“The wall is going up, many miles a week. And we hope to have over 400, but maybe as much as 500 miles.”
— Trump, remarks in New York, Sept. 25
More than 200 times, President Trump has falsely claimed that his administration is building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. A barrier is being built on the southern border, but not the 30-foot-tall, concrete, 1,000-mile wall Trump promised in the 2016 campaign. Much of this barrier is simply replacement fencing.
This is the most repeated claim in The Fact Checker’s ongoing database of Trump’s false or misleading claims.
Trump has continuously moved the goal posts on the wall. After first promising to build a wall along the border, which is 2,000 miles long, he clarified he would build a 1,000-mile wall with natural barriers covering the rest. In September, he reduced that number to 500 miles by the end of 2020.
As of Sept. 19, Customs and Border Protection said there have been 66 miles of replacement barrier built.
Trump also pledged a concrete wall, but then switched to steel. So far, the new barrier has been built with steel bollards, which are hollow steel beams filled with concrete and rebar.
Despite an evolution in the promised wall, Trump’s rhetoric has stayed consistent. For months, he has tweeted images and video of the border wall to support a favorable but not fully accurate narrative. He misrepresents unaltered video — changing the details around the video to make it seem as if the initial wall he promised is being built now. The Washington Post created a guide to manipulated video to identify such misrepresentations.
George Lakoff, author, cognitive scientist and linguist, in 2018 offered a “taxonomy” to decode the ways in which Trump uses Twitter to change the national conversation.
He said Trump’s tweets about the wall fall into the preemptive framing category, meaning he is the first to frame public opinion on an important topic in the public discourse.
“He frames the issue first before anyone else can,” Lakoff said. “He’s basically saying, ‘I’m winning as much as someone can be winning at this point.’ The expression of ‘is being built’ assumes that there is a final state and that it’s on the inevitable path to that final state.”
A study in the scientific journal PLOS One carried out linguistic analysis of Trump’s major communicative styles on Twitter from May 2009 to February 2018, which included almost 22,000 posts. Isobelle Clarke, the co-researcher on the study, plotted several of Trump’s tweets showing images and video of the wall onto the dimensions from the study. She found that some of Trump’s tweets are associated with the “campaigning style.”
“These tweets draw an us-versus-them dichotomy (our country versus the Democrats), and such a strategy is common when campaigning, as one positively presents the self and negatively presents the other in order to win the vote,” Clarke said.
She also found that several of the tweets are “disengaged,” which means they don’t engage with other opinions and state things as “matters of fact, which the account often employs to deflect criticism.”
“By not engaging with other people’s critique, the account directs the attention to other things, often things that appeal to the electorate,” Clarke said. “The disengaged tweets are all emphasizing very categorically that progress is being made on the wall.”
Trump is using his reach on Twitter to promote his message on the border wall. Images and video can create a powerful effect online in convincing American voters of the wall’s progress. Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall probably will remain a significant focal point of the 2020 election. If history is any indication, he’ll tweet about it.
Watch our Fact Checker video above to learn more about how Trump misrepresents the border wall through the images and videos he posts.
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