Sciencing the crap out of Trump


Ah, don’t you love the sight of nonsensical claims getting vaporized by science? An engineer thought about Trump’s proposal to build a giant wall at the Mexican-American border. It turns out to be a non-trivial project.

Twelve million, six hundred thousand cubic yards. In other words, this wall would contain over three times the amount of concrete used to build the Hoover Dam — a project that, unlike Trump’s wall, has qualitative, verifiable economic benefits.

Such a wall would be greater in volume than all six pyramids of the Giza Necropolis — and it is unlikely that a concrete slab in the town of Dead Dog Valley, Texas would inspire the same timeless sense of wonder.

That quantity of concrete could pave a one-lane road from New York to Los Angeles, going the long way around the Earth, which would probably be just as useful.

Concrete, of course, requires reinforcing steel (or rebar). A reasonable estimate for the amount of rebar would be about 3 percent of the total wall size, resulting in a steel volume of 10,190,000 cubic feet, or about 5 billion pounds. We could melt down 4 of our Nimitz-class aircraft carriers and would probably be a few cruisers short of having enough steel.

But the challenge is far greater than simply collecting the necessary raw materials. All of these hundreds of miles of wall would need to be cast in concrete facilities, probably project-specific ones that have been custom built near the border. Then, the pre-cast wall pieces would need to be shipped by truck through the inhospitable, often roadless desert.

The men and women doing the work of actually installing the wall would have to be provided with food, water, shelter, lavatory facilities, safety equipment, transportation, and medical care, and would sometimes be miles away from a population center of any size. Sure, some people would be willing to to do the work, but at what price? Would Trump hire Mexicans?

This analysis also ignores the less sexy aspects of large-scale engineering projects: surveying, land acquisition, environmental review, geological studies, maintenance, excavating for foundations, and so on. Theoretical President Trump may be able to executive-order his way through the laser grid of lawsuits that normally impede this kind of work, but he can’t ignore the physical realities of construction.

But I don’t know — I’ve otherwise blocked Trump out of my mind for the last week or so. Is he still considered a viable candidate? Or have people yet realized that makes America look stupid?


  1. dick says

    As a consulting engineer, I recognize that we need make-work projects. But not Donald Chump inspired make-work projects.

  2. Athywren - Frustration Familiarity Panda says

    Hang on now! I’ve played Sim City, and I know that this just isn’t how these things work. Just plonk it down, it’ll make that funny noise and build itself up, and then it’s done. Simple!
    Silly engineers, trying to make things more complicated than they actually are!

  3. dutchdelight says

    So, big project is big. Not sure what else one would have expected, assuming you’ve seen a map or globe at some point in your life…

  4. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    So, big project is big.

    More than big. Unworkable. Delusional thinking.

  5. kevinv says

    Most of the existing border walls are not built from concrete & rebar. Do a google image search on Texas border wall to see examples.

    Doesn’t change the other points or make it a good idea, but wall doesn’t mean Berlin Wall style.

    Just one point in the stupidity of the idea also google: drug tunnel.

  6. throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble says

    The good news is that we’re seeing, as Republicans drop out, that Trump’s share of the pool is not increasing. Those voters aren’t flocking to him as the next viable clown. So it’s as I’ve seen predicted here and elsewhere: Trump will poll the same throughout while one or two other frontrunners begin to emerge.

    But the frontrunners available are only marginally removed from the crackpot Trump as far as their policies go (Carson, Fiorina, etc.) So Trump played his part. He took it to the extreme, and now moderates look like the opposite end of extreme, and has provided cover for the original extremists by making their extremes look moderate in comparison.

    Trump may have been legitimately running, but the elites were simply using him all along to push their more radical views as “centered”.

  7. Nemo says

    @throwaway #9: Only two Republicans have dropped out so far, and they had no measurable number of supporters to redistribute.

  8. Emily says

    @10 Certainly. Any species whose range includes that area would have their range truncated unless they are a burrowing or flying animal. This would also create isolation between the populations on either side of the border.

  9. chigau (違う) says

    There are a number of Indian Reservations/First Nations Reserves that cross the US/Canada border.
    I wonder how they would react to attempts to build a wall on their land.

  10. carlie says

    The real danger of Trump is that he’s espousing solidly right-wing ideals, but doing it in such a clownish and forthright style that it makes the rest of them look moderate and reasonable by comparison even though they believe the same things he does. They’re just smart enough not to come right out and say it before they get elected, so the rest of the party gets a ratings bump that they don’t deserve.

  11. numerobis says

    The US builds “31,813 lane-miles per year”, so the amount of concrete for the wall is (by his calculation) somewhat less than the amount poured in a year just on new road construction. Add to that the amount spent on maintenance or for buildings or whatever.

    Three times bigger than the Hoover Dam — ok, so it would have taken until 1950 to have this project be an equal fraction of GDP as the Hoover Dam. At this point, the economy is 100x as large as the economy that built the Hoover Dam.

    The US is a big place, it could easily run this size of project. That doesn’t make it a good idea.

  12. Larry says

    The infrastructure required to support the building of the wall and maintenance of it, if and when it is built, would cost more than the actual building of the wall itself. A significant piece of our GNP would go into this thing with a return on investment of essentially zero. In fact, it would more than likely be negative as, assuming that it works and illegal aliens are kept out, our economy has become dependent upon these people to handle jobs that Americans won’t do so those businesses (agriculture, for example) would collapse.

    The only thing greater than the scope and magnitude of this thing is its idiocy.

  13. says

    I was trying to come up with some kind of notion of the ongoing cost of such a thing, too, the practical ongoing security arrangements that might be made. Figured I’d look at actual border walls constructed. And so naturally thought of things like the inner German border and the Berlin wall, getting us to a pair of barriers, with a wide zone between easily swept by the armed guards in the towers… Possibly some mines in the ground or on the barbed wire… There’d be a whole zone near the border for several kilometers you couldn’t get near without special papers, and so on…

    Granted, those sorts of arrangements are more for walls meant to keep people from escaping the nation that builds and maintains them. But then, after a few years of a Trump presidency, it seems to me, this might well become a practical direction.

    … it would of course, be monumental, in terms of the total number of people involved. But then, when you think about the general direction of the US, of late, in terms of number of people incarcerated, the rising size of the prison economy, the cost of maintaining it all, maybe this does have a certain practicality, after all. Just make it one big prison*, and get it over with.

    (*/And, of course, as in all proper police states, everyone both guard and potential informer.)

  14. dianne says

    This would also create isolation between the populations on either side of the border.

    And you know what isolating populations leads to, don’t you? Evolution! Trump’s promoting evolution! (See if that argument gets anywhere with the Reps.)

  15. marcoli says

    Trump has said that the wall would be (if I recall) only about a thousand miles. That is, it would be scattered along the border, blocking areas of high traffic. Of course even this would be prohibitively expensive to build and maintain and monitor, and it would not work. People from south of the border will just go under, over, or around it. The drug traffickers especially would not be stopped.

  16. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Colbert quizzed the Trump about the wall. Trump said the Chinese built a wall thousand years ago, 3000 miles long to keep out the Mongolians. What he proposes is merely 1,000 miles long.
    Q: You say the Mexicans will build it. How will you get them to do want *you* want?
    Trump: We got some trillions dollars trade deficit with Mexico, so of course they’ll want to build something that costs mere billions.

    So, to try to stump Trump with engineering technicalities of his megawall. Never mind, that’s what the Mexican crafty minds can figger out. They will dig all the rock and concrete and pay for transporting it on site. Food and housing is irrelevant. They live there with little food and housing already, so just let them move their tents along the leading edge of the wall under-construction wall. In addition to final protection from immigration, building the wall will keep those Mexies busy, with productive jobs and getting regular paychecks, removing the need to immigrate to ‘Murica for money. So Win win win; what’s the problem??

  17. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    the wall will have a “big door” in the middle of it to let immigrants in “legally”, Yeah, let em line up and let them in legally.

  18. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    And if they factor in fence in addition to concrete wall? Say concrete for high traffic regions, with fence connecting them. me thinks the total will be much less daunting than a solid contiguous concrete wall. Yet the amount of wire for such a long range fence could be daunting (assume grid style wire fence). Regardless of specifics of the final wall/fence The proposal is trumpingly stoooped.

  19. prae says

    I kinda hope that Trump wins. Him totally ruining the US would be pretty much the only realistic scenario where the NSA would stop spying on everyone.

    That said… why don’t you suggest him digging a channel all the way through north america and filling it with sharks? From the sounds of it, it might be more realistic AND help endangered sea animals survive!

  20. says

    I’m sure someone in the US Navy, Coast Guard, and shipbuilding industries would love this wall. After all the sudden growth of immigrants trying to enter the US via the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean would require more patrol vessels.

  21. says

    And the aircraft industry would probably be a beneficiary as well, with the Navy and Coast Guard needing a bunch of new surveillance aircraft and drones to go looking for immigrant boats.

  22. carollynn says

    But the Mexicans are going to pay for the wall. Trump said so. Why they would do that is beyond me and probably any other rational person, but that’s the way The Donald seems to structure all his ‘deals’ these days: get someone else to put up the money and take the risk.

    Wait! Does Trump think that walls work?

    As I recall history, walls do not work! They didn’t keep out the Mongols in China. They didn’t keep out the Picts in Britain. Isn’t a flip definition of insanity doing something over and over and expecting different results?

  23. says

    Trump also said that it’s hard for anyone to make fun of his looks because he is “so good looking.” Deluded.

    Speaking of refugees, Donald Trump said yesterday that if he is elected president, the USA will not accept any Syrian refugees. Empathy deficit is yuuuge. Foreign policy knowledge is somewhere in the negative range.

    Here are some current polls, (head/desk warning):

    1. Donald Trump: 26% (up one point from last month)
    2. Ben Carson: 18% (up six points)
    3. Carly Fiorina: 9% (up four points)
    3. Marco Rubio: 9% (up five points)
    5. Ted Cruz: 8% (down two points)
    6. Jeb Bush: 7% (down two points)
    7. Chris Christie: 5% (up two points)
    8. John Kasich: 4% (unchanged)
    9. Mike Huckabee: 3% (down three points)
    10. Rand Paul: 2% (down one point)
    11. George Pataki: 1% (unchanged)

    On the other hand, Trump did speak before a decidedly less than yuuuge audience in South Carolina yesterday. The ballroom was half empty.
    Salon link

  24. says

    Trump tried to clarify his relationship to God recently. Perhaps another sign that Trump is feeling a little desperate?

    Well I say God is the ultimate. You know you look at this? Here we are on the Pacific Ocean. How did I ever own this? I bought it fifteen years ago. I made one of the great deals they say ever. I have no more mortgage on it as I will certify and represent to you. And I was able to buy this and make a great deal. That’s what I want to do for the country. Make great deals. We have to, we have to bring it back, but God is the ultimate. I mean God created this (points to his golf course and nature surrounding it), and here’s the Pacific Ocean right behind us. So nobody, no thing, no there’s nothing like God.

    It’s a good thing that Trump is a close second to God. He’s going to need super powers to get Mexico to build his proposed wall with it’s beautiful door.

  25. says

    Cross-posted from the Moments of Political Madness thread.

    More documentation of Trump’s madness, and of his dependence on rightwing faux news (ironic since he is now boycotting Fox News … again).

    Donald Trump is claiming that Hillary Clinton started the whole “birther” thing during the 2008 campaign.

    Trump tweeted:

    Just remember, the birther movement was started by Hillary Clinton in 2008. She was all in!

    Trump is not alone. Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, and other news media personalities have joined Trump in this assertion. Trump is basing his conclusion on this exchange, which took place on “60 Minutes” in 2008:

    “You don’t believe that Senator Obama’s a Muslim?” Steve Kroft asked Clinton.

    “Of course not,” she responded. “I mean, that’s, you know, there is no basis for that. I take him on the basis of what he says. There isn’t any reason to doubt that.”

    “You said you’d take Senator Obama at his word that he’s not a Muslim. You don’t believe that he’s a Muslim or are implying—?” Kroft presses.

    “No,” Clinton said. “No, there is nothing to base that on. As far as I know.”

    Don Lemon of CNN recently brought the matter up again in an interview with Clinton:

    “People have been saying on-air here, and I’ve been reporting it on CNN and I’ve been reporting it here, that you were the person behind the whole birther thing and that the senator at the time, the President-elect, actually confronted you about that. Do you care to respond?” Lemon asked, according to audio posted by Mediaite. “Did you or your campaign start the whole birther thing? And did you have a confrontation with the President?”

    “That is so—no,” Clinton responded. “That is so ludicrous, Don. You know, honestly, I just believe that—first of all, it’s totally untrue. Secondly, the President and I have never had any kind of confrontation like that.”

    “This is such a bad example of what’s wrong with instantaneous reactions and Americans getting all worked up and people feeding prejudice and paranoia, like Donald Trump,” she continued. “Obviously all of us have to stand against it. I have been blamed for nearly everything. That was a new one to me.”

    The Donald has already built one impenetrable wall, the one between him and reality.

  26. says

    Cross-posted from the Moments of Political Madness Thread.

    Donald Trump wants you to know that he as ignorant and arrogant about global warming as he is about building a wall between Mexico and the USA.

    I’m not a believer in global warming. And I’m not a believer in man-made global warming. It could be warming, and it’s going to start to cool at some point. And you know, in the early, in the 1920s, people talked about global cooling. I don’t know if you know that or not. […]

    I believe there’s weather. I believe there’s change, and I believe it goes up and it goes down, and it goes up again. And it changes depending on years and centuries, but I am not a believer, and we have much bigger problems. […]

    Trump said that yesterday.

    A couple of journalists have pointed out that Trump is wrong (and also that Trump is mindlessly repeating conservative conspiracy theories) about the supposed discussion in the 1920s regarding global cooling.

    From David Roberts at Vox:

    […] I briefly considered factchecking this word salad [Trump’s word salad on global warming]. For instance, nobody in the 1920s thought the earth was cooling.

    In the 1970s, a few scientists briefly speculated that the effect of aerosols in the atmosphere (blocking sunlight out) might overwhelm the longer term effects of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (trapping heat in). But then they did some science, discovered that was wrong, and adjusted their views accordingly.

    According to climate change deniers, because a few (not even most — just a few) scientists briefly postulated an incorrect theory about the balance of atmospheric forcings some 40 years ago, all subsequent climate science is nonsense and you can’t trust what those climate scientists say. They’re always changing their minds! […]

    Anyway, despite this trope being aggressively, almost comically stupid, it has been around for decades. It is repeated by deniers to this day, with numbing frequency, which makes Trump’s “I don’t know if you know that or not” extra amusing.

    […] And I realized that factchecking Donald Trump is a category error. It’s like polishing a duck.

    […] Except I have to ask: what is going on with this “nuclear warming” business? This is not the first time Trump has said it. For instance:

    They talk about global warming is our biggest threat. The global warming we have to worry about is nuclear warming. That’s the global warming.

    What now?

    A nuclear blast would be very, very warm, very, very briefly, for those located near ground zero. After that, though, the big fear is nuclear winter, whereby soot kicked up into the atmosphere by nuclear blasts blocks out the sun. So I’m not sure what “nuclear warming” is. Or why “that’s the global warming.” Or why, whatever it is, it can’t be solved alongside global warming, rather than in its place. Or why …

    Oh, screw it.

  27. HolyPinkUnicorn says

    Every time The Donald brings up this outlandish wall proposal, I think back a few years to the US military’s habit of installing enormous numbers of blast walls and concrete barriers all over Iraq, whether to delineate and protect bases or simply wall off neighborhoods in order to “keep the bad guys out.”

    Those were all relatively simple prefab concrete barriers, mostly dropped in place by military engineers and then guarded by other military personnel, so the issue of nefarious characters attempting to burrow underneath or scramble over the top was handled with lots of security and firepower–all within a combat zone, of course.

    In other words, it’s great if you’re deluded enough to think such a brute force, war-inspired tactic is the solution to an issue as complex as immigration, especially on the border of two countries who aren’t actually at war with each other. Never mind the humanitarian problems already present without a magic thousand mile wall to make land crossings even more perilous. Or something like the fever dream Herman Cain had in 2011, proposing an electrified border fence. (Hey, why not? There are no limits to one’s imagination, no matter how cruel.)

    Even if Trump were to somehow be elected and got this boondoggle erected, I can only imagine the sheer amount of taxpayer-funded corruption and abuse that would emerge among whatever government agency(ies) and/or cost-plus contractors are tasked with guarding and maintaining such a white elephant.

  28. A Masked Avenger says

    Wait! I used to be against the wall, but you changed my mind with “melt down 4 of our Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.” Now I think it’s an awesome idea. When can we start decommissioning those warships?

  29. reddiaperbaby1942 says

    The Hungarians have recently built a “fence” at their border with Serbia, to keep immigrants out. I’m not sure how long it is, but it’s 4 m high and has a lot of razor wire. In other words, it’s not actually a “wall” in the sense Trump may have meant it. (Insofar as he ever actually “means” anything he says.)
    Hungary has been harshly criticized for this action by many of the western European EU countries, but the eastern-European ones (Poland, Slovenia etc) are all in favor.
    (P.S. I checked the length; it’s 175 km.)
    I hope this isn’t giving the American xenophobia-party ideas!

  30. says

    The “wall” between Hungary and Serbia employs mass quantities of police and other enforcement personnel in addition to fencing and razor wire. People are still breaching that fence.

    The text below is cross-posted from the Moments of Political Madness thread.

    We heard the typical non-answer from Trump today on the subject of deporting every undocumented immigrant in the USA:

    […] Trump has been vocal that he plans to deport all undocumented immigrants from the country, but has yet to tell how he will go about it.

    Camerota [Alisyn Camerota on CNN’s “New Day”] asked, “How would you specifically go about it?”

    Trump then dodged the question.

    “Through good management and through a process. And the process is the bad ones go and they never come back,” Trump said. “They’re never coming back. The really good ones, and there are many, they will go and they will come back legally. They’ll come back on an expedited system.”

    She then asked if he would use the National Guard or police to enforce the policy.

    “I would use different forms,” Trump said. “It will take place and it will be done effectively and warmly and humanely. And a lot of people will be very happy about it. Did you know i had a good hispanic poll the other day?”

    Trump then pivoted into talking about his poll numbers.

    Well, I’m reassured. /sarcasm How about you? “Warmly and humanely” … dude, you are in LaLa land. Your train is off the tracks. All of your screws are loose. Your ego has ballooned out to Pluto. Do the people you hire routinely let you get away with this nonsense?

  31. procyon says

    I thought the plan was to use 11 million incarcerated illegals to build the wall. As punishment for being illegal.

  32. procyon says

    At some point malevolent narcissistic personality disorder should preclude some one from being Pres of the US.

  33. Rich Woods says

    @Giliell #27:

    Ehm, does Trump remember
    -how long it took to build the Chinese Wall?
    -how many people died building it?
    -that it didn’t work?

    And then there’s Hadrian’s Wall, built and manned by the most powerful and militarily best-organised empire of the day. Hadrian wanted to demonstrate to the citizens in Rome that the Roman Empire was going to stop expanding, but the wall was also supposed to stop the Picts raiding the Romano-Britons. It didn’t. It just stopped them from taking quite so many cattle back home. Several decades later the Romans built another wall (well, a ditch and rampart) 100 miles further north, but that didn’t really help either. It was soon abandoned.

    Whether Hadrian’s Wall paid for itself is open to opinion (sometimes just keeping the legions busy was a survival tactic for Roman emperors). It’s greatest success has been in providing modern Britain with a magnificent heritage monument.

    Somehow I doubt Trump is capable of achieving any of that.

  34. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Nuclear warming ?
    Trump has that so bass-ackwards, I can’t even spit. The effect of a nuclear war is the exact opposite. Never heard of “nuclear winter”?. Carl Sagan would like a word with you, The Donald.
    [tempting me to alliterate “Donald”, to “Dunce”. pffft ]

  35. Lofty says

    A three strand barbed wire fence with a closeup pic of the Trump tied to it every 20 feet would probably suffice in any case.

  36. yoav says

    Just build the wall out of magicked ice and man it with catholic priests*, problem solved.
    *They’re already dress in black and sworn to life long celibacy.

  37. dianne says

    A three strand barbed wire fence with a closeup pic of the Trump tied to it every 20 feet would probably suffice in any case.

    The barbed wire might be redundant in that case. The man is just ugly. I don’t suppose that’s his fault, but wow, he’s just hard on the eyes. If you won’t vote against him for his policies, vote against him to avoid having that face on the news for 4 years.

  38. ck, the Irate Lump says

    slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) wrote:

    Nuclear warming ?
    Trump has that so bass-ackwards, I can’t even spit.

    He’s probably trying to bring the conversation back to the imaginary nuclear war that conservatives are sure is going to happen between the U.S. and North Irankorea any day now.