President Trump will divert another $7.2 billion of Pentagon funds for border wall construction this year, five times what Congress authorized for the project in the 2020 budget.
This is the second consecutive time that the President has diverted funds from military construction projects and counternarcotics funding. In 2019, Trump extracted $2.5 billion from military counterdrug programs to fund the Mexico-US border wall. This year, he plans to extract $3.5 billion.
Correspondingly, the president diverted $3.7 billion in military construction funding, more than the $3.6 billion he took in 2019. With the added funds, Trump’s administration would have diverted $18.4 billion of Pentagon funding toward completion of the barrier.
This is not the first time that the president has defied Congress. Last year, it was reported that Trump had deployed American troops to 53 out of 54 African countries without Congress’ knowledge or approval.
The administration originally planned to build a 509 mile-long border wall. According to internal planning figures, the diverted funds would enable the government to complete about 885 miles of new fencing by spring 2020. Yet, despite promises to complete 450 miles of barrier at the end of the year, only 101 miles have been completed.
Trump constantly promised voters a US-Mexico border wall during his campaign for presidency in 2016. Last year, the Trump administration asked Congress for $5 billion for the border wall construction. This led to the 35-day shutdown, the longest in US history, until Democrats agreed to provide $1.4 billion in taxpayer funding.
“’Mexicans are rapists’ is the first thing Trump said when he came down Trump towers to announce his campaign for president,” Dr Christopher Phelps at the University of Nottingham’s Department of American and Canadian Studies said.
“The wall is extremely expensive to build. Half of Congress is currently controlled by Democrats who declined Trump money to build the wall. By diverting money from other areas, Trump doesn’t have to worry about Congress’ approval. That is his endgame.
“There might be some weakening of defense and other government priorities, but the Republican base does not care. They are excited about the wall. It is their anti-immigrant fervour that allowed Trump into power.
“It is classic scapegoating,” Dr Phelps continued. “Ordinary American families are facing a lot of difficulty in making ends meet. These economic problems arose after the 2008 financial crisis. People could have blamed Wall Street and capitalism, but they chose to blame immigrants.
Bernie Sanders’ campaign, for example, is focused on a more just financial system and economic order. The Republican base’s anger is displaced on immigrants, and they have no problem with Trump taking away money from anywhere to build the wall.”
“The US military is a hegemon on earth,” explained Dr Phelps. “It has such a gigantic budget that diverting some of those funds may not harm the American populace per se.
Congress approved nearly $700 billion for US’ defense spending this year. In 2019, the United States’ defense budget was more than the next nine countries combined.
“The wall is a symbolic thing, more than a practical thing,” Dr Phelps said. “Republican voters are not concerned with practical objections as to whether the wall would function. People could always find ways to scale it no matter how tall it is; they could find ways under it. There are also places along the border where the wall can’t be built e.g. rivers and lofts. It cannot be made 100% impenetrable.”
Construction of the barrier wall has faced numerous challenges in federal court. Last month, a federal district court in El Paso, Texas, ruled that Trump diverting funds meant for other purposes to the border wall was illegal. The court froze the $3.6 billion that the Republican administration had diverted.
Last week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans lifted the injunction after an appeal by Trump’s government. The court, presided by a significant amount of judges nominated by infamous Republican presidents, Ronald Reagan and George Bush, claimed that work on the barrier could continue while legal challenges to the Trump government are pending. The $3.6 billion was previously Pentagon-allocated to road repairs, school construction projects on military bases, and a waste treatment plant.
“This is a victory for the rule of law,” Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, expressed in a statement celebrating the court’s ruling. “We are committed to keeping our borders secure, and we will finish the wall.”
“This would not have been possible without the President’s steadfast determination and leadership,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary, Chad Wolf, said last week at an event marking the completion of the 100th mile of the barrier in Arizona,
“The new border wall system is an undeniable impediment to human smugglers, drug traffickers and other criminals who have exploited our lack of effective border infrastructure to smuggle drugs, people and illegal contraband into our country.”
For Dr Phelps, however, the physical barrier will not soothe America’s deep psychoanalytical and symbolic fears.
“Whiteness in America is at a tipping point,” summarised Dr Phelps. “This wall is not going to stop the problem.
“The US was, for a long time, a white republic. For the first time, demographics such as Asians, Blacks and Latinos will take over the White-majority population. The US is set to be a colour-majority country.
“The fact of the matter is that the Obama presidency was very uncomfortable for white Americans. For generation after generation, they schooled themselves on white superiority. One way to stop a colour-majority and superiority from overtaking white America is to build a wall. This is factual, not qualitative. If we look at exit poll data from the 2016 election, the number one variable that united those who voted for Trump was whiteness. The wall is all about whiteness. That’s why they’ve built this narrative of brown ‘others’ taking their jobs, raping their women and pillaging their country.”