Sarah Kendzior is a St. Louis-based commentator who writes about politics, the economy and media.
There is a wall being built in America, one brick at a time. It is not the wall between Mexico and the U.S. that has been the cornerstone promise of Donald Trump's campaign. This wall is being built in suburban Atlanta by a group called Bikers 4 Trump.
For $49.50, anyone can buy a brick engraved with their name on it to honour the GOP nominee. According to the bikers, Sammy Hagar and Scott Baio have bought bricks (and received a free Lock Her Up sticker with their purchases.)
The bikers, who claim to be a grassroots group, call their project the Memorial Border Wall. It is unclear what it the wall memorializes. Mr. Trump's presidential aspirations? The GOP's dignity? The actual wall bordering Mexico, which Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto announced will not be built or bought?
Yesterday Mr. Trump travelled to Mexico City at the invitation of Mr. Nieto to discuss security issues and ostensibly make amends for a year-long campaign of slurs and lies. Among them were Mr. Trump's portrayal of Mexicans as rapists and criminals, his insistence that a Mexican-American judge was unfit to preside over a lawsuit against Trump University because of his ethnicity, and his threat to mass deport Mexicans living in the U.S. illegally.
In recent months, Mr. Trump walked the latter promise back, then forward, then back, then forward, as he does.
Standing at the podium aside Mr. Nieto, Mr. Trump recited his policy speech like a fifth-grader reading a book report written by his mother. He stared subdued at his scripted words: the antithesis of the Donald Trump known for screaming "Build a wall!"
As a result of his ability to read a piece of paper without, say, feuding with a baby or a veteran, Mr. Trump was labelled "presidential" by U.S. pundits suffering from either rock-bottom expectations or collective amnesia.
His presidential moment was short-lived. After claiming he and Mr. Nieto had not discussed the wall, Mr. Nieto announced they had indeed discussed it and Mexico would not be paying for it.
Perhaps Scott Baio and Sammy Hagar can chip in.
The proposed Mexican wall is fantastical. It is as fantastical as the wall being built in Atlanta, a wall that guards nothing but the sanctity of bigotry. The Trump fans, endlessly mocking political correctness, are building themselves a safe space. Their safe space is a shrine – to Mr. Trump, to audacity, to doing things because one can, not because it serves the public good. Such is the Trump campaign.
The wall was never truly about Mexico, but it was always about borders. His antipathy toward Mexicans – and Muslims, and blacks, and other minorities – was aimed at capturing the allegiance of whites. His campaign was born this way, and it thrived this way, until he became too erratic and vulgar. His support stagnated, then fell.
Now he is attempting to appease the groups he insulted – visiting Mexico, reaching out to blacks – but his message still targets white voters. He needs to reassure them he is not a bigot so they can reassure themselves they are not either.
Mr. Trump followed up his Mexico excursion with a rally speech in Arizona. Surrounded by cheering fans, he reverted to form: energetic and paranoid, portraying the divide between the U.S. and Mexico as a divide between safety and danger. Any illegal immigrant who committed a crime stood in for all illegal immigrants. When not murdering "good Americans," they were leeching off the system, stealing resources and jobs.
Early in his speech, Mr. Trump bemoaned the "illegal flow of drugs, cash, guns and people." In his world view, objects are the same as human beings: dangerous and disposable, so long as they come from Mexico.
He spoke of "compassion for Americans," but the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans he insulted merited none. His rage in Arizona stood in stark contrast to his meekness earlier in the day. Confronted with the humanity of his enemy in Mexico, he faltered; surrounded by adoration, he struck from afar.
Whenever Mr. Trump uttered the phrase "open borders," the Arizona crowd booed in response. It is not the border they find objectionable, but its openness. For that is the deepest threat to Trump, the one that may defeat him: openness of hearts and minds.