Commentary
By Ed Spivey Jr. 3-28-2018

President-for-now Donald Trump came up with a novel idea to fund his wall on the border with Mexico. Why not have the Pentagon pay for it? After all, its budget is nudging $700 billion a year — fattened considerably with the recent measure he signed — and the purported cost of the wall is only $20 billion, which is, like, a rounding error, right? And for a man who has made many financial errors in his life, it makes perfect sense.

The Pentagon wouldn’t even notice it was missing. A recent audit discovered that the Defense Logistics Agency alone couldn’t account for almost a billion dollars in expenditures. Agency leaders explained that it was, you know, just missing, adding poignant shrugs of their shoulder to express their concern and visibly throwing up their hands to show their determination to get to the bottom of it, just as soon as they got back from a fact-finding trip with whichever cabinet secretary was shamelessly exploiting the national treasury. 

And that audit was just for one of the 17 distinct agencies in the defense department. At least the Pentagon thinks it’s 17. It could be 18 or 19. One can never be sure when a department is working hard to keep pace with a budget equal to the defense expenditures of the next eight countries combined. You waste time on silly things like fiscal accountability and suddenly only seven countries combined are spending the same as our defense budget!

In fairness to the Defense Logistics Agency, however, it was audited by Ernst & Young, an outside company the doesn’t appreciate the bravery of America’s fighting men and women sitting at their desks in the Pentagon. Not to mention that it was Ernst & Young that audited Lehman Brothers each of the eight years prior to its collapse into bankruptcy, pronouncing it solvent and safe each time. Until it wasn’t. (We are pleased to report that Donald Trump had nothing to do with that financial crisis, other than to helpfully buy up real estate at bargain prices afterword and resell them at a profit to Russian oligarchs that he has never spoken to, received money from, or colluded with. And neither has his son-in-law, in case you were wondering.)

But back to the wall idea, which President Trump said could easily be built by the Army Corps of Engineers, because they’re, you know, in the army right? He assured skeptical Pentagon officials that the $20 billion would be more like a loan, because, duh, Mexico would pay it back. In fact, U.S. negotiators are already working with their Mexican counterparts to establish the precise terms of repayment. Asked if he prefers reimbursing the American treasury with a lump sum or in monthly payments, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto replied, pleasantly, “How about nada? Does nada work for you?”

In the meantime, President Trump will have to settle for the $1.6 billion Congress allotted for barriers along the border, which designates enough money for only about 25 miles of actual fencing. Not much of the almost 2,000-mile-long border, but enough of a nuisance to deter most undocumented people from crossing. Unless they’re motivated by needing work, or wanting a better life for their children, or are fleeing unsafe conditions in their home countries. In which case, an extra 30 miles of fencing just means it will take longer to get around when attempting to contribute to a U.S. economy which, at nearly full employment, needs additional workers to do the jobs we don’t want to do. So maybe the U.S. government can provide shuttle buses.

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Ed Spivey Jr. is Art Director of Sojourners.

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