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Emergencies, Desperation, and Dangerous Precedents

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

By Petrarch  |  January 16, 2019

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!