower the appropriate departments to develop a strategy to “develop a barrier to protect and secure our borders” and let them pick the foot-by-foot, mile-by-mile methodology. In the directive or legislation, mention the words “wall” and “fence” interchangeably.

Did Robert Frost anticipate this debate when he wrote, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” and “good fences make good neighbors.” And yes, I know he actually didn’t mean what most people think when they read those words, but he was prescient in his description of walls and fences.

If Democrats really want to protect the legal status of DACA recipients, and Republicans want to fulfill the campaign promise of the wall, they’ll grab this opportunity to share a definition.

Merrie Spaeth, a Dallas communications consultant, was President Reagan’s director of media relations. Follow her on Twitter @SpaethCom.