Once upon a time, there was an emperor. He was emperor of the richest and most powerful country the world had ever known.
Now, before he was elected, the emperor had looked around his vast and varied land for an issue to run on. He decided it would be a good idea to tell people he was going to build a wall on the empire’s southern border.
He liked the idea because the empire was huge and the southern border was far away from everything, and no one who mattered really knew or cared what went on there one way or the other anyway.
For example, no one seemed to notice that previous emperors had already spent untold billions of the treasury building and maintaining a wall on the empire’s southern border. They had been building and maintaining walls, and tall, fence-like walls, for 30 years.
During this time people had complained about the cost of building, in another far-flung corner of the empire, a bridge to nowhere. But people did not complain about the cost of building a wall in the middle of nowhere, because the wall protected them from fears both real and imagined.
Every landlocked city and town on the southern border was already protected by 20-foot-tall walls that stretched for miles in both directions. In some areas, walls were built in double and triple layers. They were made of steel, iron and concrete, and a great deal of planning and effort had been put forth to make them impregnable, but not lethally so.
Much to the ire of locals who lost their land, walls had even been built on the empire’s side of a river that ran half the length of the frontier. Walls had been built over arroyos and along streambeds, where they frequently were washed away by storms and had to be rebuilt at taxpayer expense.
At nearly 700 miles in length, these walls — not to mention changing economic conditions and other forces — had already resulted in a steep reduction of would-be migrants at the border to a desperate few.
But no one noticed, because the empire was huge and the southern border was far away from everything.
“Build the wall! Build the wall!” people chanted at the emperor’s rallies.
Reporters went to the border and took pictures of the border wall stretching far off into the distance to illustrate stories about the proposed border wall.
No one who read the stories or saw the pictures seemed to notice the wall was already built.
The reporters went further, out into the places where the walls ended. There they found dangerous wilderness, and wrote stories about heinous criminals preying on people trying to gain safety in the empire. The walls and fences had forced people hoping to cross the border to risk their lives, and hundreds began dying of exposure every year.
Still no one noticed the wall was already built.
Saying it wasn’t needed, government officials in towns near the border passed resolutions against the wall. Some towns threatened to punish those who built the wall.
Even they didn’t seem to notice the wall was already built.
The emperor was elected, and vowed to keep his promise. He put out a request for proposals. Some ingenious designs came in, and money was awarded for prototypes. The sample walls were built next to an existing section of wall, which had already been built to the specifications of those in charge of wall-building on the empire’s southern border.
One day, the emperor’s chief sheriff came to the border, trailed by a gaggle of reporters. He stood in front of the wall and announced the wall would be built.
One of the reporters cried, “But there already is a wall!”
No one else said anything, because if the emperor’s chief sheriff did not see the wall, who were they to disagree?
At last the day came for the wall building to begin. The emperor led a giant parade to the border. Behind him marched thousands of trucks and bulldozers and excavators and cement mixers and construction workers and all the other things he would need to build the wall.
The emperor arrived on the border and stopped. He looked up. There, looming overhead and as far from side to side as the eye could see, was a wall.
“What’s this?” the emperor said.
His aides were flummoxed, since they had assumed he couldn’t see it.
“This wall!” roared the emperor. “What’s it doing here?”
There was a pause, until one brave soul muttered, “It’s been there for decades.”
“Why didn’t anyone tell me!?”
No one said anything.
“Well,” said the emperor, who was good at reframing things on the fly, “then today I am going to declare the wall officially built, and at a tremendously reduced cost to the taxpayers.”
A cheer rose up.
Then the emperor cunningly added, “And we will all go home and use the savings to create jobs building the biggest public transportation system, the best infrastructure, the most beautiful health care, education, and judicial systems the world has ever seen, and we will share our bounty with other nations, so no one will have to die here on our border anymore.”
So that’s what the people did. They lived happily ever after and, much to his surprise and delight, the emperor was reelected.