Behind the phenomenon of separation is an attitude of superiority that involves the repudiation of those considered to be “poorer.”
It’s increasingly clear that Donald Trump’s outbursts go beyond campaign slogans. This man − a white multimillionaire who’s now president of the United States, with the monopoly on the use of force at the global level − is taking at face value the idea that he’s the most powerful man in the world. And he seems willing to do whatever it takes to “make America great again,” whatever that means, even if it involves bringing about the destruction of the world. This was made clear just a little while ago when he dropped what’s been nicknamed “the mother of all bombs” on a region of the world that for many years has been subject to the constant bombing of an endless war. This latest bombing came as part of United States’ national security doctrine of protecting “them” (the Americans) against the threat of “the rest.”
Following the same logic, Trump has promised to build − on the continent with the most rampant inequality in the world − a border wall between the United States and Latin America. He talks of "a big, beautiful, and powerful wall”: something that, in the bombastic style of American political rhetoric, could be called "the father of all walls." The new president of the United States has called the wall the most important tool in defending his country’s national security. Whenever it was mentioned at his dramatic campaign rallies, it unleashed such ecstasy that it led to the improbable sight of Trump and his fans wildly chanting together: “Build that wall! Build that wall!” The wall is the ultimate division between “them” and “the rest.”
As shocking as Trump’s plan may seem, in our Latin America of inequality, we adopted that “American way of walls” a long time ago. In this region we have built, and continue to build every day, many kinds of walls that separate and divide our societies. Historical borders that divide sister communities trying to protect themselves from one another. Legal borders inside these countries that separate foreigners from citizens. Social divisions that apparently, as can be seen from the stagnation of consumerism, create the illusion that we’re divided according to what we understand to be our social standing. Physical walls that divide societies with the excuse of protecting the haves from the have-nots.
Behind all this separation is an attitude of superiority that involves the repudiation of those we consider to be “poorer” than “the rest.” Adela Cortina has called this attitude “aporophobia,” meaning “the aversion to poor people.” In unequal, broken, segregated and distrustful societies like those in Latin America, aporophobia translates into a compulsive quest for separation. The richest 10 percent of the population builds walls to separate themselves from the remaining 90 percent, the next-richest 10 percent separate themselves from the 80 percent, the next-richest group from the 70 percent and so on, until we end up surrounded by walls symbolically, legally, socially, economically and physically. The 104 million Latin Americans who live in shantytowns where their human rights are put in jeopardy on a daily basis, all as a result of social exclusion, constitute the most dramatic manifestation of this phenomenon.
Now in the United States they’re promising, in line with that same phenomenon, to build the “father of all walls”: the ultimate division that will make all our internal walls in Latin America look small by comparison. Faced with this situation, we can take one of two paths. On the one hand, we can give in to the temptation to keep replicating the “American way of walls.” We can take the inclination toward division and separation to a new level, building new walls that continue to divide some of us from others, between and within countries, races, genders, and social classes. We can end up shouting, “Build that wall!” (yes, probably in English), every time we manage to establish new kinds of exclusion, going down a path of social anarchy until we reach the point of no return. Or we could realize that we need to come up with new ways to live together that involve overcoming segregation and inequality, creating unity from diversity, sharing spaces instead of isolating ourselves, and building fewer walls and more bridges. We could turn societies centered upon privilege into societies centered upon human rights.
Though it may seem paradoxical, Trump’s wall could be an opportunity to overcome inequality at the regional level, if we start by doing away with the artificial differences that separate the large majority of us Latin Americans. We are currently separated by superficial divisions that stop us from seeing that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. Overcoming those divisions could be the start to building new values regarding community life and the common good. It could create new hope, turning the people whom the United States regards as “others” into a unified “us.” An “us” that would be "Made in Latin America" from the ground up. An “us” that would have the strength to go about tearing down the walls of Latin American inequality and which, who knows, might end up tearing down “the father of all walls” as well.