There’s a fence going up at the White House today, aiming to keep protesters at bay on Election Night and beyond. Every news report has quoted the presidential press office, calling it “non-scalable,” and it’s similar to the barrier erected in June after protests thundered through American cities. It’s also known as an “anti-climb” fence, made from a welded wire mesh that’s so tightly woven it’s impossible to get a foothold — and very difficult to cut. In summer, the fence quickly became a stunning crowdsourced public art installation, threaded with calls for justice. It will not be easy to get as close on Election Day.
For decades now, the Secret Service has called for a wider and wider security belt around the White House. The most visible change was in 1995, when Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the building was permanently closed to traffic, not long after the Oklahoma City truck bombing. In the Obama years, a fence redesign was announced in the Times with an almost lighthearted tone — “Wanted at the White House: A Fence That Says Halt! (With Curb Appeal)” — but by the time his successor was in office, the national mood had changed. Around the White House now, there are two wrought-iron fences, one at the perimeter and one at the sidewalk. There are crowd-control barriers made from arched black steel. There are monolithic white panels that look like cheap kitchen cabinets from Home Depot with neoclassical panel molding. There are white concrete traffic barriers to match. In a photo from July, the fences alternate, black and white, layers of further insulation from reality.
Fences have become the signature motif of the Trump presidency — a flimsy border wall that does little and Mexico most definitely has not paid for, chain-link cages for children, haphazard barriers around public buildings made from concrete blocks and topped with loops of razor wire, the array of defenses surrounding Trump Tower. After four years of trying to keep people out, his defensible space has grown smaller and smaller, a contracting web of non-scalable wire mesh, and Trump barricading himself inside with a deadly virus and (tomorrow night, for the East Room Election Night bash) hundreds of his closest friends and followers. He has, truly, locked himself up.