The present settler colonial imperative: Judy Rohrer, ‘Imperial Dis-ease: Trump’s Border Wall, Obama’s Sea Wall, and Settler Colonial Failure’, American Quarterly, 74, 3, 2022, pp. 737-763


Abstract: Developing a fuller understanding of US imperialism requires engagement with settler colonial and Indigenous studies. I expand Amy Kaplan’s analysis of US empire as “riddled with instability, ambiguity and disorder” to consider how settler colonialism is fortified via walls. Walls stake settler claims and scale from individual property (home) to national borders (homeland). Examining Donald Trump’s US-Mexico border wall and a sea wall in front of beachfront property Barack Obama has purchased in Hawai’i reveals the inherent instability and impermanence of settler colonialism, and thus this particular form of imperialism. That instability manifests in three ways: (1) settler colonial anxious, repetitive insistence on its dominion, its claims, especially via the law and physical intervention; (2) the multiple ways human and other-than-human actors resist the walls, refuse capture/containment, call out the fiction/myth of the border and sea wall’s power to divide; and (3) the way “once and future ghosts” haunt settler claims, unsettle territorial and temporal assertions of possession/domination/belonging. Based on this finding and analysis drawn from Indigenous and settler colonial studies, I argue that settler colonialism, and thus US imperialism, ultimately fails because of its inherent unsustainability and the myriad of ways it is resisted. What succeeds instead is Indigenous resilience and radical resurgence.

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