By Alex Watt
(Image Source: History in HD)
The now infamous signature slogan of Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign to ‘Build the Wall!’ bears little relevance to the current status of said border perimeter. Instead, the wall has now been modelled as a metaphorical, rather than a literal, construction.
For many commentators, it was always hard to see how Trump would ever be able to build a gargantuan fence across the border, and that it was more bait for anti-immigration voters than anything else. Thinktank Pew found that 82% of Republicans were in favour of the wall, along with 6% of Democrats, showing there is electoral impetus for pursuing the wall. Arguably, this sentiment was epitomised by a GoFundMe setup a year ago that has since raised over $25m for the wall, growing so large it spawned its own site; evidently, the anger on one side has faced staunch support on the other.
But the actual situation has thus far failed to match the political soundbites. Of course, ‘Build the wall!’ sounds far catchier than something along the lines of ‘Build a series of bureaucratic hurdles while additionally repairing current border defences!’. Trump has often been forced to compensate for lack of developments on the wall by tightening up other parts of the US immigration network, such as increasing the cost to become a US citizen significantly.
Trump has pledged to build 450 to 500 miles of new border wall by the end of next year, however so far only around 85 miles of fencing has been built, most of which has simply seen taller, steel bollards replace pre-existing fence. Essentially, there is a lot of building to do with little time left in his term to reach the target.
The wall has been a subject of frequent frustration for the President; progress stalled so much that in February he declared a national emergency on the Southern border, a move which pleased supporters but actively aggravated many others. Calls concerning a constitutional crisis rang out; the Democrats vowed to challenge the move and would utilise any Republicans also opposed to the move.
The declaration was also met with satirical lambasting. Saturday Night Live’s regular Trump caricaturist Alec Baldwin argued – in character – that because drugs and crime were supposedly coming through the Southern border, “That’s why we need wall. Because wall works. Wall makes safe.” Essentially, he argues the move was a blunt, ill-calculated means of achieving a blunt, ill-calculated end.
By elevating the issue of the wall to a national security issue, President Trump has ‘securitized’ the issue. In International Relations theory, the concept of ‘securitization’ was devised in the late 1990s by ‘Copenhagen School’ theorists Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver and Jaap de Wilde. Securitization is essentially the elevation of a particular political issue and/or concept to that of an existential threat, such as the ‘war on drugs’. Critically, the excessive politicization of an issue to that of a security threat is often intended to permit more extreme means, such as building a wall along an entire border.
The declaration was a defensive securitization, but evidently this simply escalated the controversy surrounding the rather reckless initial call to ‘build the wall’. The topic was previously an understandably controversial tenet of Trump’s aims in office, but with his decision to escalate the securitization of the matter, he has senselessly brought more heat onto himself.
The order came almost 10 months ago; surely, if it were legitimately a national security issue, then the wall would have been fast-tracked and forced past legislative and popular opposition. While progress has not been quite so swift, the administration has had some victories along the way. In July, the US Supreme Court approved Trump’s desire to use $2.5bn of Pentagon funds for the wall; a result Trump lauded, tweeting in signature style that the outcome was a ‘Big VICTORY on the Wall’ and a ‘Big WIN for Border Security and the Rule of Law’. Then, in September, US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper diverted $3.6bn of Pentagon fundingto help fund 175 miles of construction of a US-Mexico border wall. These contributions have helped to bring overall funding thus far to $9.8bn.
Even with this funding though, the President still faces a large task in building the wall. No real estimate has been agreed upon as to the cost of the wall, with proposed valuations ranging from anywhere between $8bn and $65bn, depending on the source. The funding’s direction further complicates the issue; Trump’s personal promotion of North-Dakota based Fisher Sand and Gravel for $400m funding to build border barriers along an Arizona wildlife refuge is a very recent source of intense controversy. Critically, Company CEO Tommy Fisher is a Republican-Party donor who has appeared on Fox News, prompting concerns from many regarding the President’s direct appealing in favour of the company.
Additionally, the $3.6bn from the Pentagon has put many vital military operations on hold; Puerto Rico, a US-territory, loses out on $400m despite still being in remission from the effects of Hurricane Maria two years ago. Legal challenges from environmentalists, such as the Sierra club, are further complicating matters. Unsurprisingly, each instance of progress for the wall is met with firm opposition and fresh challenges.
What is obvious from the evidence presented above is that the wall could be Trump’s great fall, should he fail to pass it through. Even if he does manage to make substantial progress with the wall, the severity of the opposition towards it could still overwhelm the support. Crucially, even if no controversies – besides the wall itself – were to appear as Trump enters the final full year of this term, his securitization gamble could likely backfire; who knows if he could ever be put back together again after that.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and may not represent the views of The St Andrews Economist.