What Did Trump, the ‘Builder President,’ Actually Build?
The wall not so big, not so beautiful.
Photo: Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images
“I am the president builder – remember that”, Donald Trump Told Texas Governor Greg Abbott in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey trashed the Houston area in one of the worst climatic disasters in the country. It was the same speech Trump gave to the American public, starting with his inaugural speech – “We will build new roads and highways, bridges and airports, tunnels and railroads throughout our wonderful nation.” – a vague and nebulous promise of infrastructure that was often repeated, never fully explained and rarely delivered.
Early in his tenure, when Trump asked fellow New York developers Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth to lead a high level advisory board for his $ 1 trillion plan, his aspirations drew praise but also quite a few comparisons to Mussolini’s megalomaniac empire building. But Infrastructure Week, for all his memes, never happened. After four years of lies, bribery, incompetence, and often all three in combination, Trump the builder hasn’t really built as much. Rather, what he erected was something much more sinister – a series of highly symbolic architectural constructions that created an alternate narrative for his time in power that is clearly out of touch with reality. It would almost sound like a subtle maneuver, if Trump were capable of subtlety.
It now seems extremely possible that Trump will never build anything again. Since the Capitol riots, its facade has started to crumble, as associates (cities, developers, financiers) have severed ties with its organization. In an almost profane symbolic gesture, his namesake Atlantic City casino to be imploded in a few weeks (although the auction for the rights to press the button has been canceled). What he’s built in the office, in addition to mistrust, includes an even shorter list.
15 miles (probably more) from the border wall: Trump’s campaign song in 2016 promised 2,000 miles of a newly constructed concrete barrier along the Mexican border, but by February 2020 the pledge had been reduced to “much over 500 miles.” In early 2021, this administration built 15 miles of brand new wall, reinforced 350 more, and held the world’s largest architectural competition, where 180 companies jumped at the chance to design the fence. (In fact, Mexico did not pay any of these fees.) Work continues at a steady pace on 27 different contracts, protected cactus slaughter and demolish sacred lands.
What we said: “Taken purely for what they are – symbols of imaginary architecture – the effectiveness of prototypes is that they sound so clearly and so loudly like such a deep emotional note. This note is frightening. Like no other architectural initiative before it, the prototype exhibit features an imminence of absolute disaster, and after seeing it, you find it taint everything around it in Otay Mesa – and, for a while afterwards, everywhere else as well. “
The fence (temporary, second) of the White House: A redesign of the fence surrounding the White House was already underway under the Obama administration, but Trump embraced the transformation after feeling the need to isolate himself from the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer; its own border wall on Pennsylvania Avenue. The resulting fortress, made up of ominous, non-scalable fences, resulted in a “People’s House” which is almost completely removed from public view.
What we said: “Around the White House now there are two wrought iron fences, one on the perimeter and one on the sidewalk. There are curved black steel crowd control barriers. There are monolithic white panels that look like inexpensive Home Depot kitchen cabinets with neoclassical panel moldings. There are white concrete traffic barriers to match. In one july photo, the fences alternate, in black and white, additional layers of insulation from reality.
Tent cities for separated children: In 2018, photos released by the Department of Health and Social Services showed a canvas tent group erected in the South Texas desert that looked like a summer camp: bunk beds, a common area with a big-screen TV, kids in brightly colored clothes playing soccer in 100-degree heat. In fact, these Tornillo, Texas facilities – including three additional ““tender age” shelters for babies and toddlers – were built to accommodate thousands of migrant children separated from their parents at the border by immigration policies of indescribable cruelty. More than two years after practice ended, Trump administration says it doesn’t know how bring together hundreds of children with their parents.
What we said: “Like the border wall – and the wacky prototype contest – the tent city of Tornillo has become another physical manifestation of the Trump administration’s immigration policy. And the images of these structures – strategically distributed by a government which does not allow access to photojournalists – are used to promote his agenda. But the design of these camps is not the issue; the inhumane policy of forced separation of children from their families is.
Lots of rural roads: As part of a policy change baked in the 2016 Republican Party platform which aimed to end Obama’s multimodal stimulus law, the US transportation spending ratio reversed under Trump to strongly favor car-centric projects, giving priority to rural highways over city buses. Budget cuts, including elimination of entire subsidy programs, have further stifled investment in public transport, and agencies – including the MTA – have experienced construction delays because Trump’s Transportation Department withdrew funds to punish political enemies.
What we said: “Holding a roll of paper that illustrated an unnamed 17-year approval process for a highway project, Trump said the same project could be completed in two years. “We will no longer allow the infrastructure of our beautiful country to collapse and deteriorate, while protecting the environment, we will build new sparkling roads, bridges, railways, waterways, tunnels and highways. Besides the emphasis on car-centric infrastructure that will increase emissions and contribute to greenhouse gases known to cause climate change, environmentalists are concerned as the order specifically recommends fast track pipelines, which will supply even more climate-damaging fossil fuels to American cities. “
Renovation of the rose garden: What was to be this administration’s flagship project in the White House – and one that was skillfully designed, albeit a bit sterile – was quickly overshadowed by this administration. signature super-spreader event because the overhaul provided an almost funeral backdrop for a COVID-splashed ceremony commemorating Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court.
What we said: “At the end of last month, Melania Trump announced a major renovation of the Rose Garden at the White House – a restoration from bulbs this involved removing and replacing virtually everything except the four magnolias in the garden. On Saturday, the First Lady unveiled the finished product. For a rose garden? Not very pink, and perhaps closer to a manicured lawn than a garden. But not totally out of step with this administration sober and haunting aesthetic. ”
White House Tennis Pavilion: It’s an uninspired, yet pleasant, neoclassical building that matches the architecture of the White House, and with its completion just below the wire last month, you could say that Melania, who oversaw the overhaul and restoration of several notable federal institutions as First Lady, left the White House with a legacy greater than Donald’s.
What we said: “It is ‘contextual’, blending into the appearance of the West Wing, and it is certainly in keeping with the wishes of the administration of erase all traces of the last seven decades of government architecture. As you might expect, he was savagely this morning: violin when a quarter of a million people are dead, Marie-Antoinette kicked with white soles, etc.
An All-White, All-Dude Commission on Fine Arts: Just as Trump reshaped federal courts, he tried to get future courthouses designed in a style that was just as reactionary as his court system. Trump “Make buildings classic againThe order did not directly result in the destruction of brutalist monuments, but its mandate will be continued by its recent appointments to the Commission des Beaux-Arts, a seven-person architectural review committee where 100 percent of the limbs are male, 100 percent of the limbs are white, and 42.8 percent have bow ties in the head.
What we said: “The architectural decree proposed by the White House is a stupid idea concocted by a nutcase cabal of ideologists who hate not only modern architecture, but modernity itself. Yet on the scale of Trump’s inequities, the movement barely registers. This administration’s attack on the natural environment is far more serious than anything it could do on the built environment.
The (almost certainly never to be built) National Garden of American Heroes: In the very last twilight hour of his presidency, Trump signed a executive order for the construction of a statuary garden at Disneyland in homage to those who “made an indispensable contribution to the noble history of America”. (It was originally advertised in summer as a direct denunciation of the overthrow of Confederate monuments.) The names of the 244 laureates, an incoherent mixture of the just and the monstrous and the trivial, do not matter; like the racist and xenophobic language of its Report of the Commission 1776, this is a final, desperate attempt to cement its legacy against the backdrop of a history of white supremacy.
What we said: We did not do it. Either way, everyone will forget about it in a week.