Donald Trump on Tuesday began closing out his presidency the same way he began his campaign for it five and a half years ago: with lies about the nation’s southern border with Mexico.
“We’re joined together to celebrate a great achievement: the extraordinarily successful building of the wall,” Trump bragged in a 22-minute speech in Alamo, Texas, that cost taxpayers at least $2 million in travel and security costs to stage. “They said it couldn’t be done, but we got it done.”
In reality, only about 80 miles of the 453 he takes credit for has been built in areas where there was previously no barrier, according to Customs and Border Protection figures updated on January 4. The rest of the miles have replaced existing fencing of some kind.
Indeed, even the word “wall” is a falsehood. While during his campaign Trump promised a thick concrete wall extending deep underground to prevent tunnelling, what’s been built instead has been steel fencing ― virtually identical to what was going up during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, although under Trump the height in some places increased to 30 feet, 12 more than what was being built previously.
Trump began his presidential run on June 16, 2015, with a falsehood-packed speech that called Mexicans entering the country rapists and drug dealers. And while his specific boast that day that he would build a wall and make Mexico pay for it ― which was repeated hundreds of times over the course of the 17-month campaign – was not technically a lie so much as an outlandish promise, Trump’s lies about fulfilling it began soon after taking office.
Trump explicitly told Mexico’s president at the time that he understood that Mexico would not pay for the wall, but that he would prefer if Mexican officials would not speak about that publicly to avoid hurting Trump’s standing with his supporters in the United States.
Trump likewise failed to get Congress to appropriate any new funding for his pet project in his four years in office, even the first two when Republicans controlled both chambers. Trump in early 2019 declared an emergency and raided billions of dollars from a variety of sources, including the military construction budget, to finance the project.
“Much of what little was built was paid for by raiding the DoD construction budget. When people see him standing there they should see it as nothing but a symbol of collapsing military schools, unbuilt daycare centres and mouldy housing,” said Fred Wellman, a retired Army helicopter pilot with 22 years of service who works with the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. “Trump’s wall is a symbol of his failure as a president and why he lost so much of the military and veteran vote from 2016.”
Trump’s visit to Alamo comes even as the House prepared to impeach him for a second time, with a vote likely Wednesday, because of his incitement of the violent January 6 assault on the Capitol by thousands of his followers in an attempt to intimidate his own vice president and other Republicans into overturning the November election and keeping Trump in the White House.
And although Trump has falsely labelled any number of events about his presidency historic ― from his 2016 election win to the tax cuts passed under his watch to the renamed trade deal with Canada and Mexico ― a second impeachment would, indeed, be historic. While Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached, neither was impeached twice.
In his Texas remarks, Trump warned congressional leaders against pushing forward with impeachment because it is “causing tremendous anger and division and pain.”
Trump, however, did not address his role in ginning up his mob’s attack on the Capitol, although earlier Tuesday he told reporters that he had said nothing wrong at the January 6 rally.
In late 2019, Trump was impeached for trying to extort Ukraine’s president into publicly smearing the Democratic challenger he feared most: former Vice President Joe Biden.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell chose to leave Trump in office despite that impeachment, and every Republican senator with the exception of Utah’s Mitt Romney went along with him to protect Trump. Trump said then and has continued to claim ever since that he did nothing wrong in that episode, either.