Why Can’t Trump Build Anything?

Infrastructure won’t happen until the Democrats regain control.

Donald Trump isn’t the first president, or even the first Republican president, who has sought to define his legacy in part with a big construction project. Abraham Lincoln signed legislation providing the land grants and financing that created the transcontinental railroad. Theodore Roosevelt built the Panama Canal. Dwight Eisenhower built the interstate highway system.

But Trump’s wall is different, and not just because it probably won’t actually get built. Previous big construction projects were about bringing people together and making them more productive. The wall is about division — not just a barrier against outsiders, but an attempt to drive a wedge between Americans, too. It’s about fear, not the future.

Why isn’t Trump building anything? Surely he’s exactly the kind of politician likely to suffer from an edifice complex, a desire to see his name on big projects. Furthermore, during the 2016 campaign he didn’t just promise a wall, he also promised a major rebuilding of America’s infrastructure.

But month after month of inaction followed his inauguration. A year ago he again promised “the biggest and boldest infrastructure investment in American history.” Again, nothing happened.

Last month there was reportedly a White House meeting to game outa new infrastructure plan. This time they mean it. Really. Would this administration ever lie to you?

The interesting question is why Trump seems unwilling or unable to do anything about America’s crumbling roads, bridges, water supplies and so on. After all, polls show that a large majority of the public wants to see more infrastructure spending. Public investment is an issue on which Trump could get substantial Democratic support; it would lift the economy, and also help repair the public’s perception that the administration is chaotic and incompetent.

Yet everything points to two more years of occasional bombast about infrastructure, with no follow-up. Why the paralysis?

Some news analyses suggest that it’s about money, that big infrastructure spending would happen if only Republicans and Democrats could agree on how to pay for it. But this is being credulous. Remember, in 2017 the G.O.P. enacted a $2 trillion tax cutwith absolutely no pay-fors; the tax cut is completely failing to deliver the promised boost to private investment, but there is no sign of buyer’s remorse.

So Republicans don’t really care about using debt to pay for things they want. And Democrats, whose top policy wonks have been telling them that deficit fears are excessive, would surely support a program of debt-financed infrastructure spending.

Analyzing Trump’s Tweets

A Data-Based Analysis of Trump’s Language on Twitter

All of these attacks can be placed into 6 main buckets. These include accusations of weakness, stupidity, failure, illegitimacy, corruption or fear-based attacks. Some examples are below.

1 — Weakness— ie. low, old, lightweight, losing, losers, ridiculous, poor, pathetic

eg. “The U.S. has pathetically weak and ineffective Immigration Laws that the Democrats refuse to help us fix.”

2 — Stupidity — ie. dopey, incompetent, clueless, moron

eg. “Paul Begala, the dopey @CNN flunky and head of the Pro-Hillary Clinton Super PAC, has knowingly committed fraud in his first ad against me.”

3 — Failure — ie. failing, failed, disaster

eg. “No wonder the @nytimes is failing — who can believe what they write after the false, malicious & libelous story they did on me.”

4 — Illegitimacy⁵ — ie. fake, false, biased, hoax, haters, unfair, a joke, rigged

eg. “Wow, sleepy eyes @chucktodd is at it again. He is do [sic] totally biased.”

5 — Corrupt — ie crooked

e.g “Big story out that the FBI ignored tens of thousands of Crooked Hillary Emails, many of which are REALLY BAD”

6 — Fear — ie. enemy, threat, radical

eg. “Many of the Syrian rebels are radical jihadi Islamists who are murdering Christians”

 

.. Looking at the dates of Trump’s tweets, we can see how much he has used the service over time. Believe it or not, Trump’s Twitter use has declined since he became president. It seems like it peaked in 2013 when he was A/B testing his Obama attacks and first dipping his toes in presidential politics.

.. We can also look at the times of day that Trump tweets the most. It seems that his Twitter use starts first thing in the morning and builds throughout the day, peaking around 3pm. A not-insignificant number of tweets are sent in the middle of the night too.

How Trump’s State of the Union Guests Embodied His Politics of Fear and Dread

Trump is certainly not the first President to shape a story by inviting people to be lauded during his State of the Union address. Barack Obama invited twenty-three different people to his last address, in 2016; at least fifteen of them were activists, working on causes including homelessness, opioid addiction, access to education, same-sex marriage, discrimination against Muslims, and more. The stories they embodied were ones of overcoming adversity but also of working with others toward a better future. Trump’s guests, on the other hand, were all survivors.

They survived D Day.

They survived decades in American prisons and, through the study of religion, earned second chances in their late middle age.

They survived unimaginable grief.

They survived immigration.

They survived cancer. (Notably, although one of Trump’s more ambitious promises was to eliminate new H.I.V. infections within ten years, there was no guest with a story of surviving with H.I.V.)

They survived losing a child.

They survived a mass shooting.

And they survived the Holocaust.

The sole exception to this narrative was the astronaut whose achievement was fifty years old.

Living with a sense of danger so profound and so constant, a people would be unable to think of much beyond immediate survival. They could have little ambition for technological or scientific achievement. They could have no vision of organizing their society in a better, more equitable way. With fear as their only political motivator, their only goal could be a united front. If they felt constantly on the brink of extinction, that might help explain why, on the one hand, they armed themselves obsessively, and, on the other, they put people behind bars for decades at a time. And, living in this constant state of dread, they could not have the presence of mind, or the imagination, to tackle the longer-term danger of climate change—which, of course, makes it less likely that a future historian will be looking at Trump’s State of the Union address at all.