Trump has implemented the national emergency as a partisan tactic, abusing executive power.
Congratulations to everyone reading this article! You managed to survive your first week since President Trump’s incoherent and meandering declaration of a national emergency, an event so harrowing that Trump needed to install a new state-of-the-art golf simulator. After all, I’m sure his four-hour work day can get rather tiring.
In all seriousness, President Trump declared the national emergency due to his failure to extort funds from Congress with the shutdown. He pretends like he never (1) claimed that executive overreach was dangerous and (2) promised Mexico was going to pay for a border wall.
While the fact that Trump is a hypocritical compulsive liar whose mind is consumed by his ego is not news, the emergency could prove incredibly dangerous. His plans to procure the money include using emergency military construction funds and diverting money from education, new energy initiatives and other yet-to-be-determined sources.
This article’s focus is not on how the wall is logistically pointless, only intended as a tool for his reelection (Trump’s own admission) and race-baiting. You should read academic journals, The Washington Post or The New York Times for that. Rather, I’d like to make clear that the use of the national emergency establishes an incredibly dangerous precedent for future presidents to harness for partisanship.
Precedent for new and more extensive use of executive power is not a necessarily surprising development. However, the national emergency power was meant to be utilized in the case of national disasters or imminently dangerous circumstances. The president can use funds, usually a power granted by Congress, to circumvent the long constitutional process of appropriating funds to immediately relieve disaster areas.
Trump using the national emergency to build the wall does not worry me; the PR is going to look great as a Democratic president tears down the structure in a historic event comparable to the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, many scholars and politicians are already noting the possibilities of a partisan national emergency.
Senator Marco Rubio, on a television interview, warned Republicans that “President Kamala Harris might declare a national emergency on climate change” (if only someone would). The House of Representatives, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is already planning on issuing a resolution to counter his move. Sixteen states have already sued President Trump on the grounds of constitutionality. The real fear is that another president can declare a national emergency to do anything he/she considers to be a threat to their own tenure.
The Republicans already use, on a widespread, concerted scale, voter suppression in minority areas (see Georgia in the 2018 governor’s race). As the number of voters identifying and voting as Democrats continues to grow, and as older Republicans die, the GOP will continue to bleed support. What if President Trump simply declared that, due to “the amount of crime coming out of these places,” that the minority population in Georgia, or Michigan, or California could no longer vote?
The move Trump is making puts into precedent the seizure of dictatorial powers only akin to Emperor Palpatine’s rise to autocracy in George Lucas’ horrendous Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. It allows presidents to issue national emergencies to circumvent that pesky document known as the Constitution in order to retain power or distract from scandals (like hypothetically damning Russian investigations, financial ethics violations, rampant accounts of sexual harassment or support of white supremacy).
Those ideas are not new. At the fall of the Roman Republic, Sulla made lists to purge supposed threats to the Roman state. Pompey and Caesar utilized the same language in their own bids for supremacy. Louis XIV started countless wars to distract the French people from his own selfish domestic spending. In the modern era, Putin declares homosexuals enemies of the state to distract from his own corruption, Xi Jinping scapegoats the people of Tibet and the Uighurs and Kim Jong Un probably does the same with anyone who does not share his haircut.
What’s new this time is how Trump’s devout 30-percent base are hitching on board to the same tactic. The ability for it to grip in America is new, because the American president, for the first time in this nation’s 243-year history, wants to be a dictator. His love for authoritarianism and unquestioned devotion is evident from his rhetoric and treatment of those aforementioned modern dictators and his slandering of the liberal West. Trump just simply stumbled into the constitutional equivalent of the “Hey, America, look over there,” and his base will gladly turn around while he eats from the cookie jar.
The implementation of the national emergency as a partisan tactic is the most tangible and blatantly obvious bid for autocratic power ever made by the executive branch since Nixon tried to say the president is above the law. If this isn’t struck down quickly, the United States will once again find itself granting the executive branch more power and sliding into an avenue for tyranny.