Trump promised to rebuild America but did nothing.

Summary: Trump has broken most of the campaign promises that put him in the White House, especially the pledge to rebuild America. See his promises and his pitiful attempts to fulfill them.

“Some of his ideas …will be passable if Trump is even marginally competent as President (which I doubt), such as more infrastructure spending.”
My prediction on the day after the election. I did not realize that Trump would not even try.

Trump: Make America Great Again

Trump promised to rebuild America. He has done nothing.

By Tom Conway for The Independent Media Institute.
Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union.
Links added.

Bad news about infrastructure is as ubiquitous as potholes. Failures in a 108-year-old railroad bridge and tunnel cost New York commuters thousands of hours in delays. Illinois doesn’t regularly inspect, let alone fix, decaying bridges. Flooding in Nebraska caused nearly half a billion dollars in road and bridge damage – just this year.

No problem, though. President Donald Trump promised to fix all this. The great dealmaker, the builder of eponymous buildings, the star of “The Apprentice,” Donald Trump, during his campaign, urged Americans to bet on him because he’d double what his opponent would spend on infrastructure. Double, he pledged!

So far, that wager has netted Americans nothing. No money. No deal. No bridges, roads or leadless water pipes. And there’s nothing on the horizon since Trump stormed out of the most recent meeting. That was a three-minute session in May with Democratic leaders at which Trump was supposed to discuss the $2 trillion he had proposed earlier to spend on infrastructure. In a press conference immediately afterward, Trump said if the Democrats continued to investigate him, he would refuse to keep his promises to the American people to repair the nation’s infrastructure. {See the NY Times}

The comedian Stephen Colbert described the situation best, saying Trump told the Democrats: “It’s my way or no highways.

The situation, however, is no joke. Just ask the New York rail commuters held up for more than 2,000 hours over the past four years by bridge and tunnel breakdowns. Just ask the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave the nation a D+ grade for infrastructure and estimated that if more than $1 trillion is not added to currently anticipated spending on infrastructure, “the economy is expected to lose almost $4 trillion in GDP, resulting in a loss of 2.5 million jobs in 2025.” {In their 2017 Infrastructure Report Card.}

Candidate Donald Trump knew it was no joke. On the campaign trail, he said U.S. infrastructure was “a mess” and no better than that of a “third-world country” {26 September 2016). When an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia in 2015, killing eight and injuring about 200, he tweeted, “Our roads, airports, tunnels, bridges, electric grid – all falling apart.” Later, he tweeted …

Donald Trump promised to make America great again. And that wouldn’t be possible if America’s rail system, locks, dams, and pipeline – that is, its vital organs – were “a mess.” Trump signed what he described as a contract with American voters to deliver an infrastructure plan within the first 100 days of his administration.

He mocked his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton’s proposal to spend $275 billion. “Her number is a fraction of what we’re talking about. We need much more money to rebuild our infrastructure,” he told Fox News in 2016. “I would say at least double her numbers, and you’re going to really need a lot more than that.”

In August of 2016, he promised {big things} …

“We will build the next generation of roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, seaports, and airports that our country deserves. American cars will travel the roads, American planes will connect our cities, and American ships will patrol the seas. American steel will send new skyscrapers soaring. We will put new American metal into the spine of this nation.”

In his victory speech and both of his State of the Union addresses, he pledged again to be the master of infrastructure. “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. …And we will put millions of our people to work,” he said the night he won.

That sounds excellent. That’s exactly what 75% of respondents to a Gallup poll said they wanted. That would create millions of family-supporting jobs making the steel, aluminum, concrete, pipes and construction vehicles necessary to accomplish infrastructure repair. That would stimulate the economy in ways that benefit the middle class and those who are struggling.

That contract Trump signed with American voters to produce an infrastructure plan in the first 100 days: worthless. It never happened. He gave Americans an Infrastructure Week in June of 2017, though, and at just about the 100-day mark {8 June 2017}, predicted infrastructure spending would “take off like a rocket ship.” Two more Infrastructure Weeks followed in the next two years, but no money.

Trump finally announced a plan in February of 2018, at a little over the 365-day mark, to spend $1.5 trillion on infrastructure. It went nowhere because it managed to annoy both Democrats and Republicans.

It was to be funded by only $200 billion in federal dollars – less than what Hillary Clinton proposed. The rest was to come from state and local governments and from foreign money interests and the private sector. Basically, the idea was to hand over to hedge fund managers the roads and bridges and pipelines originally built, owned and maintained by Americans. The fat cats at the hedge funds would pay for repairs but then toll the assets in perpetuity. Nobody liked it.

That was last year. This year, by which time the words Infrastructure Week had become a synonym for promises not kept {see “How ‘Infrastructure Week’ Became a Long-Running Joke.“}, Trump met on April 30 with top Democratic leaders and recommended a $2 trillion infrastructure investment. Democrats praised Trump afterward for taking the challenge seriously and for agreeing to find the money.

It couldn’t have gone any better,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., told the Washington Post, even though Neal was investigating Trump for possible tax fraud. Almost immediately, Trump began complaining that Democrats were trying to hoodwink him into raising taxes to pay for the $2 trillion he had offered to spend.

Trump and the Republicans relinquished one way to pay for infrastructure when they passed a tax cut for the rich and corporations in December of 2017. As a result, the rich and corporations pocketed hundreds of billions – $1 trillion over 10 years – and Trump doesn’t have that money to invest in infrastructure. Corporations spent their tax break money on stock buybacks, further enriching the already rich. They didn’t invest in American manufacturing or worker training or wage increases.

Three weeks after the April 30 meeting, Trump snubbed Democrats who returned to the White House hoping the president had found a way to keep his promise to raise $2 trillion for infrastructure. Trump dismissed them like naughty schoolchildren. He told them he wouldn’t countenance Democrats simultaneously investigating him and bargaining with him – even though Democrats were investigating him at the time of the April meeting and one of the investigators – Neal – had attended.

Promise not kept again.

Trump’s reelection motto, Keep America Great, doesn’t work for infrastructure. It’s still a mess. It’s the third year of his presidency, and he has done nothing about it. Apparently, he’s saving this pledge for his next term.

In May, he promised Louisianans a new bridge over Interstate 10 – only if he is reelected. He said the administration would have it ready to go on “day one, right after the election.” Just like he said he’d produce an infrastructure plan within the first 100 days of his first term.

He’s doubling down on the infrastructure promises. His win would mean Americans get nothing again.

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.


See a nation in decline

There is no one number that can show the Federal government’s annual investment in infrastructure. This is close: net Federal government investment – gross investment minus depreciation – on structures, excluding defense spending. It has been falling for a quarter-century, with a pause during the stimulus spending after the Crash. It was negative in 2013 – 2017. Negative! I expect that the numbers for Trump’s years will show little or no improvement.

Net Investment in Structures - Federal - nondefense

See the promises

Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again
Available at Amazon.

In Trump’s 2015 book, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, he described the problem.

“Domestically, we need to undertake a massive rebuilding of our infrastructure. Too many bridges have become dangerous, our roads are decaying and full of potholes, while traffic jams are costing millions in lost income for drivers who have jobs in congested cities. Public transit is overcrowded and unreliable and our airports must be rebuilt. You go to countries like China and many others and you look at their train systems and their public transport. It’s so much better. We’re like a third-world country.”

On 2 August 2016 Trump described his plans to Stuart Varney on the Fox Business Network.

“We have a great plan and we are going to rebuild our infrastructure. By the way, her [Hillary Clinton] numbers [$275 billion] is a fraction of what we’re talking about, we need much more money than that to rebuild our infrastructure. I would say at least double her numbers and you’re going to really need more than that. We have bridges that are falling down.”

Steve Bannon, Trump’s Chief Strategist, made big promises after the election in The Hollywood Reporter on 18 November 2016.

“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” he says. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution – conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”

About Trump’s fiscal deficits

Republicans condemned Obama’s deficits (which prevented another depression). Once in office, they cut taxes for the rich, boosted are already insanely high military spending – and did little else.

Although the GOP hates fiscal stimulus when done by Democrats, when in office they love how deficits boost the economy. Although Trump has built little infrastructure, he has run big deficits. When Trump leaves the White House, all he will leave behind are massive debts. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget gave the bad news in their 25 July 2019 report. Click the graph to enlarge.

“If the recent budget deal is signed into law, it will be the third major piece of deficit-financed legislation in President Trump’s term. In total, we estimate legislation signed by the President will have added $4.1 trillion to the debt between 2017 and 2029. Over a traditional ten-year budget window, the President will have added $3.4 to $3.8 trillion to the debt. The source of the debt expansion is split relatively evenly between tax and spending policy.”

Trump's fiscal deficits

Trump has increased the debt in an expansion – the essence of imprudence. The debt has grown even faster than the economy has grown – the essence of unsustainability. The debt was 74.9% of GDP when Trump’s first fiscal year began on 1 October 2017. It was 76.9% in Q1 2019, the effect of his deficits partially offset by economic growth. Click to enlarge the graph.

Federal Debt held by the public as a percent of GDP


Trump pretended to be a populist. That put him in the White House. He has governed as a bog-standard far-right-wing Republican, breaking almost every promise made during the campaign. He will do the same in the 2020 campaign. After all, Americans love leaders who lie to them – and eagerly believe the next lie.

Nothing will change in American politics until we change.

For More Information

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See Leftists’ fear of populism, their blindness about the failure of their policies, their inability to see that there are legitimate other paths, and how they project their own hatred onto their political foes. So long as populists and progressives remain divided, political reform will remain impossible in America.

Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort by Chip Berlet (2000).

Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred by John Lucas (2005).

Right-Wing Populism in America
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Democracy and Populism
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21 thoughts on “Trump promised to rebuild America but did nothing.”

  1. Hi Larry-

    I agree with your post; however, you missed something.

    Trump has done something, and it’s worthwhile to consider. It’s banking on developers/investors to create, not the government.

    First, there’s bonus depreciation and other benefits to real estate developers / investors in the new tax law. I’m using this now, and it’s providing me capital to grow quickly.

    Second, which is still awaiting clarification, is opportunity zones- a lot of money is moving here now. In a simple sense, if I had made $1m in profits on Amazon stock, sold it, moved it into an opportunity zone for 10 years, then capital gains taxes are initially deferred then ultimately depleted. For the OZs, one has to purchase property in a designated zone, and add an equal amount of capital improvements.

    Some of the more progressive cities like Durham, NC are working with the developers in these areas and actually reshaping the land.


  2. I don’t think it would be a win for the federal government to build a speck of infrastructure. There is nothing in the Constitution that suggests that this is the purpose of the feds. If NY wants a better tunnel, then NY and its taxpayers should build a better tunnel. If people outside NY wish to use their tunnel, feel free to charge them some small fee to help defray the costs.

    That said, I understand that it was a campaign promise, I just am not interested in that type of promise from federal politicians of any party.

    1. Heresolong,

      “There is nothing in the Constitution that suggests that this is the purpose of the feds.”

      I am frequently astonished at Americans’ ignorance of their own history. The people who wrote the Constitution disagreed with you, as did the people who ran it during the past 2+ centuries.

      The need for Federal infrastructure development was discussed at the Constitutional Convention as one reason for a strong Federal government able to “to establish …roads” and “to …provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.”

      The Federalist Papers often mention the prospect for infrastructure constuction by the new government, such as this by Madison.

      “Let it be remarked …that the intercourse throughout the Union will be facilitated by new improvements. Roads will everywhere be shortened, and kept in better order; accommodations for travelers will be multiplied and meliorated; an interior navigation on our eastern side will be opened throughout, or nearly throughout, the whole extent of the 13 States. The communication between the Western and Atlantic districts, and between different parts of each, will be rendered more and more easy by those numerous canals with which the beneficence of nature has intersected our country, and which art finds it so little difficult to connect and complete.”

      Among the first acts of Congress after the Constitution was approved was funding for the construction of lighthouses (7 August 1789) and roads. Hamilton’s “Report on Manufactures” (1791) set the course of domestic economic policy for the next century, advocating extensive Federal development of infrastructure.

      From the intercontinental railroad to the national highway system, Federal infrastructure spending has helped make America a greater nation than those that did not have such wisdom.

    1. Sven,

      The process starts with understanding the choices given us. If we don’t like them, we can act tactically – picking the best offered – but begin the far more important process of changing the system.

      We run the ship of State – America. We are not consumers – like customers in a restaurant, limited to what’s on the menu. If we see ourselves as peons, we will be treated contemptuously as peons. That’s the Great Circle of Life, just like in the Disney films.

  3. “But he yelled things! Things I’d like to say but don’t have the guts to say, at people I’d like to yell them at!”

    For the life of me I have never understood why in the name of every merciful Buddha people put “he or she yells at the people I want to get yelled at” so high in the list of variables they take into account for their choice of vote. Granted you want a certain amount of rhetorical skill, and granted also that presidents are leaders, not master accountants. I would much rather have some guy with whom I have little in common and who agrees with my policy goals and desires (and will push for them), than someone who is exactly like me, yet will sit there and fart.

    1. SF,

      (1) What are you quoting?

      (2) ” people put “he or she yells at the people I want to get yelled at” so high in the list of variables they take into account for their choice of vote.”

      It is part of our core wiring, a survival mechanism. Under stress, people seek to boost group cohesion. Also, our emotions rise – which provides energy and motivation. These are all good things, so long as they are guided by our hearts and minds.

      Our problems result from our apathy and passivity. These are among the antidotes, no matter if they’re not pretty.

    2. In the exact form, nobody in particular. I have heard the broad sentiment, though, expressed by many people on all sides of the spectrum.
      I agree, to an extent. I think this is often underrated on the left (very broadly construed); as I put it to a friend, we need more pathos and ethos, rather than complaining that people don’t want to hear our logos.
      But I also think that it can be, and is, used as a substitute for actual leadership. This is a big selling point with Trump, along with his intimate knowledge of how the modern media landscape works. (It’s funny; a relatively small shift in the system, and his goose would be cooked!)

      What I have done – and you have been an inspiration – is tried to talk about politics LESS (in the sense of quantity of time spent on team sport behavior) and try to make what I do discuss of HIGHER QUALITY (engaging with ideas/character/policy). It has been a little rough but I see it as sowing karmic seeds.

    3. SF, I think it’s not so much the “yelling” as it is the “fighting back”. George W. Bush was a good man who sat quietly while he and any conservative ideas he might have been pushing (I know, he often didn’t) were trashed. Romney and McCain (although again neither particularly conservative,) again sat quietly amidst the smears. I think one of the things that led to Trump’s election (certainly not my first choice) is that he was willing to push back against his critics. Conservatives have lost ground most of my life due to their apparent willingness to apologize and kowtow to any and all criticism from the left, giving up any gains they might have made in order to be seen as not-smear of the day-ist. Trump may not be particularly conservative but he has advanced more conservative ideas than either Bush and proposed (and defended) more than any of our un-elected nominees.

      Larry, I was unaware of the discussions you pointed out. I will withdraw the “where in the Constitution” statement but still maintain that a limited government should not need to be involved in the day to day operations of the states when those states can build bridges far more efficiently and with less abuse of the system since they are right there looking at what is needed. I would prefer that federal taxes be reduced and states would then be able to balance by raising theirs but an alternative would be block grants for infrastructure. I am not convinced that billions or trillions on infrastructure is wise when we are already running trillion dollar deficits and I am not confident at this point that any politician will be able (even presuming will) to actually do the hard work of cutting spending in politically unpopular ways in order to make that money available. I will maintain that just because Madison said it doesn’t mean it’s right, but also that he was probably right more often than I am.

      1. Heresolong,

        “limited government should not need to be involved in the day to day operations of the states when those states can build bridges far more efficiently and with less abuse of the system since they are right there looking at what is needed.”

        As are local governments. All I can say is that you have your dreams (to which there are powerful counterarguments), whereas the US has a policy that has worked superlatively well for 235 years. I suspect that most people will choose what works over libertarian dreams.

      2. Heresolong,

        Follow-up to your interesting comment.

        “still maintain that a limited government should not need to be involved in the day to day operations of the states when those states can build bridges far more efficiently and with less abuse of the system since they are right there looking at what is needed.”

        History shows that to be total malarky. First, states lack the financial resources for large scale construction – which is often on a regional or national scale. Second, they tend to be more corrupt. Third, they have shown none of the superior insight you attribute to them. Several of the States that went bankrupt in the 19th C did so following imprudent investment in railroads (these were often highly corrupt as well).

        The common element in your comments is that you are getting information about the Constitution and US history from people that lie to you.

  4. Mandy Stankbottom

    The problem with leaving infrastructure to states and localities at this point is just another recipe for the same corruption and cronyism that exists on the federal level. I don’t think it can be changed at this point. In Connecticut, the head of the Port Authority was just forced to step down after it was revealed she had used state funds to purchase artwork from her daughter for her office. But the real scandal is that the woman — who’s a First Selectman in an extremely wealthy town and well-connected in CT politics — has absolutely no experience, and should never have been picked to run that agency. She has a degree in early childhood education.

    Moreover, she was so awful at her job that she felt it beneath her to communicate with reporters, hold open meetings, or even show the most elementary of concern for her own public image. The arrogance is astronomical. And this woman would be unable to repair a crack in her own driveway.

    I wish there was a better way out of this, but it would require a complete turnover of the political and governmental class — aka, a revolution — and that’s not going to happen. Some of these local politicians in their 60s and 70s have no interest in the future: none. They are 60s radicals who are just riding out the last decades of their lives, using as much of our money as they possibly can. They need to go, but I don’t think the public has the stomach — or intelligence — to take the steps necessary to salvage what we can before it starts collapsing at an alarming rate.

    This is just one of the stories on the CT Port Authority scandal — many more from AP, The New London Day, and others out there. People should be more aware of this story, as it encapsulates exactly what NOT to do in the face of these threats.

    1. Mandy,

      “The problem with leaving infrastructure to states and localities at this point is just another recipe for the same corruption and cronyism that exists on the federal level.”

      Corruption at local and State level is far greater than at the Federal level. External scrutiny is far less. Local governments often have little or no scrutiny by press or NGOs. State governments have little.

      Corruption in the business world is as high as at local government or higher. It’s just life.

      Many conservatives don’t see this because of the thick ideological lens thru which they see the world. Much like the green glasses the people of Oz wear to avoid being blinded by the glare of the Emerald City.

    2. Most people, including myself, know absolutely nothing about what’s going on in their state and local government. The national media covers presidential antics and almost nothing else. It takes interest, time and effort to figure out what’s going on in local government and know how to effect any change. Not 1% of people care.

      1. Daniel,

        That nails it! This is an extraordinary change from past America, where interest in government faded with distance.

        Self-government is not possible with people disinterested in their government. For them, politics means a choice of masters – who will rule in their own best interests.

  5. You seem to be putting a lot more responsibility on one position and man than the position allows or is able to provide within the 4-8 years it exists for the occupant.

    He never used the word “rebuild.” That’s extenuating the desire to “Make America Great Again,” which may be seen as unfair, depending on your own faith in another person to accomplish such a thing. The people of this country are the resource to make this country great again.

    He’s a leader, not an engineer or superhero, as many people want to paint him as, just in order to tear him down from that pedestal.

    Personally, given the odds, resistance and hatred shown him, I consider him a success thus far. He’s delivered on a lot of his campaign promises, which is more than any recent president has ever done, and worked in the face of huge amounts of obstruction, including the US and even global media, which is a formidable cultural manipulator that it has to help operate against what it deems as its enemy, which, for some (kind of obvious) reason, they have chosen as Trump. If we’d cut the guy some slack, maybe he could move some mountains as people believe he can but denounce him when he doesn’t move their smaller personal obstacles in life, which have largely been created by themselves.

    1. Before this is pointed out to me, I want to clarify: Trump never said he was going to “rebuild” America. “Rebuild” infrastructure is indeed something that is happening, however. At least around the area I live in, in Louisville, KY and Lower Indiana. There are bridges going up and highway projects always under construction. And as I drive around America, I’m constantly caught in “rebuilding” projects. Also look at what private companies such as Elon Musk’s Boring Company and placements of superchargers are doing to change the face of transportation. It’s a HUGE project, which will take years, incredible amounts of money and effort, legislation, and more than one man to accomplish, to say the least. And both private and public involvement.

    2. musgrove,

      “He never used the word ‘rebuild.’”

      He used it often. Did you read the post? From Trump’s 2015 book, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again:

      “Domestically, we need to undertake a massive rebuilding of our infrastructure.”

      “He’s a leader, not an engineer or superhero”

      Are you trolling us? As president, his job is not to personally build things. But rather, craft politically feasible proposals, get them passed, and execute them. He’s failed, decisively.

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