Emergencies, Desperation, and Dangerous Precedents

Donald Trump must win his Wall money without declaring an emergency.

Here at Scragged, sometimes we hear of an event and the article just about writes itself.  Other times, there is earthshaking, historical news and yet coming up with something original to say about it is like pulling teeth.  We sympathize the ancient Greeks' well-documented frustration with the unreliability of the muses, fickle goddesses who supposedly and erratically inspired them to write or speak.

You'd think it would be easy for us to discuss our current partial temporary government shutdown over the issue of building Mr. Trump's southern border wall.  After all, we've advocated that large chunks of our government need to be permanently shut down, and our position on the absolute necessity of ending illegal immigration and chain migration is just about as fundamental.  And since, for once, we appear to have a Republican leader with some stick-to-it-iveness, we ought to be celebrating, right?

In truth, there is much to admire about the situation Trump has created, with the eager if unwitting cooperation of the Democrats.  For one thing, isn't it artful that this is in fact a partial government shutdown?  Most of the government, including many of the actual important bits, remain fully funded and entirely unaffected.

Of the 25% or so that is supposedly "shut down", much of it is things we'd just as soon see stay that way, like the EPA.  Others are easily declared as "essential," meaning that they stay operating - though at some point the workers will need to be paid in actual money.  As Mr. Trump has observed, the vast majority of government workers outside of the military vote Democrat anyway.  It's hard to imagine a better opportunity for a determined Republican to dig in his heels and sit tight until the Democrats cry Uncle.

With any other Republican, the onslaught of media opprobrium would have led to a humiliating total surrender.  With Mr. Trump, the more the media throws rocks at him, the more firmly he digs himself in.  We've now reached a point where the received wisdom is that Mr. Trump cannot give up on his Wall now without irretrievably destroying his presidency.  For once, the received wisdom seems to be correct, and it also seems like Mr. Trump agrees with it.

So the question here isn't, will Mr. Trump throw in the towel?  We don't think he will.

No, our concern is of something worse: that he'll get impatient.

Process Matters

How many times have you heard of something insane happening in our government, and thought to yourself, "Well, if I were dictator...!"  Admit it: we all have.

Which is precisely why we don't want a dictator.  No matter how good a person you are, power corrupts.  Yes, we need our leaders to have power; but that power must be limited by checks and balances.  Often the checks and balances impede accomplishing good things, but it's easy to overlook the rest of the time, when those same checks and balances stop bad things.  Since there are many more bad things than good, that's to our benefit overall.

Thus it is, with the idea of Mr. Trump declaring a national emergency to build his Wall.  Can he do this?  Absolutely: if government has a purpose at all, it is to defend this country from outside invasion, which is exactly what illegal mass immigration is.  We are, in fact and truth, being invaded by foreigners; other means to stop this invasion have failed.

President Trump would be entirely justified in declaring an emergency, sending in the Army, and building whatever defenses seem suitable to the task of stopping that invasion once and for all.  He is the Commander-in-Chief: that is his job, his obligation, and his duty.

It would also be a bad mistake, potentially fatal to our nation.

How so?  Defending our nation is something that should unite all Americans, and certainly all American politicians.  When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, FDR did not have to negotiate with the Republicans to get them to sign onto a war declaration.  All Americans stood together to reply to the attack with full force.

Unfortunately, those days are over.  Today, it seems like one of our parties actively wants our nation to be invaded and taken over by a foreign culture and large chunks of the other party don't much care either way.  Mr. Trump is not fighting against foreign enemies, he is fighting against domestic ones, even within the party that is nominally his.

So he bears a far greater burden than FDR; really, his task more resembles that of Lincoln, against whom half the country was in active revolt and an additional quarter couldn't easily make up its mind.

This makes the stakes far higher and the potential consequences of mistakes much more grave.  FDR's America could potentially have been conquered by the Japanese and the Nazis, in which case political considerations would be irrelevant.  Short of that, America could be expected to continue functioning much as it had been all along.

Mr. Lincoln not only had to worry about a rebellious South, but of chunks of treasonous North.  When he suspended habeas corpus, allowing him to imprison pro-South activists and protesters without trial, he took the risk that the victor of the next election would be someone who might use those powers against Mr. Lincoln's side.  He took that risk, and it worked out for the best, but that was far from obvious at the time.

For Mr. Trump, the calculation must be different.  Suppose he declares an emergency and builds his Wall.  The illegal invasion is certainly critical, but it is not an "emergency" in the traditional sense because it's been going on for decades.  At what point does it cease to be a mere problem, and become an actual emergency?  Nobody can say - or, anyone can.

Once Mr. Lincoln won his war, there weren't ever going to be Confederates occupying the Oval Office.  That doesn't apply to Mr. Trump: there will someday be a Democrat in the Oval Office, and barring a cultural miracle on the scale of the Great Awakening, that person will be a far-left socialist big-government politically-correct absolutist with tyrannical tendencies, at the very least - because that's what the Democrat Party is these days.

What would such a person view as an "emergency" demanding an immediate and unlimited response?  Obviously, climate change - Barack Obama himself called for shutting down coal mining and power-plant construction, but Congress wouldn't go along.  With the emergency precedent in hand, this would no longer be a hindrance to, say, President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

How about boosting taxes?  Our growing national debt is widely agreed to be a major problem.  How hard would it be to find a passel of professors to opine that it constitutes a national emergency, requiring summary confiscatory taxes on those with "excess" wealth?  President Elizabeth Warren would surely have no trouble rounding up a roomful of her Harvard colleagues to provide academic justification.

The Declaration calls for the goals of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  Our Democrat opponents love to fret over the loss of lives due to the lack of health insurance: supposedly, 45,000 per year.  Isn't this an emergency calling for plenary powers of national healthcare provision, since Congress has failed to act?

We could go on and on, but you get the picture: The only reason the Democrats haven't already tried to create their Utopia in this way is because they didn't think they could get away with it.

If Mr. Trump paves the way for them, the next time they get the chance, they'll take his precedent and run us all right off a cliff with it.

Softly, Softly, Catchee Monkey

For most Trump fans, his most appealing characteristic is his love of a good fight.  We've wanted a true fighting spirit on our side for decades.

A really good fighter, though, knows when not to fight - or even better, how to save his punch for absolute maximum effect.  President Trump has to win his border wall fight, but just building the wall alone is not enough.  He must do so in a way that avoids giving the enemy the tools to tear down not just his wall, but the entire country - which is exactly what the precedent of an emergency declaration would do.

Patience!  Please!

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Partisanship.
Reader Comments

One thing you seem not to be recognizing is that not all "emergencies" happen instantly or quickly; sometimes they are the result of a long, slow cumulation of a problem that isn't dealt with, and it becomes a crisis because of that cumulation! We are THERE: it IS a crisis, if America as a nation, and a republic, is to survive. Our economy, culture, and national sovereignty are all under severe attack by these invaders. If it's not stopped now and dealt with, it never will be, because the land will be here but it will NOT be America any longer. Moreover, we need to deport most if not all those already here illegally, not allow them to remain here and be rewarded for their crimes; and they are committing multiple crimes every day they remain here, from stealing IDs and using them, messing up the lives of those who actually own the IDs stolen, to stealing services not intended for them, but only for citizens, to interfering with our elections by voting in them illegally.

January 16, 2019 9:18 PM

"President Ocasio-Cortez."

God, how I hate the 21st century.

January 16, 2019 11:37 PM

Invoking an emergency would not be much different than having abortion shoved down our throats in 73. It is still an un-settled mess because it was put forward as a constitutional scam, and everyone knows it.

Not to mention that an emergency declaration also deprives us of a very public back-breaking of the democrats that this country desperately needs. Should we declare emergencies to manage border skirmishes? Build temporary barriers at hotspots? Yes and yes. But the larger project needs to spring from the democrats getting rolled. Patience, we have never been this close.

January 17, 2019 6:40 AM

We've already reached the point of no return, so like the Art of War says, if you have an enemy you should strike first. See, a President Cortez WILL do these things, regardless of how nice we play.

January 17, 2019 10:58 AM

Most people do not realize this or even think about this but the government we call the federal government operates on emergency all of the time and has been operated on an emergency basis since at least 1917. Without the declared war or emergency the traditional limitations of the Constitution are alive and well. When the emergency is declared the Constitution is set aside and that federal government, aka United States is placed on a war powers footing and has almost dictatorial authority. The emergency is not limited to actual war. Can you say war on drugs or war on poverty? There is a very good writing on this subject, the name of which escapes me right now, but I assure that all of us are living under the war powers and there are very few people alive today which have lived under something other.

You can believe this one or not, but in January 2017 I sent a letter to President Trump on behalf of some people that were willing to fund the wall, essentially privately. Did not get a response. In January 2019 I sent another letter. To date no response. So what is a guy supposed to do if that offer does not get anyone's attention in the White House?

January 17, 2019 6:35 PM

Truth be told, I think we've been operating on that to some degree since Lincoln set the Constitution aside to start what we call the Civil War; our flags in Federal buildings have not shed their fringe since then, which is indicative of Admiralty law prevailing.
Trump may not even have seen your letters; those get read by "flunkies" and sorted according to whatever criteria they've been given by which to do so. They may not even be opening mail just now, since the shutdown; I know the phone lines are not being answered except by the computer telling you about the shutdown.
That said; I do know, from the hassles Brian Kolfage (the triple amputee vet who started a GoFundMe account for that purpose) has been having and the resolution to which that has come, it's highly likely Trump couldn't accept your offer even if he wanted to do so. There are laws in place prohibiting private donations because of the possibility for extortion over them, or some other form of coercion.

January 17, 2019 6:47 PM

@Sandra Lee Smith

On thinking it over, I tend to agree with you. Mr. Obama said over and over that he lacked th authority to give the Dreamers citizenship, then he did it. JFK was totally OK with burglarizing Mr. Nixon's lawyer's office to get information that helped him win the 1960 election.

You are right about Democrats having no respect for Democratic norms. They will do whatever they think they can get away with.

January 17, 2019 7:35 PM

I think the real question here is, what do the American people think?

If they are OK with what the Democrats do, then it doesn't matter - we're already sunk. Regardless of whether a nation has democratic trappings or not, at some level any government must have at least the tacit approval of the people or there will be a revolution, unless it's an absolute police state like North Korea. Even the Soviet Union finally lost popular consent and fell apart.

We know there is no longer a "Moral Majority", or the Democrats and their policies would have been always losing instead of usually winning for decades on end.

So if not the first, and not the second, the only other option is, that the vast middle doesn't really want to pay attention and/or take action. If that's the case, then there's still hope, but it can only become relevant if they can caused to wake up and get angry at the Democrats. That means emphasizing the bad things that they do, while not doing things that most normal people find bad.

About the only advantage on Trump's side is how totally disconnected the Democrats and media are from normal people. The media will trumpet Trump's "outrageous" statements about illegals, assuming that normal people will find them as outrageous as they themselves do, but in reality most normal people *like* the idea of enforcing our border laws. That's build him a deep and strong core of support, as well as a wider array of somewhat hesitant "shy Tory" support.

If Trump does something that honest and truly is outside of American traditions and norms, though, he may lose the hesitant support. And I don't think he has enough core support to survive if that's *all* he has.

January 17, 2019 7:52 PM

In the back of my mind, I have been wondering if the United States might actually flirt with fascism. I think the readers here are intelligent enough to see that is one of the possible outcomes here.

January 17, 2019 8:51 PM

In a communist system the government owns the means of production. In a fascist system the government does not own the means of production but controls it.

Look around you.

January 18, 2019 5:45 AM

As I have said before, this is a problem with a much less disruptive solution. That is, focus on the international banks that are used almost exclusively to transfer what Victor Davis Hanson reports are 30 billion dollars in remittances from aliens, legal and illegal, to their home countries each year. A lot of that goes to Mexico, from which immigrants have been coming for years. But some goes to India, Africa, China, the Middle East, etc.
The banks that transmit these funds are already heavily regulated. Thus, a "service charge" of between 3% - 5% should be placed on all remittances per a presidential regulatory process. I'm sure the White House can find plenty of precedents and loopholes that will permit this.
(Of course, the Republican Congress could have done this when they were in power in the form of a "tax"--but they aren't called the "stupid party" for no reason).
The billions brought in by this "service fee" could be used for wall/fence building, as well as hiring more border agents.
Trump could then say, "Problem solved" and Nasty Pelosi would have no stick left to beat him with. Government re-opens. Workers paid. All is well.

January 18, 2019 10:12 AM

@Patience: I agree it does depend largely on what Americans want. I disagree that the "middle", what little of it is actually left now, doesn't care to keep up or do anything; I think the problem is they're the WORKING people and can't afford the time away from work to keep up as well or act on what they do know. My youngest sibling is still working and very much aware, but working 12 hr days at least, and being on call in between as well doesn't leave a lot of time for activism and being left with an underwater mortgage by the '08 crash hasn't helped a bit either. I don't think that's terribly atypical of them.

January 18, 2019 2:10 PM

@James Ransom: While I agree that money needs to be stopped, it's a spit in the ocean of the total costs to us to allow illegals in and to remain here. Far more is spent educating just 1 of their kids here, laws require tutors for each conversant in their native language; to meet with medical professionals with them every time they go to a doc or hospital, the actual education costs and health care costs are on top of that and there's the housing, food, etc all of which is coming out of our pickets by the BILLIONS annually for them! And that doesn't even include the costs of their other crimes, like murder, or maiming people while driving illegally, ID thefts that cost the victims exorbitantly, in most cases, and years of hassle, to get their own IDs back and disentangled that the public doesn't see generally but is impacted by none the less. Moving the money is but 1 piece of this mess that needs to be stopped.

January 18, 2019 2:16 PM

Only those too young to really remember at least the aftermath of Hitler in Europe and not have known people who did escape that horror; of course that probably includes everyone here under 50 now, because history stopped being taught about the time I finished HS which was over 50 years ago; my younger siblings got caught in it.

January 18, 2019 2:52 PM

"No matter how good a person you are, power corrupts."

I don't think this is true, regardless of the aphorism that includes that it also corrupts absolutely. It's better to understand that power exposes your corruption (which corruption can become more apparent with having more power). But a lot of people come into power before they've been through the fires that "cleanse" the soul. Mr. Lincoln did take on a good amount of power, but we don't consider him as being in the least "corrupt." He had walked a hard road before and after entering politics, and he was known for embracing the pain, not avoiding it. And of course, he had a good understanding of what Truth is, so he also knew right from wrong.

"Yes, we need our leaders to have power; but that power must be limited by checks and balances." This, I certainly agree with. Checks and balances reveal right and wrong, as well has hold back evil intention. In our post-Christian age, morality and conscience isn't sufficient without the personal revelation of real truth. The founding Fathers worked hard to institutionalize truth in their founding documents. But corrupt people, and even those currently untainted by corruption would love to come into power and spread their own version of truth.

So yes, those in power now, including Mr. Trump, need to play by the rules as best they can, hang on to truth, shun lies.

January 27, 2019 2:01 AM

President Trump can declare an emergency for any number of reasons other than national defense.


January 27, 2019 3:38 PM

Sandra Lee Smith said to the effect that emergencies are sometimes the consequence of a long, slow list of moronic through hapless and/or feckless Pretenders to the presidency having enjoyed the perquesites of office while otherwise but be-squatting and be-manuring and doing bugger-all-else at our 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue public housing.

Such having been the case for many past decades and there being, at last, an Intact American Man both in the office and responsible to it, (and who may well have read and have comprehended Gibbons and has most certainly noticed and loudly bemoaned the constant onslaught of Goths and Huns and Vandals) that he finds himself faced with an existential emergency of the educational variety, makes the emergency no less so than had it been of the instant kind.

As for whether America will become Venezuela, may I be so bold as to suggest that once the "democratic" party weaponized the federal bureaucracy and it and its supporters and its Fascist Media had refused to accept the result of 2016 election, the fascist Left had already declared war upon America and we had, thus, already spiraled way past anything South America has ever had to face. The Left's attempted coup is ongoing and will inevitably descend into violence.

It was always thus -- and will always be.

February 7, 2019 9:55 AM

Brian Richard Allen has a good way with words, and I enjoyed his post, but I don't agree that we must descend to violence. One problem Trump has is a flaccid Republican Party to deal with in addition to the united Dems under Nasty Pelosi. His recent and beautiful SOTU speech took them by surprise, and now they are also dealing with the collapse of the "Virginia Democrats" who've been caught with their blackface on and their pants down.
Coming up is the "Green New Deal" which will cost trillions, take Americans out of their cars and be paid for by a devalued currency and high taxes.
But not to worry--they'll open up the border and attract a bunch of Indios from South America to work cheap. Meanwhile, the formerly Democrat-voting "working class" in this country will be killed off by drug addiction to make room for the new and ignorant latinos who have no interest in the American Constitution.
So: if Trump and the Stupid Repubs can't use all this to whip the Dem Left in the next election, they are even dumber than I thought.

February 7, 2019 12:18 PM

The next election will be moot if we don't have a wall; the illegals voting around the nation will carry it for the Dems regardless what we do to combat it They already carried CA last time, and in '16 as well. Also in AZ and some parts of TX and other states too.

February 7, 2019 12:38 PM

Brian, sadly, I agree with your assessment; and the longer it's staved off, the worse it will be. We are in a Civil "cold war" and it will become an hot war very easily; almost certainly will have to do so, if we are to correct the course of our nation.

February 7, 2019 1:09 PM
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...