Working towards peace and sustainability

Donald Trump, this is NOT a “National Emergency.”

Some of the participants in a rally held Sunday, Feb. 17 opposing the "national emergency" declaration. Peaceworks joined our allies in CoMo for Progress in co-sponsoring this gathering outside the Boone County Courthouse.

As virtually everyone reading this now knows, on Friday, February 15, unable to get Congress to appropriate the funds he claimed were needed for a border wall/barrier, President Donald Trump declared a “national emergency.” He claimed this would allow him to override the will of Congress and transfer funds from other governmental programs to fast track wall construction.

Minutes after declaring an “emergency” and claiming the wall was urgently needed to respond to an “invasion,” Trump acknowledged: “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this, but I'd rather do it much faster.”  And just a few hours later he took off to spend the weekend golfing at the Florida White House. Not what one who expect as a response to an “emergency.”

“Us vs. them,” fear-based rhetoric has been the hallmark of Trump’s MAGA movement from Day One. Recall that on June 16, 2015, in announcing his campaign, Trump declared that Mexico was “sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with [them]. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

It makes little difference to Trump’s supporters that the number of undocumented people crossing the border having declined significantly over the past 15 years.  Moreover, there are fewer undocumented people living in the U.S. now than there were a decade ago, and approximately two-thirds of these undocumented residents have lived in the country for a decade or longer. Clearly, our country is not being “overrun.”

Trump’s fear-mongering is not limited to the specter of darker-skinned people—most of whom are branded as criminals—sneaking into the U.S. Another fear button he pushes regularly is the threat of illegal drugs “flooding” our country. But critics have pointed out that the vast majority of contraband is being snuck in through ports of entry and not hauled across rivers or overland through deserts, over mountains, etc.

In fact, “According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics, 90 percent of heroin, 88 percent of cocaine, 87 percent of meth and 80 percent of fentanyl seized along the border in the first 11 months of 2018 was intercepted at legal crossing points.”

Donald Trump might believe that there is an urgent threat posed by the lack of a wall from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, but somehow the people he’s appointed to head up our national intelligence services are not on this page. In fact when Dan Coats, Director of the Office of National Intelligence, along with CIA Director Gina Haspel, and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, provided their annual assessment of global threats to Congress, on January 29, the supposed threat from across the southern border did not make their list. They focused instead on cyber threats, Russia, China, North Korea, ISIS, etc.

The “National Emergency” is a Threat

Trump’s actions themselves constitute a serious threat that must be addressed. To begin with, the Big Lie approach to political rhetoric undermines our ability to engage in rational dialogue on the issues we face.

We have now lived with Trump’s oft-repeated lies for nearly four years (counting from the start of his campaign in 2015), and this has compounded already existing fear and loathing. Anyone who listened to Trump’s rambling talk when he declared the “national emergency,” should be able to recognize just how far off-base his claims are. While they should be able to, a sizeable minority are not. In fact millions have “drunk the Kool-Aid” and this will make it more difficult, now, and in the future, to create a society that respects and even celebrates diversity.

To be clear, American racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and other bigoted attitudes did not start with Donald Trump. But he has not just exploited the existing fear and hate, he has exacerbated it, and we really need to work to turn this around.

The other threat that this bogus “emergency” triggers is constitutional. Under our system of shared power, the legislative branch—that is Congress—decides how much money to appropriate for each governmental purpose. This is called “The Power of the Purse,” something most of us learned in high school civics classes, something Donald Trump seems to have missed taking. The executive branch—the President and the Federal agencies—are then in charge of spending the funds provided.

The National Emergencies Act of 1976 was established to allow some flexibility in times of crisis, but to also put limits on a president’s ability to simply declare an open-ended emergency. While the act has been utilized dozens of times over the past four decades, never has it been used to override Congress and provide funding for something Congress has explicitly decided not to approve. Never, that is, until now.

This sets a horrible precedent and should not be allowed. If any time a president—this one, or any of his successors—decides he or she would like to override Congress he or she can do so just by declaring an emergency, it will greatly diminish the role of our elected representatives. While there are numerous flaws in our electoral system Congress is, at least in theory, both closer to and more responsive to their constituents than the president.

Speaking of Congress, it would be a good idea to weigh in and let them know what you are thinking on this set of concerns. It seems that even those who support the wall might at least respond to Trump’s power-grab, as it would diminish their power, both under Trump and, if the precedent is set, under future presidents as well.

Contact info for Missouri reps. and senators is available if you CLICK HERE. Note that it is possible for Congress to reject Trump’s emergency claim, but it needs to be done by a two-thirds majority that can override a presidential veto, so winning over a significant number of GOP members would be necessary. Please help as you can, and please share your concerns widely.
President Trump announces his national emergency declaration from the White House Rose Garden, Feb. 15, 2019.