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CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Trump gets his wall, but it’s not the one he asked for

A waiter serves customers sitting at a terrace bar in Tarragona, Spain, in early May. The European Union announced Tuesday that it will reopen its borders to travelers from 14 countries, but most Americans have been refused entry for at least another two weeks because of soaring coronavirus infections in the United States.
A waiter serves customers sitting at a terrace bar in Tarragona, Spain, in early May. The European Union announced Tuesday that it will reopen its borders to travelers from 14 countries, but most Americans have been refused entry for at least another two weeks because of soaring coronavirus infections in the United States.Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press/file

We have a president who isn’t shy about touting his accomplishments, no matter how insignificant or misbegotten. So why has Donald Trump been so silent on his latest and greatest victory. He has fulfilled one of the most important promises of his 2016 campaign, and there’s been nary a whisper about it from the Oval Office. Not even talk of a military parade.

One of the most popular chants at Trump rallies during his 2016 campaign was “Build that wall!” That rallying cry referred to the construction of a multibillion dollar wall on the border of the United States and Mexico. The wall isn’t finished, nor is Mexico paying for it. But Trump’s other wall, the one that he has successfully and unintentionally built, doesn’t come with a price tag. It comes with a death toll.

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America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a scattershot model of how not to handle a crisis, and as a result, the European Union is putting the breaks on leisure travelers from the United States. According to The New York Times, the EU has compiled a list of 15 safe countries whose citizens will be allowed to enter the continent beginning July 1. The United States, along with Russia, Brazil, and India, did not make the cut.

Here is Trump’s new wall, only it’s invisible and it’s now surrounding and restricting us. It’s protecting others from us. As coronavirus numbers in the United States surge and spike, will any country be interested in hosting US tourists this summer? Perhaps US travelers will be treated the way that Chinese and Asian travelers were treated here during the early days of the pandemic. Trump seems to be longing to bring those racist incidents back into vogue by insidiously calling coronavirus the Kung Flu. Could it be that people will stop eating at McDonald’s around the world, the way that Americans avoided eating in Chinatowns across the country?

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Canada and the United States mutually agreed to close its border months ago — yet another wall — but Canada definitely got the better end of the deal. Instead of 130,000 COVID deaths, they’ve had 8,600.

The European tourism industry is reeling, but instead of rushing to open, it’s looking at safety over money. This is what a proper response to a pandemic looks like. By strictly locking down much of the continent when hospitals were full and mortuaries could no longer keep up, European countries were able to contain the virus much more effectively than the United States was.

Meanwhile in America, protesters were arming themselves and complaining to lawmakers that their freedom was being violated when they were asked to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus and keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. This behavior was encouraged by the president. Suddenly the “we’re in this together” slogans felt hollow. Many states opened too early, social distancing measures were lax, and Trump appeared to be more focused on ratings than delivering strong, serious leadership. There has been no national response and, as a result, COVID wildfires are now racing through the South and West.

This is where Trump’s wall becomes even more complicated, because it also intricately snakes throughout the 50 states. When consortiums of governors, or individual governors, start restricting visitors from other states, we’re putting up more walls. Rhode Island was the most aggressive about this by stopping cars with out-of-state plates at its borders. It’s domestic xenophobia, and it’s rapidly becoming the norm.

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But even before COVID-19 arrived, the United States was looking less appealing to foreign vacationers. In 2019, more than a dozen counties posted warnings about traveling here, primarily because of mass shootings. Japan warned residents that the United States is a “gun society” and Uruguay’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs cited “indiscriminate possession of firearms by the population” as a reason to be cautious.

The tourism industry, which was already losing millions before COVID-19, referred to the past three years as the Trump Slump. Inbound tourism was slipping, with many attributing the phenomenon to gun violence, and the general sense that tourists felt unwelcome here after the travel bans that the president hastily put into place within weeks of taking office.

Now the tables have turned. We’re the ones being banned and the EU is protecting itself from caravans of US tourists this summer. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. COVID aside, Trump has threatened to pull funding from the World Health Organization and NATO. International cooperation is not a strong suit of this administration.

So here we sit. Behind these new, expanding and unwelcome walls. And strangely, all I can hear are the words of another Republican president who once said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” It’s phrase that needs to be adapted to the 21st century. “Mr. Trump, tear down this wall!”

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Christopher Muther can be reached at christopher.muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.