Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) walked out of his Oval Office yesterday without signing the executive orders on trade and dodged questions about granting immunity to Michael Flynn. He refused questions and left the folder with the orders on a desk in the next room. After failing to get him to come back, VP Mike Pence grabbed the folder and followed him out. DDT supposedly signed the orders later, one for a 90-day study of the country’s trade deficits to identify potential abuses and the other one for stricter enforcement of anti-dumping laws to prevent foreign manufacturers from undercutting US companies by selling goods at an unfair price.
Evidently things are not going well for him. He’s also having trouble with the centerpiece of his campaign, building an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall” between the United States and Mexico. He first announced that he would make Mexico pay for it, but they refused. Then he said he would charge them tariffs which would pay for it. Congress refused. He has sent out RFPs for construction, but he currently has no funding.
The “wall” has many more problems for its construction:
Cost: DDT says that the total cost will be $10 billion for the remaining 1,000 miles, but conservative GOP estimates are $15 billion. More realistic guesses are $25. The existing 650 miles have already cost over $7 billion, and it is not tall, impenetrable, powerful, or beautiful. In trying to get the money through border-crossing fees, taxing imports, and other methods would work, according to DDT, “if you know something about the art of negotiating.” He hasn’t evidenced any ability in that era yet.
Private Land: Some of the cost will be purchasing property that people don’t want to sell or taking the land by legal force. Only two-thirds of the 2,000-mile border are federal and tribal lands with private and state-owned lands comprising the remainder. In Texas alone, 225 miles are not federally owned, and the government quit in 2009 when it still had to negotiate with over 480 landowners. In order for the government to take land away from people, federal law requires the government to consult with “property owners … to minimize the impact on the environment, culture, commerce, and quality of life for the communities and residents located near the sites at which such fencing is to be constructed.” Then the government would need to declare a taking and undergo condemnation proceedings. In addition, the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment mandates compensation for the existence of the wall on owners’ property.
Tribal Land: Although DDT may think that he has control over tribal lands, the treaty before the Mexican-American War of 1853 says differently for Tohono O’odham territory, a 2.8 million acre area the size of the state of Connecticut bridging the Arizonan/Mexican border. To the tribe, a wall would damage their “sacred sites, ceremonies, relations with relatives, and respect for ancestors’ burial sites,” according to Nellie Jo David, a Tohono O’odham law student at the University of Arizona. A steel barrier already separates tribal members on parts of the border with barbed wire in other places, but they were allowed to freely travel across the border until 9/11. A wall such as DDT envisions would stop water flowing into the Tohono O’odham land and prevent animals from moving back and forth to breed and find food. Tribal members talk about having convenient water sources nearby, but being blocked at the border requires miles of travel for water.
Eco System: Building a wall would destroy the natural movement for animals between the north and south of the North American continent. Without this migration, endangered species such as the North American jaguar and black bears will be increasingly threatened. Eighteen federally protected species are found on the California border, and at least 39 federally endangered, threatened, or candidate species live along the Arizona border. The border is also home to natural flooding zones and large areas of sand with movement of land.
Food for People in the U.S.: Inexpensive undocumented labor is the foundation for food in the nation. Without them, crops rot in the field because no one else will do the work. If the wall is effective, the price of fruit and vegetables, both highly labor intensive, will skyrocket. Then comes prices for animal products, starting with dairy and moving on to eggs and meat. Grains and beans will follow. With DDT’s freeze on people who inspect food, work with farmers, and do research to improve food system sustainability and efficiency, people will have less—and more contaminated—food.
Economy: U.S./Mexico trade is over $1 billion every day; the 13 million Mexicans who traveled to the U.S. in 2010 spent $8.7 billion, and trade with Mexico sustains 6 million U.S. jobs. Over 20 percent of all U.S. jobs are tied to trade along the border.
Lost Land: DDT hates to give up anything, and building the wall will lose him part of the United States. He can’t put it on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande because Mexico won’t let him. He can’t put it in the middle of the river because that’s impossible—or unbelievably expensive. When he puts it on the north side of the border, he can’t always put it exactly on the edge of the river. For example, he will have to go through the second hold of the River Bend Resort & Golf Club in Brownsville (TX). The Texas wall would most likely be on a federally-owned flood levee. Fifteen of River Bend’s 18 holes are located on the south side of the levee in addition to over 200 plots where retirees park their RVs. Some of these people voted for DDT and want the wall—just not on their property.
Laws: A 1970 boundary treaty governing structures along the Rio Grande and Colorado River at the Mexican border requires that they not disrupt the flow of the rivers. These flow across Texas and 24 miles in Arizona and define the US-Mexico border, according to The International Boundary and Water Commission, a joint US-Mexico agency that administers the treaty.
Appearing more rational than his boss, Ryan Zinke, who DDT chose for the Secretary of Interior, seems to understand the improbability of the “big, beautiful wall.” In discussing how complicated building such a structure could be, he suggested electronic monitors in some areas and nothing in places with large natural features. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly stated that at least parts of the wall but will instead “rely on sensors and other technology.”
DDT continues to insist that he will build the wall, but he has a very short attention span. And at least 62 percent of the people oppose the building of the wall. Of course, a majority of Republicans supports it although the closer they live to the proposed wall, the greater the opposition. None of the congressional members from Texas supports its building. Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) described The Wall as “the most expensive and least effective way of securing the border.”
According to DDT, building the wall would be easy. That statement comes from a man who has never built anything in his life. On the other hand, a professional engineer describes how difficult the project would be. To be effective, cheap, and easily maintained, it must be built from readily available materials and use an existing labor force. To avoid tunneling, it must go five feet into the ground; to avoid climbing, it must be 20 feet above the ground.
The continuous, non-porous construction would be built from concrete that would have to be pre-cast because of the hot, dry climate—three times the amount of concrete necessary to build the Hoover Dam and with a greater volume than all six pyramids of the Giza Necropolis. The materials could pave a one-lane road from New York to Los Angeles, going the long way around the planet. The rebar to reinforce the concrete would weigh about 5 billion pounds, perhaps from melting down four Nimitz-class aircraft carriers plus a few cruisers. Facilities would have to be built to create the pre-cast part of the wall and then shipped across the desert. Workers would need food, water, shelter, lavatory facilities, safety equipment, transportation, and medical care. Who would do that—other than immigrants?
Humans have built a 2,000-mile-long wall just one time in a centuries-long process that required the forced labor of millions of Chinese peasants.
[More thoughts on building the wall.]