A fencing trend appears to be gaining momentum across the nation following the U.S. Capitol protest earlier this month. Only days ago, the Acting Capitol Police Chief called for permanent barriers to be set up at the national Capitol building. However, such moves are not isolated to the Swamp. Go west almost 5,000 miles to the Hawaii State Capitol, and visitors will be treated to a brand spanking new chain link fence surrounding one of the most beautiful sites in the Aloha state. Could we be witnessing the fencing out of America?
Prior to the January 20 inauguration ceremony, the FBI issued a nationwide warning of potential violence to state capital officials. Hawaiian legislators took it to heart, despite no credible threats to the Hawaiian Capitol Complex. Now residents and tourists have the privilege of staring at a big, ugly barrier – and it looks like it is here to stay.
In Hawaiian, the word “aloha” can mean hello and good-bye – quite fitting for the new barriers erected in front of the famed statue of Father Damien that stands in the plaza of the Hawaiian capitol building. As one longtime Aloha resident put it, the fencing is “not a pretty sight.” Back in the Swamp, a “non-scalable” fence was added to the White House perimeter just before election day. Lest one think that barriers and fences at U.S. government buildings are unprecedented, think again.
Circa 1801, President Thomas Jefferson requested a “wooden post and rail fence” to be placed around the White House. According to the White House Historical Association, Jefferson erected what was commonly known at the time as “ha-ha” walls around the presidential residence. A “ha-ha” wall sinks into the ground to permit an “uninterrupted view of the landscape” – perhaps a nod by the great architect to keep the White House from taking on the look of a prison.
However, Mr. Jefferson’s enclosure was only the first of many White House barriers ordered by numerous presidents. Ulysses S. Grant added iron fencing. Grover Cleveland closed the South grounds. On the cusp of World War I, Woodrow Wilson closed all the grounds surrounding the residence, and FDR approved a plan that would “restrict public access to the grounds” once and for all.
When the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon were bombed, 3-foot thick concrete barricades went up at the White House. Following the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, President Clinton closed Pennsylvania Avenue to all vehicular traffic. Then, post 9-11, the famed Jersey barriers were installed, and shortly thereafter, even passersby could not approach the official residence of the United States president.
It appears that no matter the political stripe, everyone agrees that walls are effective at keeping people out. There is one exception, of course.
When it comes to the U.S.-Mexico border, fences are, well, offensive. In one of his first executive orders, Joe Biden ordered all border wall construction to cease. Under the Trump administration, it is estimated that 450 miles of the wall between the U.S. and its neighbor to the south were built. On Thursday, January 28, it was reported that the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) suspended all construction on the southern border in compliance with the new directive.
If there is a concern that a border wall will give America an unwelcoming look, why is it that this same concept does not translate to citizens within the country? In a current political climate permeated by fear, it is more than likely millions of dollars will be spent to erect a permanent barricade surrounding the U.S. Capitol. If appearances matter – and they do – knee-jerk reactions to domestic and foreign events will mean the land of the free will have the look and feel of a communist country. Perhaps, legislators should open discussions with the Chinese. They know a lot about building walls.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.