In an election rife with ironies none looms larger than the disheartening fact that millions of Americans rejected Clinton because of her supposed dishonesty, only to then vote for a man who not only ran what is probably the most dishonest campaign in history, but who is himself a proud and unrepentant conman. (http://bit.ly/2jjSVMT)
Trump’s actions during this transition period have continued to confirm that reality, and it’s going to be fascinating to watch how his supporters react as they (slowly) realize that they have been the victims of yet another Trump con job. A few of them are already realizing what is on the horizon, but for those who remain stubbornly immune to news and facts, it will take a bit longer. Knowing Trump however, I would personally predict that a great many Trump supporters will be as exasperated as Clinton supporters by early summer at the latest.
Perhaps they should have listened to Tony Schwartz, the man who wrote “The Art of the Deal” for Trump, and who spent nearly 18 months in close quarters with him in order to finish the book. Schwartz stayed quiet about Trump for decades, but when Trump ran for president he could no longer in good conscience remain mute, and agreed to an interview with “The New Yorker”. (http://bit.ly/29TM1s3)
Stating that he considers Trump a true “sociopath,” Schwartz warned months ago that, “People are dispensable and disposable in Trump’s world…If Trump is elected President the millions of people who voted for him and believe that he represents their interests will learn what anyone who deals closely with him already knows—that he couldn’t care less about them.”
Which brings us to today’s tweet by Trump, in which he (again) slammed the press as “dishonest” for reporting something that is completely true. This time their offense was in reporting that instead of getting the money for his “wall” from Mexico, he will be asking Congress for it. Because of course.
If there is a single thing that can be called Trump’s “Signature Issue”, this was probably it. Hundreds of times throughout his campaign he insisted that he would “build a wall”, and that “Mexico will pay for it.” Now, weeks before he is even inaugurated, that “wall” is a fence, and the only people paying for it are American taxpayers. Which as we know, does not include Trump himself.
To be sure, Trump and his people are spinning this as nothing more than a way to speed the process up. But the fact remains that no one on team Trump actually seems to have a realistic plan to extort the money from Mexico. And to be clear, it would need to be a form of extortion, because Mexican leaders across party lines have made it clear that they will never pay for this thing.
So what is the Trump plan? Currently, their plan is to get the money from Mexico through remittance seizure, tariffs, foreign aids cuts, increased visa fees, and increased fees at ports of entry to the US from Mexico. Let’s take a look at those numbers.
The first number, of course, is the cost of the “wall” itself. Since the wall is now a fence (or a combo wall/fence/barrier), it will be significantly less expensive. But let’s be clear, a security fence of this length is still going to cost a ton of money. The official estimate is $8 billion, but that seems wildly optimistic. Using the Israeli barrier as an example, which is a combination of walls and fences, their final cost ended up being about $8 million per mile. Which means that a similar cost along our border with Mexico would turn this project into a $16 billion expense. BUT, and this is important, these costs are simply not transferable to our country.
Remember, we already built a security fence along the border with Mexico, so it’s not as if these costs are a complete mystery to us. Our current barrier fence is not nearly as good as the Israeli one, and depending on how you parse the costs, it cost us about $5-$7 billion, which works out to about $7-10 million per mile. (http://wapo.st/2ikCQ5v)
So how is Trump doing this? Will he leave this less effective fence in place? Will he replace it? Will he upgrade it? It’s not clear that anyone actually knows. Here’s what we do know - if we left the fence we already have exactly as it is, and used a fence just like it for the rest of the border, we would still be looking at a cost close to $13 billion. And quite frankly, it would probably be more, since the GAO’s estimates went as high as $15.1 million per mile for the remainder of the border. On the other hand, if we upgraded the entire fence to one that was roughly similar to the Israeli barrier, the cost would very likely shoot up to somewhere between $20-$25 billion.
So to be clear, the first thing we need to do is ignore the $8 billion figure, because that is almost certainly horseshit. Based on known costs for the Israeli barrier and our current Mexican border fence, it’s safe to say that the cost of this project would come in somewhere between $13-25 billion. And if the history of American infrastructure projects is any guide, it’s probably safe to assume more rather than less.
OK so we have a rough build cost. How does Trump get that money from Mexico? The most obvious answer, of course, is that he won’t. But many people are still deluded into thinking otherwise, so let’s look at Trump’s current plan. Trump’s website states that, "even a small increase in visa fees would pay for the wall.” But is that true? Well, no. Of course it isn’t. Currently, visa and entry fees from Mexico add up to about $200 million a year. If Trump even DOUBLED them, which seems highly unlikely, that would only be an additional $200 million per year. Which wouldn’t begin to do it. (http://cnn.it/2iK5BcC)
Let’s add in Mexico’s foreign aid. Currently, this is about $186 million a year. If we took every dime of that away, which also seems highly unlikely, that would increase the total haul to about $386 million a year. Tariffs I’m not even going to get into, because that’s a trade war, and if we start one of those with one of our biggest trading partners we’re going to have much bigger problems than a mere fence.
So with our fictional $386 million a year, it would take somewhere between 35-65 years to cover the barrier's construction costs. And keep in mind this is just the estimated cost to BUILD the fence. We haven’t even started talking about the significant expense of maintaining it. Our current fence, which is nearly three times shorter than the proposed fence, is costing about $275 million a year to maintain. So this new fence would cost as much as $750 million per year to maintain. Which means that all of those millions of dollars we just lifted from Mexico would barely cover HALF of the ongoing maintenance of the new barrier, much less the cost to build it.
Which leads us to the final part of the Trump plan: “remittance seizure.” And while this may sound like some sort of arcane accounting function between governments, it’s actually significantly more disturbing than that. You see “remittance payments” are money that immigrants send back to their families in their previous/native country. Nearly all of the remittance payments flowing into Mexico (97%) come from immigrants living in the US. In 2015 alone, those payments were estimated to be nearly $25 billion. Unlike the small amounts above, this is entirely enough to pay for the new barrier. But the problem is that this money would not come from the Mexican government, it would essentially be stolen from millions of innocent immigrants.
Trump claims that he has the authority under the Patriot Act to demand the information necessary to identify these wire transfers and subject them to seizure. But there are three issues with this: 1) These Patriot Act laws were designed to protect against terrorism, not steal money from poor Mexican families. So it’s not clear the courts would go along with this. 2) Mexican immigrants, whether they are here legally or otherwise, are not stupid. If there is even a small chance of wire transfers being seized, they will simply quit using them and get the money to their families using other means. 3) Stealing money from poor and working people in service to racist policies may nicely sum up both Trump and the modern Republican Party, but it’s still fucking despicable.
So to recap: The "wall" is now a barrier (which probably means fence), it will not be paid for by Mexico despite hundreds of promises to the contrary, even successful attempts to retrieve payments from Mexico will cover only the smallest portion of the cost, and the only real strategy Trump has for getting Mexico to pay for the entire project literally involves the widespread (and highly unlikely) looting of millions of poor Mexican families.
In other words, and once again, it was all bullshit.
It was always bullshit.
It was always bullshit.
Meanwhile: two weeks until inauguration day.