- - Thursday, March 15, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“What you have to understand about Donald Trump, a perceptive observer of the American scene once told a visitor from abroad, “is that the press here takes him literally, but not seriously, and his millions of supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”

The president has only himself to blame. His non-stop braggadocio and exaggeration lends his critics and enemies the weapons to snipe at him with abandon, and his boast that his wall on the Mexican border will be virtually foolproof will no doubt come back to bite him in an embarrassing place. “It will be 99.5 percent successful,” he said of the wall this week in San Diego, where he was reviewing eight prototypes of such a wall. “People won’t be able to come over it.” He knows that some people will — death, taxes and the harangues of Hillary Clinton being the only 100 percent certainties on this orb.

Mr. Trump’s friends and supporters will see and hear his boast as a rhetorical flourish to underscore his commitment to doing something to curb the flood of illegal immigration, drug-trafficking and human smuggling across the southern border. This campaign promise, more than any other, put him in the White House.

The press will be unable to resist the urge to seize upon the 99.5 percent figure, taking it as scientific and mathematically precise, and then ridiculing it as unrealistic, if not impossible to achieve. This is how the liberal blogosphere erupted in noisy outrage over the president’s whimsical description of illegal immigrants out to scale the fence as “professional mountain climbers.”

“They are incredible climbers. They can’t climb some of these walls. Some of the prototypes, maybe they can,” he said of the eight prototypes. “Those are the walls we’re not using.”

The border-wall prototypes the president examined are 30 feet tall and made of various combinations of steel and concrete, some with metal spikes, and look far more formidable than the border barriers in place now. Climbing over Trump Wall will be no less difficult than tunneling under; the wall will extend six feet below the surface of the ground.

The administration has asked for $20 billion to pay for construction of 316 miles of barrier where none currently exist, and to replace the fencing across 407 miles of California, Arizona and New Mexico.

The president seemed to favor “a see-through wall” model that would enable border agents on the American side a view of what’s going on on the Mexican side. “We have to have see-through,” he said, lending new meaning to “government transparency.” If there’s no see-through, there’s a problem. To those who, like Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, say that Mr. Trump’s wall will be “fake border security,” a new Customs and Border Protection video, “Walls Work,” says otherwise.

The video compares the number of illegal immigrants interdicted in San Diego and in Yuma, Arizona, before and after border walls and fencing were installed on the California section of the border. “Once built, the barriers made a world of difference,” says the narrator, a female Border Patrol agent. In the San Diego sector, apprehensions — a proxy for gauging border-crossing attempts — fell from 560,000 to 68,000, a reduction of nearly 97 percent. “In Yuma,” the narrator says, “the story was much the same.”

While 87 percent clearly is not as glowing as Mr. Trump’s 99.5 percent, the figure will make inefficiency of border walls a more difficult argument to make. So the argument turns to the border wall price tag. “We’re spending money like a drunken sailor,” says Sen. Thomas Carper, a Delaware Democrat, piling calumny on the sturdy followers of the seagoing trade. “We cannot continue to waste money, so we need to find out what works and what doesn’t.” The sudden Democratic concern for economic prudence is heartening, but perhaps shouldn’t be taken literally, much less seriously.

This lack of authentic concern was underscored Tuesday — the day Mr. Trump was in San Diego on his inspection trip — by the news that California is pressing ahead, despite soaring cost projections, with the Democratic daydream of a “bullet train” between Los Angeles and “nowhere,” as critics call its first terminus in Fresno. Once the bullet train reaches Fresno, current plans would have it press on eventually to San Francisco.

A recent update of the mega-project puts the likely cost at $77 billion, up from $64 billion just two years ago, and pushes back the completion date from 2029 to 2033. The new estimate of the price tag is $98.1 billion. The $20 billion for Mr. Trump’s border wall sounds like a bargain for an actual necessity, and that estimate actually can be taken literally, and seriously, too.

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