Apparently, on the U.S.-Mexico border, sometimes you have to break the law in order to keep out lawbreakers.
On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security said that it would use its power to exempt itself from having to comply with environmental and other laws as it follows through with plans to build border walls and access roads south of San Diego.
This is par for the course for this administration. Whenever he repeats his fantastical campaign promise to build a “big, beautiful” barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border and make Mexico pay for it, President Trump illustrates that he is walled off from reality.
Big and beautiful ain’t cheap. Trump downplayed the cost of building a wall across nearly 2,000 miles of rugged frontier and insisted he could get the project done for between $10 billion and $20 billion. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told congressional Republicans that the cost would be more like $12 billion to $15 billion. The Department of Homeland Security has put the price at as much as $21.6 billion.
Recently, the House Appropriations Committee tried to pacify pro-wall zealots by approving funds to begin construction of a barrier. But lawmakers only provided the proverbial drop in the bucket: $1.6 billion.
In doing so, Congress did what the White House has refused to do: acknowledged that Mexico isn’t going to give one peso to pay for the wall, and that any funding will come from Congress.
That being the case, expect modifications. It’s likely that $21.6 billion will wind up closer to $2.16 billion. Nearly 2,000 miles will shrink to about 700 miles. And the continuous, 50-foot-high structure that many Trump supporters assumed—and were led to believe—would eventually take shape on the border will almost surely be reduced to a mixture of fencing and “virtual wall” electronic sensors.
Many of the Trumpistas will no doubt be disappointed. And that will be fun to watch, since it’s not like they weren’t warned that they were being conned and that—when it came to the wall—Trump was over-promising and would under-deliver. They just chose to ignore the warnings.
It’s time to call the Trump Wall what it is, and always has been: the president’s top domestic policy distraction.
“Russia probe? Don Jr.’s emails? Repealing Obamacare failed? Scaramucci ousted? Tax reform unlikely? Look there! What about the wall?!”
But you have to wonder how much of what Trump says about keeping out foreigners he believes and how much is said to please nativists.
Before there was Trump-the-Politician who pledged to keep out immigrants, there was Trump-the-Businessman who valued immigrant labor.
Trump-the-Politician did a masterful job of alienating Hispanics—especially Mexicans—by picking on them, making scapegoats for societal ills, and labeling their immigrant ancestors criminals and “rapists” and tagging as “bad hombres” the current wave of immigrants from Latin America.
But Trump-the-Businessman talked about how he would, as president, create jobs and “the Hispanics are going to get those jobs.” During a trip to Laredo, Texas, in July 2015, the candidate bragged: “I employ thousands and thousands of Hispanics. I love the people. They’re great workers.”
Trump-the-Politician promised to build a “big, beautiful wall” on the U.S.-Mexico border to keep out illegal immigrants and stop the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. In an August 2015 interview, Trump suggested that the wall he had in mind could be as tall as 50-feet-high.
But Trump-the-Businessman always left open a door, literally. At multiple times during the campaign—including during a Fox Business debate in Milwaukee in November 2015—Trump insisted that, under his immigration plan, many of the illegal immigrants who were deported “will come back” the right way and be eligible for permanent legal status in the United States. He even promised that his big, beautiful wall would have a “big, beautiful door” so people could re-enter legally.
Recently, aboard Air Force One, on the way to France, the president told reporters that, as he envisioned it, the border wall could be multi-purpose. On our way to saving the country from the invading brown hordes, why not also save the planet. “There is a chance that we can do a solar wall,” Trump said. “We have major companies looking at that. Look, there’s no better place for solar than the Mexico border—the southern border. And there is a very good chance we can do a solar wall, which would actually look good.”
Trump also wants a barrier that border patrol agents can see through, for their own safety.
“One of the things with the wall is you need transparency,” he said. “You have to be able to see through it. In other words, if you can’t see through that wall—so it could be a steel wall with openings, but you have to have openings because you have to see what’s on the other side of the wall.”
It’s an excellent point, even if Trump did have his own ludicrous way of making it.
“As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them—they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff?” he said. “It’s over. As crazy as that sounds, you need transparency through that wall.”
Most notably, Trump acknowledged that his “big beautiful wall” might not be so big, or so beautiful, after all.
“It’s a 2,000-mile border, but you don’t need 2,000 miles of wall because you have a lot of natural barriers,” he noted. “You have mountains. You have some rivers that are violent and vicious. You have some areas that are so far away that you don’t really have people crossing. So you don’t need that. But you’ll need anywhere from 700 to 900 miles.”
Maybe not even that much. Trump also wants to take credit for what others have already built.
“We have some wall that’s already up that we’re fixing,” he said. “You know, we’ve already started the wall because we’re fixing large portions of wall right now. We’re taking wall that was good but it’s in very bad shape, and we’re making it new… So in a true sense, we’ve already started the wall.”
A true sense? As if the P.T. Barnum of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. had any idea what’s “true.”
Welcome to Game of Trump. Here are the rules: Reality is overrated; a lie isn’t a lie if the pitchman believes it; and you mustn’t let the cold facts, or what you can see—or not see—with your own eyes get in the way of a good sales job.
Luckily for a White House that wants to convince supporters that a massive border wall is coming, there’s a sucker born every minute.