It began with a con man running for president with a white resentment and grievance pitch. As the most dogged megaphone for the lie that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and a longtime practitioner of racial fearmongering (e.g., his demands for the death penalty for the Central Park Five), Trump figured he could get votes as easily as he got Trump University tuition checks by peddling a series of interconnected falsehoods: The border was out of control. Illegal immigrants were flooding into the United States, were stealing jobs and reducing wages for native-born, middle-class Americans, and were responsible for a massive crime wave. None of that was true, but neither was the birther story. (More Mexican immigrants were leaving the United States than entering; the Obama administration engaged in widespread interdiction, deporting record numbers of immigrants; immigrants didn’t steal jobs — as our low unemployment rate proves — and depress wages only by a small amount for those without high school degrees; and crime is still at historic lows.)
Then came the next lie, actually a mnemonic device, according to one of his campaign advisers. Trump told crowds during the 2016 election that he’d build a wall to keep out Mexicans — and get Mexico to pay for it. This was never feasible or cost-effective. Mexico was never going to pay for it. Such an undertaking would entail prolonged fights with land owners and require unprecedented exercise of eminent-domain powers. To boot, the wall idea failed to address the real issues — visa overstays and smuggling through ports of entry. Outside of Trump’s narrow base, the idea was never popular.
When he unexpectedly won, Trump had to figure out how to deliver on his promise. For two years, he did nothing. He deployed a canard as the midterm elections approached and then in the context of funding the government: Caravans of criminals, disease-carrying migrants and Middle Eastern terrorists (!) were charging the border. That they were hundreds of miles away and consisted in large part of families fleeing persecution and violence in Central America mattered not at all to Trump. After the humiliating midterm losses, the fake emergency was a way to rekindle and reinforce his relationship with the base.
Then came a hitch. Trump’s lie about the “emergency” at the border was eagerly consumed by the right-wing news hosts, who used that lie to whip up its audience. They bought it — or pretended they did. Trump was ready to take a deal with no wall to fund the government when Trump’s puppet masters Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter freaked out. They squawked about a clean funding bill, so Trump shut down the government, giving the impression (falsely, once more) that House Democrats would fold and besides, no one likes the government and all the workers are Democrats, right?
Wrong and wrong. Trump capitulated after 35 days and then snowed his base once more. He was “proud” to accept the deal, he said in a Rose Garden gathering set up under the pretense that he hadn’t lost. But he had.
Rather than admit defeat as negotiators neared a deal to avoid another shutdown, Trump trotted out two falsehoods: The wall was already being built, and he could move needed money around without Congress. (If so, why the shutdown? Don’t ask!)
In the end, Trump never got his wall. He was never going to get his wall. It was a con — what they call in the movie business a MacGuffin — to win and hold onto his low-information voters, the ones convinced that their and the country’s ills were caused by immigrants. It was only a matter of time before the flimsy tower of falsehoods came tumbling down.
Now Trump’s followers and apologists are left wondering: If he has lied about this, can we count on him for anything else? I hate to break it to them, but no. And, come to think of it, there’s no real accomplishment Trump can claim — other than a trade war and unpopular tax cut plan. One wonders when Trump’s voters will finally abandon him. They are likely tired of losing.