Dangerous Waste Precedent

Donald Trump has left an unenviable mark on the American political system, as well as on America’s reputation in the world. And despite all the anger, disgust and disbelief that we hear of, it’s equally important to bear in mind that he has a solid 40 percent approval rating.[i] Vast swathes of America’s media and intelligentsia may detest him, but Donald J Trump still enjoys robust support in the US.

 That support unwittingly has created alarming economic precedents for America’s politics. In the first 29 months of his presidency, Trump’s appetite to play golf cost taxpayers $102 million in security and travel expenses.[ii] The vast bulk of those costs have been for golf trips to his own resort in Florida, with obvious conflicts of interest given that the resort generates significant revenue and awareness from the president’s presence.

 $3.5 million per month to support the president’s hobby translates to $169 million over the cycle of a single presidential term, and $337 million over the cycle of two terms. What are the alternative uses of these taxpayer funds? Remember, American citizens, many of whom haven’t seen much economic benefit in the last decade, have to fund this golf habit. Where else can these finite tax sums be used?

 Anybody who has visited Washington DC will be struck by the contrast between its grand buildings, magnificent statues, manicured landscape and its homeless population. The US capital is only 177 square kilometres, yet it has almost 7,000 homeless people.[iii] Let’s just take this group of people and calculate what it would cost to feed, clothe and shelter them.

 Shelter comes in at about $1,070 per month.[iv] Meals are $10 per day.[v] Clothes and hygiene – I don’t have hard data but let’s put aside $300 per month. And that leaves medical care at about $1,000 per month. If we then throw in a buffer, $3,000 per month should cover it. And that doesn’t speak to the savings that government generates in taking people off the streets and into potentially a more active and integrated role in the economy and society.

 The simple maths is that if Donald Trump stopped travelling to play golf, with all the costs associated that taxpayers have to pay, and instead allocated the extra costs to providing shelter, clothing, food and medical support to the capital’s homeless, it would push a staggering 1,172 homeless people from Washington DC’s streets and into homes.

 If the US political system, from grassroots supporters to fancy Senators, considers that this kind of trade-off is untenable, that the president ought to continue his expensive habit, that same system needs to recognise it is setting a dangerous precedent for what is and is not government waste. Because if the next US president, a Democrat or Republican, then wants to take his chums to Disney World every second month or so, that too should not be a problem.

[i] https://news.gallup.com/poll/203198/presidential-approval-ratings-donald-trump.aspx
[ii] https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/trump-golf-102-million-taxpayers_n_5ce46727e4b09b23e65a01bb?ri18n=true
[iii] https://wamu.org/story/18/05/08/d-c-homeless-population-decreases-second-year-advocates-worry-many-still-risk/
[iv] https://endhomelessness.org/resource/ending-chronic-homelessness-saves-taxpayers-money-2/
[v] https://www.forbes.com/sites/eriksherman/2018/03/12/trumps-parade-could-feed-all-homeless-veterans-but-we-could-have-before-as-well/#60b97f8466cf
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