The Southern border is anything you want it to be. If you’re Erica Grieder, it’s a waterway (where the Rio Grande is the border, that is) that Texans have a historical and apparently ecological right to access. If you’re a libertarian NeverTrump’er, it’s a delusional fantasy to build any structure, and all of that should be forgotten about. If you’re an angry pro-immigration activist, it’s an oppressive barrier to the free movement of your constituency, illegals. If you’re a progressive policy wonk, the border is a mere transition space that responds to the mix of economic incentives and cultural push and pull that affect the flows of people across it. If you’re a employer in industries like hospitality or fast food or construction, it’s the gateway to lower labor costs. And if you’re a drug dealer, it represents the frontier between areas of production and consuming markets.

Of course, if you believe that a border demarcates the limits of the sovereign territory of the United States of America, then it should be a controlled and secure frontier where the American government and it’s agents determine who enters and leaves. And how. Which is what borders have tended to mean around the globe, until the specifics of illegal migration into America over the past few decades grabbed the concept and dragged it into the realm of social policy. And the border became a metaphorical and even a real magnet for activists of all sorts to hang their radical goals on.

And many have gladly and glibly gone along with the ride, because they couldn’t stand the guy pointing out what a border should mean. But then Trump took the issue away from Ted Cruz, and then people really, really got righteous at the idea that a border means something legal and sovereign.

And so, for Donald Trump, here in late August, what does the border now mean?

Don’t ask Steve Bannon, he’s nowhere to be seen in these last few days. He’s likely more focused on Hillary and the Clinton Foundation scandals. Instead, it’s Kellyanne Conway and Mike Pence who are doing most of the message refining on the part of Trump, who has been pivoting just a little in the last area people expected him to pivot: immigration.

A speech is coming, perhaps not this Thursday, but within the next few days, but a speech on immigration is coming. What will Trump say? In the last week or so, what he says on immigration has depended in part on his audience: softer with Hispanics, harder with his standard audience.

So for now the border has become a high-wire balancing act for The Donald. With Law and Order on one side, and a vague promise not to implement mass deportations on the other. Immigration and trade have been two core issues for Trump and are vital concerns for much of his supporters. Can he find a way to justify pulling back on threatened deportations in a way that does not erode his credibility as the law and order candidate in the eyes of his most faithful followers? It’s true, with Hillary or give-them-all-a-hug Gary Johnson as the main options, they probably still see Trump as their best bet for achieving some sort of secure border.

In other words: can Trump be flexible on immigration without having the A-word hung around his neck? We’ll find out soon.

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