Eight futile questions about President Trump’s ever-changing plan for a southern border wall:
1. Why won’t Mexico pay for it, like Trump repeatedly promised?
Mexican officials won’t pay for the wall because they’d have to be idiots to do it, and Trump can’t make them pay. It was always a silly demand, and Mexican leaders probably had a big laugh about the whole thing in private. If anything, they were astounded that so many Americans were gullible enough to fall for Trump’s idea.
2. Can’t we ask another country to fund the wall? How about Guatemala, where many of the refugees are coming from?
We’d actually have a better chance if we asked the Koch brothers, David and Charles. They’re ultraconservative mega-donors to Republican causes and are collectively worth about $107 billion. They could write one check and pay for the entire wall, including landscaping. Unfortunately, Trump is pissed off at the Kochs, partly because they support a plan that would allow a path to citizenship for “DREAMers,” the children of illegal migrants.
So that narrows down the list of super-wealthy sources for private funding to Warren Buffett, Paul McCartney or the Kardashians, none of whom have volunteered to donate to the president’s wall.
Which leaves the rest of us taxpayers stuck with the tab.
3. How much of the wall is already built?
The U.S. border with Mexico is 1,954 miles long, and about one-third of it has had security fencing for years. Some sections are being upgraded, projects that were budgeted during past administrations but for which Trump naturally claims credit.
Roughly two-thirds of the border is owned by states and private landholders, making it impossible to construct a “big, beautiful” contiguous wall. The legal battles would drag on for so long that the grandchildren of Trump’s grandchildren would be in assisted living by the time the court cases got settled.
4. How much will it really cost to build what Trump wants?
On the campaign trail, he told voters that a thousand towering miles of wall could be erected for only $4 billion. People cheered wildly. Then they went home from the Trump rally, and their fifth-graders tried to explain to them that the $4 billion estimate was, like, absurd. Basically joke math.
Once he was in office, the president starting saying the wall would cost $10 billion. Then a report leaked out from the Department of Homeland Security estimating the true cost at $21.6 billion.
5. So the $5.6 billion that Trump wants in the new budget is only the beginning?
It’s just a number that somebody in the White House dreamed up — big enough to look like a serious commitment, but not so big as to provoke giggles and outright mockery.
6. So how tall would the wall actually be?
Trump originally announced that it would be 55 feet high and insurmountable. Then the projections shrunk to 35 feet or 40 feet.
Last year, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency began installing 30-foot see-through panels to replace 2.2 miles of existing barrier in Calexico, California. Another 20-mile segment in New Mexico will feature slatted panels with heights as low as 18 feet, including a five-foot “anti-climbing” plate.
Some of the new wall portions are being embedded six feet into the ground, with additional concrete anchoring to discourage tunnels. This might be effective if it were done at every vulnerable point of the border, but that’s another fantasy scenario.
7. So, wait — is it a wall, or is it a fence?
Trump now says he doesn’t care what everybody calls it, but he does.
A feverish crowd chanting “Build the Fence!” isn’t nearly as ego-pleasing as a crowd chanting “Build the Wall!” And even “Build the See-Through Wall!” doesn’t pack the same punch.
8. Let’s say the Democrats cave in and this thing actually gets funded. How long would it take to finish?
There’s a three-mile stretch of Interstate I-95 near Daytona Beach that road contractors have been widening for four years. Just three miles.
That happens to be a complex project, but it’s child’s play compared to piecing together a thousand miles of supposedly impassible barrier. The job would take ages even if they were using Legos.
So the answer is that Trump’s “big, beautiful” wall will never get done — and when it doesn’t, none of us being asked to pay for it will be around to say “I told you so.”