Maybe the question should be, did they ever care about the wall? President Donald Trump certainly doesn’t seem invested anymore in the idea of a towering, unbroken, concrete barrier along the border with Mexico.
Amid a free-flowing discussion with reporters aboard Air Force One today, the president mused about his favorite subject. But quite unlike the defiant Trump who was apt to respond to even the hint of skepticism about his project’s feasibility with a pledge to add an additional ten feet to its already fantastical height, Trump seemed resigned to a far more diminutive project.
“One of the things with the wall is you need transparency,” Trump said. “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.” The president illustrated what he meant by speculating about a hypothetical in which a drug smuggler heaves a 60-pound sack of narcotics over the wall, hitting an unsuspecting border patrolman on the head and killing him. “As cray as that sounds,” Trump said (yes, “cray,” according to the transcript), “you need transparency through that wall.”
To unpack that a bit, the notion that anyone could heave anything over a barrier suggests that this barrier is at least slightly smaller than 30 feet—the height Department of Homeland Security officials indicated would be included in solicitations to contractors. “The wall design shall be physically imposing in height,” read the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s solicitation. Apparently not so imposing, though, that anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves on the wrong end of a giant bag of heroin would be injured.
Also, the technical term for a “steel wall with openings” is “fence.”
“We’re seriously looking at a solar wall,” the president continued. “And remember, 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.” This part is especially rich. On the campaign trail, the mere suggestion that natural features along the Southern border precluded the construction of a contiguous wall was met with incredulity by both the president and his supporters. Indeed, Trump signed an executive order in January specifically ruling out a non-contiguous barrier. “‘Wall’ shall mean a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier,” the order read. Not anymore.
The notion that the entire, government-funded project will be adorned with solar panels—a feature that will subsidize the solar panel-fabrication industry—would surely have generated howls of disapproval from the right had Barack Obama been that idea’s author.
If Trump’s dream of a big, beautiful, non-contiguous fence of unexceptional height does eventually materialize, it won’t be this year. On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee unveiled a bill to fund the government’s priorities in the fiscal year 2018 that would secure the $1.6 billion the administration requested for wall-related costs. That’s a pittance of the $13.8 billion allocated to customs and border protection. Most of those funds are dedicated to hiring new border patrol agents, adding sensors and aircraft, and other “non-intrusive inspection equipment.” A summary of the bill’s language said that at least some of the wall’s $1.6 billion will be dedicated to “bollards and levee improvements.” Don’t even ask about whether or not Mexico will reimburse America for the thing’s construction.
If Trump and his core supporters don’t seem to care that the wall has been airbrushed out of the president’s ambitious first year agenda, there are some devoted Trump fans who have held the president to his promises.
“Anyone in a Southwestern state who strolls to the border & drops a brick will have done more to build the wall than @realDonaldTrump,” tweeted Ann Coulter in June. She had previously written a column savaging the president for refusing to risk a government shutdown in order to secure from Congress the billions necessary to build the mammoth border he once fondly described.
Perhaps writing a book entitled In Trump We Trust was shortsighted, but you have to give Coulter credit. The rest of Trump’s coterie of flatterers seems happy to pretend that the president’s talk of a “great wall of Trump” was all a crazy dream.