Even during pandemic, Trump focuses on border wall paint color

In April, as the pandemic claimed tens of thousands of American lives, Trump turned his attention on what color to paint steel border slats.
Border Wall
Construction is seen on the secondary fence that separates the United States and Mexico in the San Diego Sector on Aug. 22, 2019 in San Diego, Calif.Carolyn Van Houten / The Washington Post via Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

About a year ago, the Washington Post published a discouraging report on Donald Trump giving his team hyper-specific directives on the details of the administration's border fencing. It read like a case study in how a president shouldn't micro-manage.

As we discussed at the time, the article paints an almost comical picture of an obsessed president, barking instructions about the color of the barriers. And the shape of their tips. And their height. And what they should be called. And the number of gates. And the size of the gates. And the construction schedule. And "the minutiae of contracts."

But paint color appears to have especially captured Trump's attention. Administration officials hoped in the fall that they'd steered the president away from his preoccupation with black paint, deeming it costly and unnecessary. But the Washington Post reports today that Trump isn't budging.

Trump has not let go of the idea, insisting that the dark color will enhance its forbidding appearance and leave the steel too hot to touch during summer months. During a border wall meeting at the White House last month amid the coronavirus pandemic, the president told senior adviser Jared Kushner and aides to move forward with the paint job and to seek out cost estimates, according to four administration officials with knowledge of the meeting.... Trump, during that meeting, directed aides to seek input from North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel, a company the president favors.

At this point, I could explore the ongoing concerns surrounding Fisher Sand and Gravel, which Trump apparently likes because he saw its Republican CEO on Fox News. I could also note that the president's insistence on black paint is reportedly going to cost at least half a billion dollars -- which is money that will come from American taxpayers.

But the two words that troubled me most in that excerpted paragraph were these: "last month."

In other words, in April, as tens of thousands of Americans succumbed to a deadly pandemic, the president participated in a meeting in which he and other White House officials focused their attention on what color to paint steel border slats.

The Post's report added, "The president has promoted the border wall in tweets as well as in private conversations in recent weeks, aides say."

In the private sector, Trump used to brag about his attention to detail, devoting his time to things like choosing specific curtain colors and bathroom fixtures in hotel rooms. He's apparently brought those same habits to the Oval Office.

But that's not good news. Part of a president's job is recognizing the difference between what matters and what doesn't. There's little to suggest Trump has figured this out.