Donald Trump has been promising to build a border wall ever since the day he announced he was running for president. It was the centerpiece of his campaign—item one on the list of things he would do to Make America Great Again. At his rallies adoring supporters chanted “Build the Wall” in alternation with “Lock Her Up!” The candidate himself could hardly contain his pride when he spoke of the project: his wall would be a thousand miles long and forty feet high! It would have a big, beautiful door and maybe some solar panels! He spoke of it as of a New Wonder of the World, like the Great Wall of China, only greater.
At first Trump promised that the people of Mexico would pay for the wall and be “very happy to do it.” They weren’t, and they didn’t. Later he said that Mexico would pay for it indirectly, with the money the United States saved by renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. Few people knew what Trump meant by this, and even fewer believed him. In any case, the wall failed to materialize. Clearly, if it was going to be built, Congress would have to appropriate the money for it. Given the urgency and enthusiasm with which Trump spoke of the wall during his campaign, one might have expected him to make it a priority once he was elected. But two years went by, with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, and nothing happened. Some of his supporters grew restive, but Trump assured them he hadn’t forgotten his pledge. He tried to turn last year’s midterm elections into a referendum on the wall—the Caravan was coming!—and got burned: Democrats took back the House of Representatives and made it clear they did not intend to help the president keep his foolish campaign promise. So Trump tried to bully them into giving him $5.7 billion for his wall by shutting down the federal government for more than a month. It didn’t work.