President Donald J. Trump has had numerous writers take the measure of his life so far, and there will be dozens of more comprehensive Trump biographies—whether or not he wins re-election. But when Trump’s time in office is measured solely with a construction industry yardstick, he comes up very short.
As Trump’s first term unfolded and the US Senate supported his pro-business, low-tax, anti-regulation agenda, the industry seemed pleased with his instincts. Unfortunately, Trump never grew into the kind of sure-handed leader who could navigate a national emergency like COVID-19. Instead, contradictions emerged.
Two pillars of Trump’s platform, getting tough with China’s communist leaders on trade and slowing illegal immigration, addressed national problems crying out for solutions. But instead of solutions, Americans got political theatrics, and trade talks with China turned into tariff chaos.
There are three key ways President Trump failed the construction industry. The first is the undermining of federal procurement ethics.
One only needs to examine still unclear issues in contractor selection for the federal U.S.-Mexico border wall and use of emergency orders to skirt key requirements. Flattery of the president on Fox News as a criteria for prequalification, and links to a private wallbuilding operation with now emerging corrupt elements involving a former top Trump advisor leave an awful odor.
The second is Trump’s anti-science creed. He frequently denies the existence of climate change, which has shaped his policy on energy, the environment and use of public resources. The fable that climate change is fake, or only a distant future threat, flies in the face of decades of the very science on which engineering rests.
Instead, the Trump administration made superstition and conspiracy theory its stock in trade. And that led to the White House’s much-delayed recognition of the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic, costing valuable weeks. As the pandemic raged, and while construction companies rushed to send their N95s to frontline health workers, Trump undermined his own health experts and appeared in public regularly with no face covering.
Finally, the Trump administration treated infrastructure funding as a political bargaining chip, sinking any chance to get a bill enacted.
Trump’s insistence on making border wall funding the priority, even diverting funds from other programs, soured the chances for a meaningful infrastructure program. The president’s talent for strife was a liability even before the pandemic and the protests over police brutality. So was his disregard for compromise and any attention to conventional presidential and cabinet secretary conflict-of-interest rules.
This track record has made the self-regarding former New York City mega-developer an engineering and construction sector bust.