“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”

The lines above open Robert Frost’s 1914 poem, “Mending Wall.” It was set in New Hampshire, but it could just as well have been Maine. Or Mexico.

In Maine, one is judged not by wealth, job or university education but by whether one is a good neighbor.

Maine people construct fences only to keep children, dogs and other pets, or farm animals safe from straying. Solid fences are never more than waist-high to provide views and open space.

Should a high fence suddenly appear between two neighbors, it quickly becomes known as a “spite fence,” a divisive symbol of unresolved conflict between the two neighbors.

Throughout the world, fences signal both failure to compromise and repression. Walls around prisons are a necessary evil. And walls around estates suggest fear from surrounding neighbors, or contempt.

The wall many of us remember most vividly is the Berlin Wall, emblematic of a failed political system. President Reagan became an instant worldwide celebrity standing next to that wall and demanding, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

That the United States should consider constructing a wall along the border with neighboring Mexico, suggests a failure within our government to adequately manage our public challenges.

President Trump wants to spend $5 billion for a wall along the Mexico border. Beyond the fact that estimates put the price of such a barrier well above $5 billion, the very notion is as pointless as it is antiquated. The wall strategy went out of fashion 500 years ago when the Great Wall of China was overrun by Mongols and northern tribesmen.

The country needs and deserves leadership from both major political parties on issues, not posturing and gamesmanship. History remembers only those who tear walls down, not those who build them.

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