Ever since Donald Trump glided down the escalator at Trump Tower (with Melania two steps above him) to declare himself a candidate for president, we’ve been hearing a lot about a wall.
Trump told us, over and over again, that his top priority was to build a wall on the 1,900-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico. He told us the Mexicans would pay for it. And he told us it would be beautiful, because he knows how to build stuff.
Trump ran into his first problem, wall-wise, during his first week in office. He had a rather heated phone chat with the Mexican president. President Enrique Pena Nieto told Trump that Mexico would not provide a single peso to pay for Trump’s border wall. After he hung up, Nieto announced he was canceling a visit to the White House that had been scheduled for the following week.
Did Trump jump on Air Force One, fly down to Mexico City and beat up the president of Mexico? No, he flew down to Mar-a-Lago, played a round or two of golf and ate the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake anyone has ever seen.
No problem, Trump told us. He’d just tell Congress to fund the wall—which, depending on who you listen to, will cost between $20 billion and $70 billion—and get the Mexicans to reimburse us later. He ordered his budget director to demand the inclusion of a $1.4-billion appropriation for the wall work in the spending bill Congress needed to pass by April 28 to avoid a government shutdown.
As the April budget deadline, which coincided with Trump’s 100th day in office, approached, The Wall Street Journal revealed the results of a survey it had conducted of lawmakers in Congress from the U.S. states that border Mexico. In a rare moment of bipartisan consensus, the survey results were nearly unanimous. Republicans and Democrats alike gave the same answer, which we’ll paraphrase here because we can’t resist old movie references:
“Wall? We don’t need no stinking wall!”
If Trump had bothered to visit the border states, or at least talked to their representatives in Washington, he would have discovered that a lot of people—including people running businesses, farms and state governments—in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California are quite content with the status quo.
The strength of the Mexican economy has reduced illegal immigration into the U.S. by Mexicans to a trickle. The 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (more about that later) has tripled exports from our border states into Mexico. New Mexico and Texas have established successful bi-national economic development zones that span the border between sister cities and spread the wealth. [NM Gov. Susana Martinez has publicly said she’d like to “erase the border.”]
Goods, crops, parts and finished equipment are flowing back and forth across the border between the U.S. and its third-largest global trading partner to the South (about $600 billion in trade per year); communities that sit on the border have turned themselves into thriving logistics hubs.
Let’s all say it together: “We don’t need no stinking wall!”
Congress postponed a vote on its trillion-dollar spending bill (which funds the government until the end of September, which also is the end of the federal fiscal year) for a week so it wouldn’t embarrass the success-starved 45th president before his 100th day in office. About 30 seconds after Trump hit the century mark for days as president, Congress approved a budget that completely ignored almost every budget request made by the Trump Administration, with the exception of a $21-billion increase in Defense spending.
Here’s how much Congress allocated for the president’s top priority (hint: it’s a big wall): Zero. Nada. Zilch. Not a single penny.
Trump responded to this vigorous slap in the face by publicly revealing his informed (by Steve Bannon) opinion that Andrew Jackson would have prevented the Civil War had he been in office in 1860 (Jackson died in 1845). A huge portrait of Jackson adorns the Oval Office wall over Trump’s desk, which has one framed photograph on it — a portrait of Trump’s dad, Fred. Andy and Fred go together like peanut butter and jelly. Old Hickory, a slaveholder who violently confined Native Americans to reservations, and Fred, who wouldn’t rent his apartments to black people, no doubt are in agreement in their little corner of purgatory that it wasn’t worth a war to get rid of slavery.
At the same time Trump was getting humiliated by Congress over the budget, the president was forced to admit that another top priority (and top campaign promise) on his agenda was just, well, a fantasy.
On the eve of his 100th day in office, Trump publicly tried to stoke the fiction that he was about to sign an Executive Order pulling the United States out of NAFTA. What followed were urgent phone calls from the prime minister of Canada, the president of Mexico, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Agriculture Sec. Sonny Purdue explained to the president that a prime global customer for American produce is Mexico, generating tens of billions of dollars for U.S. farmers and meat producers in a dozen states, many of which tilted for Trump in the election; this bounty includes $18-billion worth of yellow corn we shipped to Mexico in 2016.
It probably was Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross who reminded the president that the U.S. government subsidizes corn farmers so they overproduce, which enables the government to convert corn into another lucrative, highly subsidized program, the production of ethanol. This is just a guess, but we suspect Ross segued into these factoids by telling Trump that the jumbo diet coke the president was slurping throughout the call was sweetened with subsidized high-fructose corn syrup. Visual aids are important for a president who brags about how little he reads.
But the last-minute drama over NAFTA was just a charade. Two weeks earlier, the Trump Administration sent a letter to Congress announcing its intention to renegotiate (but not pull out of) NAFTA. The letter lists several concessions the U.S. will request from its NAFTA trading partners, including new rules on digital trade, service industries, environmental and labor standards.
If these concessions sound familiar, they are: Mexico and Canada agreed to every one of them when they signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the beginning of last year. The TPP was a new free trade deal with a dozen nations, including Mexico and Canada, initiated by the U.S. to head off China’s rising hegemony in the Pacific Rim.
On his third day in office, Trump signed an Executive Order pulling the U.S. out of the TPP. Ronald Reagan’s portrait, downgraded to the wall in the White House cafeteria, grimaced.
Will President Trump's wall on the U.S. border with Mexico ever get built?