Today’s unpopular and probably incorrect political opinion: the fact that Our Only President has declared a state of emergency and is diverting funds that were allocated for construction of military bases to construction of a stupid and harmful border wall is terrible but not that bad.
Let me start with this—it’s terrible, probably unlawful, possibly unconstitutional, and the legislature should (and can) put a stop to it, whether the courts do or not. It’s bad policy, it’s bad procedure, it’s bad precedent. There is nothing good about it. Our Only President is very bad at his job, a very bad person, and supports very bad policy—and it certainly appears that he is getting worse in all of those respects. It’s bad, bad, bad.
But I mean, there are a lot of bad things going on. Our Only President threatens the families of people who are cooperating with an investigation, lies constantly and without regard to the effects of the lies, leaves cabinet positions open rather than nominate candidates to be confirmed by the Senate, uses his office to enrich himself and his family, alienates our allies, encourages violence among civilians and officers of the state, and has caused permanent trauma to thousands of people (including children) by separating them from their families, keeping them in concentration camps, and preventing their legal applications for asylum. He blocked millions of people from even entering the United States, causing massive problems for individuals, families, organizations and airports. He forced the government to shut down a large number of offices and duties for a month, causing economic distress to millions of people and endangering the entire nation’s food supply. The list is, alas, too large to even contemplate.
So in that context, how bad is this emergency declaration?
It depends, of course, on what happens next. One thing I don’t think will happen is the construction of a wall across the southern border. As I’ve said before, I think that it would hurt the US even to say we’re building a border wall, it would hurt the US more to build a mile of it, and more to build a hundred miles, even if we don’t fence off the entire border. But there are different levels of harm. And while I have learned the folly of making predictions, especially about the future, there are some things that seem obvious. The first thing will of course be the lawsuits, and while those are dragging through, the legislature will act, probably a quick House vote followed by a slow process in the Senate, which will all be very bad politically for Our Only President. And then, of course, there’s land acquisition and the lawsuits over that, the environmental impact problems and those associated lawsuits, and of course the pushback from the military. And then, of course, there’s the question of management—the kind of skillful management that gets things done more quickly, that dodges delays and keeps tight control over budgets and expenditures is not a prominent feature of this Administration. The chances of more than a short stretch of wall being built along the border within the next twenty-two months are seem quite slim to me. Again, even building a short stretch of border wall (under the circumstances, extending the barriers that already exist) will hurt the country in ways that are probably lasting. It’s important to keep that in mind, but it’s also important to distinguish between that and the possibility of an actual border wall of the kind Our Only President promised so often during the campaign.
Then there’s the precedent set by the declaration itself—this is a Bad Thing, and of course it’s possible that future Presidents will attempt to make use of it. Although if I’m right that the border wall doesn’t actually get built within two years, I don’t know that it will seem all that inviting an option for making policy happen. But more important… OK, this is again a prediction about the future, which is foolish and silly and whatnot, but it seems to me that it’s unlikely that Our Only President’s innovations will be seen as legitimate precedents that remove otherwise-powerful constraints on future Presidents.
I’ll break down my thinking. It seems to me that there are two likelihoods for how this President is viewed from the near future. The most likely (I think optimistically) is that within five years or so, he will be seen as an aberration, a fundamentally illegitimate crook who somehow got hold of the White House keys and made a mess in it. That, like Richard Nixon, there will be a core of partisans who will support him right up until the end, and then after he is disgraced there will be little memory of that at all, and his ouster will quickly be remembered as bipartisan and evenhanded. It’s even possible that, like Richard Nixon, he will live long enough to outlast his disgrace, although I doubt it. At any rate, if this happens, then for any President to claim that declaring a national emergency as an end-run around the legislature is based on the Border Wall precedent is incredibly unlikely. They may declare emergencies in defiance of Congress anyway, but it won’t matter that it was done before.
And of course the other possibility is the really scary one, that Our Only President will still be President in five years, or that someone will be the head of government who is an admirer and follower of his. And in that sort of situation… well, in that sort of situation, the constraints on Presidential authority that we have always imagined existed will simply not exist, and it will not really matter whether there is a precedent or not. That future President will not care about the forms of executive orders or emergency declarations, or whether the Supreme Court has reservations, or whether the precedents are convincing. And yes, of course this declaration is a step toward that terrifying future, it is one step in a massive march—and while I wouldn’t call it a baby step, quite, I think that it’s no more terrifying in itself than the choice to govern without a confirmed Secretary of Defense—and much less worrying than the family separations at the border have been and probably continue to be.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,