Go to Big Bend National Park in Southwest Texas and hire a guide for a horseback ride into the Chisos Mountains. Riding up dusty switchbacks bounded by prickly pear and mesquite, you eventually get high enough for a good look at brown, semi-arrid prairie stretching hundreds of miles to the south into Mexico, the border defined by the glistening Rio Grande in the distance.
It is beautiful in its sparse grandeur and immensity. The plains extend to a boundless horizon where they merge with an infinite sky above.
Nobody in his right mind would build a wall there.
President Donald Trump reportedly dialed back demands during current budget negotiations for initial funding for his “beautiful wall” along the entire 2,200-mile U.S. border with Mexico. There was too much risk that Congress would balk, the budget deal would falter and the federal government would grind to a halt.
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But Trump promises he will continue to push for the wall. Before Trump backed off, his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, suggested that Trump had earned the right to have his wall.
“We know there are a lot of people on the Hill, especially in the Democratic Party, who don’t like the wall, but they lost the election. And the president should, I think, at least have the opportunity to fund one of his highest priorities in the first funding bill under his administration,” said Mulvaney in an interview with the Associated Press on April 20.
Mulvaney neglects to note, however, that when Trump was promising at every campaign whistle stop to build a border wall, he also was promising that Mexico would pay for it, not U.S. taxpayers.
But even with Trump’s pledge to revive the battle for the wall, “maybe in September,” it seems more certain than ever that the wall will never be built. As with most of Trump’s other campaign pledges so far, this one ran head-on into reality.
For one, there is political reality. Not one member of the U.S. House or Senate from a border state supports Trump’s wall.
They all know, first-hand, that a wall won’t help much to control the influx of immigrants or drugs across the southern border. They also don’t want to contend with ranchers and other private property owners along the border who don’t want their grazing and farm lands intersected with a wall. Securing the right-of-way for the wall also would require using eminent domain to sieze thousands of miles of private property.
Many of these landowners have lived for decades in harmony with their Mexican counterparts on the other side of the border. Why disrupt that?
Most Americans, no matter where they live, don’t want the wall either. Polls indicate that 60 percent of Americans oppose it.
One likely reason for that is the cost. The U.S. already has walls or other physical barriers along about 650 miles of the border, mainly in the most populous areas.
But building a wall along the remainder of the border would cost an estimated $40 billion. And not only would taxpayers have to pony up money for the wall itself but also billions more for roads to gain access to the more remote parts of the border.
So, America would spend billions on the wall while the average border crosser would only have to invest in the cost of a ladder.
Again, though, this is not going to happen. Mexico is not going to pay for a wall. America is not going to build one.
This is important because the wall was central to the nationalistic, xenophobic theme of Trump’s campaign. It was at the heart of his appeal to voters’ fears about immigration. But it was never more than a hollow promise designed to ramp up the crowds.
Trump has achieved little of any significance during his first 100 days in office. He has not shepherded a single major piece of legislation through Congress. Mostly he has tried to look busy with a flurry of executive orders.
And for that, sensible people can breathe a sigh of relief.
The nation is better off if Trump can’t keep his promises. Most Americans don’t want a border wall, the repeal of Obamacare, the rollback of clean water and air standards, a Muslim ban or a massive tax cut for the rich.
The more Trump backtracks on his campaign pledges, the better. What remains to be seen is when his diehard supporters will figure out they were scammed.
James Werrell is opinion page editor of The Herald.