Jonah Goldberg

I'm torn between two symbolic arguments about the future of this country.

Symbolism matters in politics, a lot. That's why political leaders show their respects to certain creeds and faiths by showing up at churches, synagogues, mosques, ashrams, AIDS clinics, NASCAR races, bratwurst eating contests and the like. We build monuments and memorials for symbolic reasons. The fight over the confederate flag is a symbolic fight.

In short, I get it. Symbolism is important. But it ain't everthing. If desecrating the America flag is the only way to stop a guy from setting off a bomb, then hasta la vista, Old Glory.

And since were speaking Spanish, I guess I should get to my point. On the one hand, I hate the symbolism of building a wall along our southern border. It would be both literally and figuratively ugly. It would change the narrative of this country in a significant way and send a terrible signal to the world of a fortress America. I don't think that's the only rational interpretation of such a wall, but few can dispute that's how it would be received by the rest of the planet (and our own media).

On the other hand, I think the symbolic significance of what's going on now is destructive and has the potential to poison our politics for a long time to come. Even grade-school textbooks make it clear that a country is defined by its borders. People instinctively understand that a nation that can't control its borders is a nation that lacks the confidence and will to stand up for its principles. It creates a culture of lawlessness, breeds contempt for lawmakers, and activates some of the baser instincts of the public.

Critics charge that these base instincts - xenophobia, chauvinism, racism - are precisely what motivates people to call for a wall in the first place. I'm sure that's true for some, but not for everybody. Personally, I have no problem with legal immigration, even very high levels of it.

But my preferred immigration policy is to have one. When you don't enforce the laws, you are in fact saying that the laws don't matter. If this country wants 10 million legal immigrants a year, fine. Let's have 10 million. But not 10 million legals and 3 or 4 million illegals as well. No line jumpers. Period.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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