It increasingly appears that the raucous chants of “Build the wall! Build the wall!” will remain empty words. As political, logistical, and even geological realities array against him, Donald Trump’s promised border wall between Mexico and America looks destined to be added to the scrapheap of broken promises and outright lies that is already defining the Trump administration’s legacy (and we’re only 100 days in!). “Build the wall!” has essentially become “Let’s build the wall… eventually?”
Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 23, 2017
As the mark of his first one hundred days in office approached, Trump decided to talk tough on the border wall — just as he has on health care and the Muslim ban. While Trump fretted about his first hundred days, a more meaningful milestone approached: the date to get a budget done and avoid a government shutdown. Early last week, Trump thought this meant it would be a good time for an ultimatum: either Congress would allocate $1.4 billion for the wall or Trump would shut down the government or withhold ACA funding. As has been the case over and over the last few months, Congress didn’t take the bait and instead came to a bipartisan agreement to continue funding the government through September. Once again, Trump’s tough talk failed.
But almost immediately after Trump made his empty threats, various White House minions attempted to reinforce his words while simultaneously hedged for when they inevitably fail to materialize. Last Tuesday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested that funding for the wall may have to wait six more months. A reporter called this, “a delay,” to which Spicer replied with his noted loquaciousness, “No, I didn’t — no, no, no, no. I never — no one said delayed. No, no.” Kellyanne Conway attempted to reassure Trump’s supporters, saying, “We’ll have those enhancements for border security and then moving on to funding and building the wall later on.” Homeland Security Secretary Kelly said parts of the wall might ultimately just be fence — aka a “see-through wall.”
The reality is that while Trump’s base remains excited about the border wall, this was never something that the majority of Americans really wanted, and something the political establishment on both sides of the aisle never took seriously. No matter how badly his base wants it, the wall will likely never come to be. Not only is public opinion is at odds with the project, so is pretty much every logistical consideration. Building the wall would require taking land away from Native American tribes and ranchers through eminent domain. It would require overcoming massive geological challenges. To overcome the realities of property rights and rock formations, the price tag has been set between $2 and $21 billion. This is particularly difficult to swallow considering many members of the Freedom Caucus got elected on a promise of fiscal responsibility. Since Republicans control Congress and the executive branch, the consequences of a border wall would be solely their own, potentially swinging upcoming congressional elections on one needless issue. More experienced Republican politicians clearly recognize these realities. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) called the wall a “metaphor,” and you have to wonder if the Trump administration is far behind.
Political reality is finally starting to come home to roost for President Trump. Though last week’s shifted plans for the wall have been some of the funniest blusters by the administration yet, the hurdles to getting the wall built are new to this administration. Before his inauguration, Donald Trump was already starting the process of walking back his biggest campaign promise. On January 5th, fifteen days before he was sworn in, he added “later” to his rhetoric that Mexico would pay for the wall. On January 11th, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto reiterated that Mexico will not be paying for the wall. Later that month, Sean Spicer suggested that America would pay for the wall with a 20 percent tax on goods coming in from Mexico. You don’t have to be an economist to know that this isn’t Mexico paying for the wall; it would be us paying for the wall when we purchase Mexican goods. Spicer quickly walked this back, calling it one of a “buffet of options” on the table. Early in February, fiscal hawks and moderate Republicans united in opposition to the wall. Mere days later, a leaked study from the Department of Homeland Security estimated the cost of the wall at over $21 billion. On April 4th, Republicans announced that money for the wall would not be included in the upcoming spending bill which set up the most recent comedy of errors.
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Following the saga of the border wall has been one of the few comforts for anti-Trumpers during this nightmare administration. Trump’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach (followed up with half-hearted retractions and utter failures) has been a source of constant entertainment, or at least it would be if the stakes weren’t so scary and abhorrent. It is certain that we haven’t heard the last of the wall, but with each short-sighted attempt by Trump to get it built, and each dismal failure, the prospects of a physical barrier being built along the Rio Grande become slimmer. After all of The Donald’s huffing and puffing, it looks like border wall may never be more than an idea, even if that idea was powerful enough to slide Trump into the White House.