May 2018
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Stephanie C. Fox


The Chinese Built a Wall. The Mongols Still Got In. Think About That.

I guess you just can’t fix stupid, thoughtless, or unreasonable.

Still, the urge to try is irresistible, and the need to educate remains.

Donald J. Trump wants to build a wall, charge up the cost for the materials, labor, and deaths on the job to the American people, and then bill the Mexicans for it. (So much for international diplomacy with the next-door neighbors!)

That’s his plan – the simple, short version.

That version is so short on details – and the devil is in the details – that it’s absurd.

Fortunately, late-night comedians like Stephen Colbert can be counted upon to fill in the gaps.

I knew Colbert would get around to this sooner rather than later, and he rose to the challenge beautifully.

In case the link doesn’t work for you, I shall describe what he covered.

Stephen Colbert and a Team of Expert Builders Get Started on Trump’s Wall

He met with an architect, an engineer, a concrete contractor, and an interior designer.

With this team, plus a white board and a set of magic markers, Stephen Colbert proceeded to outline what it would take to make this wall a reality in building materials, design specifications, human labor, construction time, pay for human labor, costs of all those materials and for use of any construction equipment involved, and an estimate of how many human deaths are likely from the labor of building this colossal edifice to exclusion.

Using quotes from Donald J. Trump as he talked up his wall plan, Colbert took the team through each question, point by point. It was a useful and instructive exercise, and Trump ought to watch it, no matter how big of a blow this proves to be to his ego. Maybe we’ll all get lucky and it will burst his proverbial bubble.

So…the video covered:

The wall would block off the 2,000-mile border between the 48 contiguous United States and Mexico.

It would be a “heck of a lot higher” than 80 feet. The architect determined that 100 feet would do.

The engineer said that this means that the posts for the wall would have to be driven into the ground to a depth of two-thirds of that height. Panels would span the length in between them.

This brought the group to the concrete necessary for the panels: 200 million cubic yards.

That’s a lot of material right there.

Cost per yard of concrete: $2,000.

Total cost of required concrete is therefore $400 billion, the engineer calculated.

The architect disagreed with that number, and insisted that it would be $985 billion.


  • labor,
  • overhead,
  • excavation,
  • planning,
  • portable concrete plants,
  • dewatering,
  • swamp drainage (apparently the border is not ALL arid desert),
  • possibly a mobile forge (to shape the metal components of the wall supports).

At that point, Stephen rounded the cost off to $1 trillion dollars and wrote that on the board.

Next, the architect said that he had read that less than half of the border was covered with roads.

Stephen said that it was probably best to just build a 2,000-mile highway.

What would that cost, he asked the panel?

The same, they agreed.

Okay…he wrote another $1 trillion onto the board.

Next question: how long would it take to actually build the wall?

742 years, came the answer.

But you’ve only got 3 years and 11 months of this administration to do this.

In that case, the architect replied, probably 8,000 people would be necessary to work on it.

The concrete guy thought 4,000 people would be needed just to handle the materials.

Accordingly, Stephen wrote 12,000 workers on the board. Then he read from his notes that the Great Wall of China resulted in a total of 400,000 deaths of the people who worked on it.

So how many people could die building this, Stephen asked?

The engineer said that you could probably keep it down to 100 a month. Then she calculated that 100 times 48 months would be 4,800 total.

The group was not pleased, but Stephen Colbert insisted upon being realistic, and with that he upped the number of workers to 20,000 just to have some spares to cover all those expected deaths on the job.

Moving on to the next part of Donald J. Trump’s bombastic talking up of his proposed wall, which was that it was going to be beautiful, Stephen called on the interior designer.

(I had wondered, when this segment began, what a decorator was doing on the panel. Now it made an absurd sort of sense…)

What would be the quickest way to make this wall look beautiful, he asked?

An outdoor recreation park might work…it could be turned into a big rock climbing wall.

(I next tried to imagine how helpful that would be to the Mexicans as they made their way down it after managing to scale it…)

Never one to disappoint on questions of logic, Stephen rejected this idea as antithetical to a wall that one can’t climb.

Next idea: wallpaper.

(The next superstorm would de-paper it, but it’s just an idea.)

27 million rolls of wallpaper would be needed for one side.

“We’ve got to do both sides here,” Stephen said, looking absolutely serious.

(Shouldn’t the Mexicans get to decorate their side, I thought to myself?!)

54 million rolls of wallpaper, Stephen wrote on his white board, leaning down to find space.

The interior designer then pointed out that pattern matching would be necessary, so that the seams of the images printed onto the wallpaper would line up neatly. Hmm…more money!

“Let’s add another 50% onto that, just to be safe,” he said.

100 million rolls, Colbert summed up.

With that, he called the Mexican consulate to leave a message about the cost.

A woman answered the phone, and he asked her if Mexico had about $2 trillion dollars in petty cash right now. There was an awkward silence, so he summed up, thanked her, and hung up.

“Man, Mexico is going to be pissed,” he remarked.

After this monument to stupidity – this wall – is built, IF it gets built, not only will it, like the Great Wall of China, be visible to astronauts in outer space, it will also fail in its purpose.

Think about that for a moment.

The Mexicans and others from Central America will tunnel under this wall, climb it, or just take plane rides over it. Alternatively, they can use boats to bypass it altogether.

After all, if the Mongols could breach the Great Wall of China – and they did – why should this wall be any different?

I suppose we could have some fun naming it, even if it won’t work…

The Wall of Exclusion might fit the bill.

The Great Barrier to Opportunity sounds good, too.

The Choke-Off of Ecosystems and Endangered Species addresses the environmental damage it would do.

The Monument to Idiocy comes to the minds of many taxpayers.

The Rejection of Liberty…

…well, have fun thinking of your own names.

Maybe we’ll kill this project with ridicule, as well we should.

The court jesters of the realm are doing their utmost, and we all ought to pitch in.

We certainly don’t want to pitch in any tax money for this nonsense.

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