The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s border wall is now a monument to his failure

(Evan Vucci/AP)

Donald Trump has failed at many things since becoming president, but none may be more glaring than his failure to build the wall he promised across the entirety of our southern border.

From the outset it was an idea both stupid and malign, but he was committed to it. Yet again and again, he tried to obtain funding for it, only to find that even many Republicans in Congress weren’t interested. He even shut down the government to get it, but failed then, too.

Until this February, when he declared a farcical “national emergency” as a way of circumventing the Constitution, which says that the executive branch may spend money only on things Congress has authorized. The administration will be taking funds from the military budget and using it to build 175 miles of new fencing and barriers at various points along the border.

First, let’s look at what the administration decided to take money from. You can read the entire list of 127 projects here, but here are some of the programs being raided:

  • Repairs and upgrades to infrastructure and training facilities on military bases in 23 states
  • Funds for the Fort Campbell Middle School in Kentucky, the Joint Base Andrews Child Development Center in Maryland, and the Ambulatory Care Center at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, all of which serve service members and their families
  • A fire/crash rescue station at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida
  • Small-arms fire ranges on bases in Indiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Wisconsin
  • 10 upgrade projects to military bases in Puerto Rico
  • 8 upgrade projects to a military base in Guam
  • Upgrades and maintenance on U.S. bases in 19 foreign countries
  • A series of projects in allied countries near Russia, including a special operations training center in Estonia and upgrades to bases in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia

As The Post’s James Hohmann notes, local media in some of those 23 states are already featuring stories about the funds the states are losing and what the consequences will be, suggesting that there will be political fallout for the president and his party from this decision.

Liberals and conservatives share basic common values, but leaders like Donald Trump use fear to exploit their differences for political gain. (Video: The Washington Post)

That’s not to mention the fact that it’s all for something that isn’t popular and never has been: Polls consistently show about 6 in 10 Americans oppose the building of a border wall.

Trump’s most ardent supporters are, of course, in the other 4 in 10. But let’s consider what the border wall meant when he sold it to them back in 2016 and what it means today.

The idea of building a wall on the southern border began as an idea some of Trump’s aides had, as a way of reminding their undisciplined candidate to talk about immigration, since it was simple for him to understand and appealing to him as a builder. But when he began talking about it at rallies, the rapturous response from his supporters convinced him that it should be the emotional centerpiece of his campaign.

Before long, he added the idea that Mexico would pay for the wall, using it in a gleeful call-and-response during those rallies. “Who’s going to pay for it?” he’d ask, and the crowd would shout, “Mexico!”

It was never about the money, of course. It was a way of saying to people who felt that the world had left them behind: Make me president, and we’ll stand tall again. I will give you back the feeling of potency that you’ve lost. The point of making Mexico pay was not that we’d save a few billion dollars but that we’d dominate them, humiliate them, and in so doing regain the status people felt we had lost. We’d make them losers, and we’d be winners.

But Trump couldn’t do it. Mexico isn’t paying — instead, U.S. taxpayers are, and we’re doing it by taking money away from military bases and service members’ kids. There is no “big, beautiful wall” stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

This is part of a broader failure of Trump’s on immigration that I’ve discussed before: For all of the venom he spews, all the children ripped from their parents’ arms, all the efforts to make it harder for nonwhite people to come to the United States, he hasn’t delivered what he really promised. The United States has no fewer immigrants now than it did before he was elected. His supporters are no less likely to experience the trauma of being in line at the supermarket and hearing someone speak Spanish. America has not been Made Great Again, in the way they wanted it to be.

So as we embark on the 2020 presidential campaign, what does Trump’s wall represent? Does it, as he had hoped, represent power and manliness, a country reasserting control of its destiny, getting rid of all the no-good foreigners and keeping the rest of them out?

Hardly. The wall barely exists, and accomplishes none of what he promised. It’s a monument to Trump’s failure: his rancid appeals to xenophobia and racism, his grandiose dishonesty and his incompetence.

When he runs in 2020 saying, “I told you I’d build the wall, and I did” (which he will), his supporters will applaud, but not so loud this time. And the rest of the electorate will feel nothing but contempt.

Read more:

Paul Waldman: Trump’s ultimate immigration failure

Greg Sargent: Behind Trump’s craziness, there’s always corruption. Here’s the latest.

The Post’s View: Trump has no trouble gutting the law to build his wall

Jennifer Rubin: Trump’s stack of broken promises is growing