It did not require the skills of Nostradamus to foresee that.
However, three weeks ago, I ate crow—prematurely—when he caved on the shutdown without declaring such an emergency. (Sending Don Spelunking, January 26, 2019.) At the time, I grudgingly gave him credit for not going to that extreme, no matter how much he wanted to save face with his base—albeit for tactical, self-serving reasons, not principled ones, of course.
But now he has renewed my faith in his stupidity and contempt for the rule of law.
To dispense with formalities, the transparently false, dishonest, and anti-democratic rationale for declaring this fake emergency is self-evident. There is no emergency at the border except the mythical one Trump has created with his racist fearmongering, his delusions that Sicaro: Day of the Soldado is a documentary, and his need to distract from the threats to his kleptocracy as various investigations begin to close in upon him. All this has been widely reported. Indeed, it’s the central fallacy at the heart of the whole charade, so there is no need to rehash it in great detail here.
That Trump, we are told, intends to build the wall (or part of it, anyway) by taking away funds earmarked for actual disasters, including Puerto Rico—already the site of some of his most appalling and racially-motivated disregard for the citizenry he is sworn to serve—would be forehead-smackingly horrific if perpetrated by any previous president. With Trump it’s just par for the course.
Many have also scoffed at the idea of an “emergency” that was preceded by weeks and weeks of foreplay. Fair enough. But at the risk of jeopardizing my Platinum Club status in the Trump Derangement Syndrome Club, here I’ll demur slightly.
In theory I could buy the argument that a crisis was bubbling up, one that the administration was hoping could be resolved through normal congressional channels, and only took this drastic step when that failed. (I say again: in theory.)
Except that this argument falls apart when the actual “emergency” itself is examined.
Per above, ain’t no emergency. Instead, what we have is sheer demagoguery, wholly contradicted by the facts, from a man who launched his political career on the lie of birtherism, who began his presidential campaign by declaring that Mexican immigrants are drug dealers, criminals, rapists, and who has governed by stoking racism and hate among a panicked segment of white America. The wall is simply the biggest and most concrete (or is it steel slats?) manifestation of that.
And guess what? A lot of people know it.
YOU NEVER PROMISED ME A ROSE GARDEN
I don’t generally torture myself by listening to Trump speak at length; the legitimate media is very good at distilling what we need to know, saving us the pain of enduring the full force of the garbage that issues from his piehole. But actually exposing yourself to it can occasionally be instructive. So it was that I happened to hear much of his Rose Garden announcement, which—brace yourselves—was absolute gibberish. (Death penalty for drug dealers? Railing against “chain migration” when your own wife and her family made use of it? In that sense it was all vintage Trump.)
Even if one supports Trump’s agenda, no rational person could listen to that rambling, incoherent mélange of braggadocio, outright lies, non sequiturs, and fascist free association and come away arguing that this man is fit to lead a pre-kindergarten playdate, let alone the government of the United States.
Yet here we are.
The House will likely vote to challenge this so-called emergency, triggering an automatic vote in the Senate that Mitch McConnell is loath to have, and will force every last Republican senator to publicly pick a side: the Constitution’s or Trump’s. Given the bright banana yellow streak they have collectively displayed over the past two years, I am not at all confident that they will suddenly sprout any courage now, not even if the failure to do so means opening the door for similar unilateral action—abusive or otherwise—by Democratic presidents in the future.
Both Democrats and Republicans have already raised this issue of precedent, citing their own hypotheticals, both positive and negative. Noting the bitter irony that this moronic announcement was taking place on the first anniversary of the Parkland massacre, Nancy Pelosi suggested that a Democratic president might one day declare a national emergency over gun violence—daring Trump to explain why he hasn’t done that. Meanwhile, Rep. Thom Tillis (R-NC) was openly aghast at the prospect of a “President Elizabeth Warren declaring a national emergency to shut down banks and take over the nation’s financial institutions.”
In the end, this fear of what future presidents from the other party might do with this weapon may be the only thing that motivates the otherwise spineless Republican leadership to stand up to Trump on this one, or at least give them cover to defy MAGA Nation. And even that may not be enough.
But even if Congress fails to stop Trump, numerous other legal challenges will likely mire this issue in the courts for years to come and prevent the wall from being built before the 2020 election. (As of this writing several lawsuits have already been filed, by the ACLU, Public Citizen, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, among others.)
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying Trump is going to lose that legal battle, even though most scholars of constitutional law think that by all rights he should. His chances are especially good if it gets to the Supreme Court, which has already shown its willingness to bend over backwards and defend the indefensible—see the Muslim ban, as he bragged on Friday—even when Trump himself recklessly goes out of his way to undermine their strained efforts on his behalf. (And that was pre-Kavanaugh. The rightward tilt is even more pronounced now.)
Trump is doing much the same again this time, with his blatant admission to the press that he didn’t “need” to declare a national emergency, and did so only as a matter of expediency. Yet it is by no means clear that this typically Trumpian own goal will stop the right wingers on the Court from providing him legal cover, 5-4.
But if they do, it will be a travesty of constitutional law and a terrible precedent.
TRUMP DIALS 911
I have heard the argument that, however wrong and unjustified this “national emergency,” it is not in fact tactically stupid. According to this argument, Trump is proving to his mouthbreathing base that he is fighting tooth and nail for their racist ideals, even if the declaration gets mired in legal battles and never results in the building of any wall at all.
Indeed, some think that is precisely the intent, as a way for him to get out of an impossible-to-keep campaign promise.
Further, not having the wall may be far better for Trump in the 2020 campaign than having it, if he can claim he’s been valiantly trying to build it in the face of “open borders” Democratic obstructionism, and desperately needs a second term to finish the job.
Assuming, of course, that he’s not already in federal prison by then.
All true, tactically speaking. But that doesn’t mean it’s smart.
This, again, goes to the fundamental question of whether continually pandering to his hardcore supporters is a prudent political strategy for Trump, as opposed to trying to expand his support among the vast majority of Americans. It can be argued that it is in fact prudent, and effective, thanks to the craven GOP leadership, which has allowed Trump and his red-hatted minions to hold the rest of the country hostage. But simple arithmetic tells is that it is also fraught, if the rest of America can get its shit together to rise up and oppose this appalling coalition of crypto (and not so crypto) white supremacists, pseudo-Christian zealots, and criminal plutocrats.
Moreover, does Trump really need another constitutional crisis, with all the other pressures bearing down on him? I know his brand is crisis, but does it serve him to have yet another front to defend when he and his team are already embattled on a half dozen others?
Evidently, he seems to think he does.
DER ROOF, DER ROOF, DER ROOF IST ON FIRE
From the very beginning of the Trump presidency there have been widespread fears that he would eventually reach a point of such pressure, and of such panic at the threat of being exposed as the criminal he is, that he would precipitate some kind of fake international crisis to distract the public and justify seizing imperial-like powers. A Reichstag fire is the usual metaphor, although the Gulf of Tonkin or sinking of the Maine would also suffice.
In many ways, the “national emergency” over the border wall is that long awaited, all-but-inevitable Reichstag fire.
Yes, there are other motives in play. Obviously, Trump is desperate to fulfill his signature campaign promise—or what Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) more correctly calls “a campaign applause line”—and satisfy his xenophobic base. As part of that, he is trying to save face and somehow spin his humiliation at the hands of Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats as a “win,” a contortion that strains the credulity of even his reliably slavish followers (See Ann Coulter.)
But at the same time, the wall is undeniably a means of distracting the public from the slowly closing jaws of the Mueller probe and Trump’s myriad other existential problems on the legal and counterintelligence fronts. It’s no coincidence that his rambling, free association Rose Garden announcement came hot on the heels of several bad moments for the White House.
One was this week’s court hearing for Paul Manafort, where the usually sphinx-like Mueller team revealed the centrality of Manafort’s coordination with Konstantin Kilimnik to their case. (“This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating,” prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told the judge.)
Another was Andrew McCabe’s jawdropping revelation that the FBI and DOJ actively looked into recruiting Cabinet members, and even Mike Pence, in an effort to invoke the 25th Amendment and carry Trump out of office rolled up in duct tape.
And lastly, there was Friday’s revelation, in a court filing, that the special counsel has proof that Roger Stone had direct contact with Wikileaks and Russian hackers. (News that the White House likely knew was coming. Trump is frequently at his craziest right before big, damning stories like that drop.)
So the camouflaging aspect of the “national emergency” should not be underestimated. Indeed, the mere fact that I am writing about it—even if just to point out its insidiousness—is proof that it is at least partially working to steer the national conversation away from more substantive matters, especially those involving his legal jeopardy.
I understand that the Reichstag comparison is not perfect, in that the burning of the German parliament was a manufactured pretext for the Nazis to consolidate power, not primarily a Wag the Dog style distraction from other issues per se. But in another way, the comparison is very apt, in that this fake emergency represents Trump literally usurping powers that rightly belong to Congress. If he is allowed to succeed in doing that, where will he stop?
But here’s the thing about the Reichstag comparison. By definition, it presupposes that the invented crisis will fool people. That’s the whole enchilada—the whole reason that a despicable regime would manufacture a distraction of that sort.
The wall is not quite doing that. Outside of Trump’s base, which would believe him if he pissed down their collective throats and told them it was lemonade, the majority of Americans see right through this idiotic non-emergency.
So it turns out Trump can’t even misdirect effectively.
When Bush, Cheney, Rummy, Wolfowitz and the rest of Team Slam Dunk told the American people the epic lie that Saddam Hussein definitely definitely absolutely positively 100% had weapons of mass destruction, they at least did a reasonably convincing job of it……until our troops got on the ground in Iraq and no WMD were anywhere to be found.
Next to Trump, though, they look like geniuses.
But does Trump really need to bother with misdirection? His followers don’t need anything to distract them, as they readily swallow his lies whole. The sentient majority of the American public knows he’s full of shit and isn’t fooled by any of this. I suppose there is a small slice of the electorate that remains susceptible to his bullshit, but they are statistically insignificant.
For as we’ve seen, neither the facts nor the will of the majority seem to matter anymore in these United States. And if the Supreme Court permits this blatantly unjustified usurpation of authority, they will be handing Trump—of all people—a serious escalation of imperial powers, regardless of whether the American people know it’s a scam or not.
Chancellor Schicklgruber never had it so good.