For a brief period of time, The Wall was transformed into a fence, or a barrier, or perhaps some nice, tasteful slats. As of 7:16 a.m. ET, it has officially returned to being a Wall.
The cause of this terminological metamorphosis is perfectly obvious. Trump has finally realized the prospects for getting funding through Congress are nil.
At first, it was a wall that would be made of “precast concrete” and reach a height ranging from 32 to 50 feet. The wall was a symbol of virile defiance, and Trump would delight in telling crowds he was raising its height ten feet every time Mexico refused to pay for it.
Trump more or less forgot about the wall throughout his first two years in office. At the end of 2018, when he was about to lose the full control of Congress that gave him his only chance to get wall funding, he suddenly seemed to realize that he was going to wind up running for reelection without having secured his most famous campaign pledge.
That’s why he shut down the government in a panic. It’s also why started referring to the wall as something other than a wall. His tactic was to lower the stakes of the negotiation. Democrats would not be giving him a hated symbol of nativism. They would simply be enhancing the funding of border security they have funded in the past.
“You can call it a ‘barrier,’ you can call it whatever you want,” Trump said during a news conference a few weeks ago, “They can name it whatever. They can name it ‘peaches.’ I don’t care what they name it. But we need money for that barrier.”
“Nancy Pelosi and her ilk keep calling it the wall, the wall, because they want that to be a four-letter word. I’m asking why you … are still saying wall when the president said you can call it whatever you want, call it steel-slat barriers,” said Kellyanne Conway earlier this month.
Trump’s message changed to to the practicalities of border security, and emphasizing the continuation between his policies and the past. The implicit promise was that, if Democrats would pony up even a little money for additional fencing, he would stop characterizing the border barrier as a “wall.” All he really wanted was just some way to stop vehicles from crossing over from Mexico.
But the deal is not materializing, because Democrats aren’t complete idiots. As soon as they agree to fund any more fencing, Trump is going to laugh in their faces and start calling it a wall again. And maybe they can agree to have more border fencing, but the value of that in a negotiation is way higher than a few billion dollars.
The actual trade value of the thing Trump wants is the ability to claim he fulfilled his biggest campaign pledge. If Democrats are going to give him that, they need something really valuable in response. Trump hasn’t offered anything close to that value — and he almost certainly can’t, because Republicans in Congress don’t care about the wall and aren’t likely to support substantive concessions on policies Democrats want in order to trade for it.
So now Trump is giving up on negotiations and preparing plan B: declaring a state of emergency that would somehow enable him to fortify the barrier without congressional approval. He’s going to call it a wall. It’s not going to be a “wall” in a literal sense, but Trump is willing to label any physical impediment on the border that he helped create this way. What he’s showing is that anything Democrats supported was going to be The Wall all along.