Fortifying the Mexican border has become central to Donald Trump’s election campaign, while Brexit has led to plans for a ‘great wall of Calais’. Why have walls taken on such symbolic power – and at what cost?

In August, Donald Trump went to Mexico to meet with President Peña Nieto. The question of why the Mexican leader set up this meeting baffled his few supporters and his many foes, but immediately after a supposedly cordial encounter at which Peña Nieto supposedly voiced Mexico’s concerns about Trump’s racism, the Republican candidate crossed the border to Arizona, where, within hours, he was repeating his tagline. To great applause, he declared: “We will build a great wall along the southern border, and Mexico will pay for the wall. One hundred percent.” Asked in another interview about other foreign visits he might make to inform his policies, he proudly said: “I’ve got no time to travel – America needs my attention now.” But can you pay attention to America while ignoring everywhere else? Except in the most literal sense, no country is an island.

Such provincialism is not exclusive to America. In May, two months before he was announced as the UK’s new foreign secretary, Boris Johnson won a prize for the best rude limerick written about Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He had previously referred to Barack Obama as a “part-Kenyan president”. This smug, ungenerous rudeness might play well to some audiences at home, but it bespeaks a frightening disregard for the psychic intimacy that statecraft ordinarily requires.

If every young adult were required to spend two weeks abroad, most of the world’s diplomatic problems might be solved

Travel is not merely a luxury or an educational strategy, but a moral imperative for those who have the means for it.

‘We argued in the language of war,’ Robert McNamara said to me. ‘Which I wrongly thought was a universal language.’

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