Lessons From the Past: From the Berlin Wall to Trump’s Mexico Wall

Lessons From the Past: From the Berlin Wall to Trump’s Mexico Wall

1989 called - they want their wall back.

On November 9th 1989, Berliners woke up in a city divided starkly and inhumanely by a wall. By midnight that night, it was gone. Although neither the wall nor the political system which upheld it disappeared overnight, the sheer will and unity of the people shown that night turned the historical tide and ensured that what happened in those few hours was irreversible. Berlin and East and West Germany were unified again just under one year later.

On November 9th 2016, 27 years later, Americans woke up to an election result with the potential to be almost equally as divisive. President Trump is a man whose controversial designs spare almost no minority group. He has proposed, and subsequently attempted, to bar an entire religious group from entering America. His healthcare plans will, if successful, greatly reduce the number of Americans covered against illness whilst ensuring the fines created under Obama’s 2009 Act be paid to private insurance companies rather than the state, effectively reversing previous steps towards state-provided healthcare, an area in which America is already remarkably underdeveloped. Trump has faced multiple allegations of misogyny after he has, among other things, openly referred to women as “pigs”. And, most blatantly divisive of all: the Mexico border wall.

The Berlin Wall began as an immigration wall. It differed to Trump’s in that it was built to keep people in, not out. Yet in its 28-year lifetime it claimed at least 80 lives and grew to become a symbol of oppression and division across the world. But, in contrast to the election of Trump, the people of East Germany did not have the privilege of voting for Walter Ulbricht. It was not built with popular consent; it was barely even built with Russian consent. The Berlin Wall was the brainchild-come-true of one despotic megalomaniac.

It is not always helpful to draw parallels in history, and one should not exaggerate the similarities between Cold-War Berlin and the US election results. However, we study history for a reason. Immigration is a problem that deserves consideration, and borders have their place. But Trump’s Mexican wall deserves focus not because of its details, but because of what it represents. Unlike the East Germans, Americans do have the privilege of voting. Ulbricbht expertly engineered his wall to appear suddenly one morning without warning, but this division is not a surprise. This division is calculated, planned and publicised, and what it represents goes far beyond an issue of immigration. America has openly and deliberately voted for a candidate of controversy, segregation and disparity.

Honecker predicted in January 1989 that the Berlin Wall would still be standing in “50, even 100 years”. By December, it was gone. Young people voted largely democrat in this election, and Hillary Clinton did vastly win the popular vote. Hope for electoral college reform and a voting system that more accurately reflects the true will of the American people should not be lost for the future. But equally, we need to start learning history’s lessons. We might not always get a second chance.

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