President Trump made a brief foray recently into enemy territory — the state of California. He visited San Diego’s border with Mexico, near Tijuana, where eight prototypes of his wall had been constructed for his consideration. Ones that didn’t make the cut, of course, were not on display. These included a shocking pink wall and a wall with a moat filled with nuclear waste. Though it wasn’t clear, I presume the waste would consist of spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants and that the moat would go on the Mexican side of the wall.
If Trump had a preference, it wasn’t reported. What we do know, however, is that he has asked Congress for $18 billion to build his wall.
Our friends in government throw around figures like $18 billion without seeming to give much thought to how much money that is. Maybe our billionaires can relate. But me? I have a difficult time comprehending a figure like that.
So, as a public service, I’ve done a little research to see what $18 billion would buy if it didn’t end up building what Trump calls his “beautiful” wall.
School lunches — A national average figure is difficult to pin down, but $2.50 per lunch seems about right. In some states, they’re free; in others, parents pay all or a portion. Some are subsidized by the federal government. But $18 billion would buy approximately 140 meals for each of the 51 million students enrolled K-12 — that’s almost a full school year’s worth. Private schools? We’ll let Betsy DeVos worry about that, assuming she survives the next round of purges.
Infrastructure improvements — Let’s talk just bridges. One in nine of our bridges — 66,405, or 11 percent of the total — are structurally deficient. There are nearly 200 million daily crossings on these bridges, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. CNN reports it would cost $140 billion to repair them. So, $18 billion would not fix them all — only about 13 percent. But what if we focused on the most dangerous? Yes, I know, Trump continues to trumpet his $1.5 trillion infrastructure improvement program. But, based on his track record and the huge recent tax cut benefiting primarily 1 percenters, what’s the likelihood that’s going to happen any time soon?
Public broadcasting — Trump wants to cut all $450 million in annual federal funding destined to support public broadcasting — PBS and NPR. Without those funds, it’s predicted many regional public radio and TV networks would disappear. Listener and corporate support is insufficient to enable public broadcasting to maintain the level of service to which many have become accustomed. A one-time grant of $18 billion to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would keep its funding secure for up to 40 years.
Assault rifles — It’s estimated that 8 million AR-15 assault rifles are owned by private citizens. The weapon is far and away the most preferred by the whack jobs killing us in our schools, churches, night clubs and music concerts. Depending on “enhancements,” one can cost $600-$2,500. Let’s use an average of $1,600. The cost to ban these weapons and buy them back would be about $13B. What to do with them? Give them to the military, where — if anywhere — they belong. Solve the problem of gun violence? Of course not. But it would be a start.
Getting rid of CO₂ — Working to slow the impact of global warming is, of course, at the bottom of Trump’s ever-shifting list of priorities. But here’s what $18 billion aimed in that direction could do. A single 2-megawatt commercial wind generator — at a cost of $3 million — can power 330 homes. The wall could pay for 6,000 generators, powering almost 2 million households — sufficient for Chicago and all of Cook County!
I could go on, of course, but you get the idea. In fact, do you have a suggestion as to how we could better spend $18 billion? I’d like to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lorin R. Robinson, Ph.D., is a writer and former chair of the Journalism Department at UW-River Falls. His current book is "Tales from The Warming."
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