As you no doubt know, President Trump signed an emergency declaration on Friday that, he says, allows him to divert money Congress appropriated for other purposes and use it to pay for his wall on the southern border. I have thoughts about the legality of the declaration, but I am not going to discuss the legalities here. I have thoughts, too about the rationality of the President’s approach, which boil down to this: it is pointless to try to make rational sense of his approach to the wall he wants to build. Leave aside the fact that no serious person thinks that there is a real crisis at the border, at least relative to the past, when levels of illegal immigration were much higher, and leaving aside the self-made crisis the President himself has created through his policies on family separation, refusal to allow aliens to request asylum at ports of entry, etc. If, as the President claims, he has the power to ignore Congress and spend money to build the wall without an appropriation, why was he so insistent on his $5 billion figure that he was willing to shut down the government when Congress refused to appropriate that amount? Why insist on any particular amount if he had the ability and the will to declare an emergency anyway? Nothing President Trump does can be judged through an ordinary lens of rationality.
But this post isn’t about the rationality of the president’s approach, either. Instead, it’s about the politics of it. As many pundits have been saying, Trump is not the first president to declare an emergency. But his act is clearly different in kind from anything that has gone before. What’s going on? (more…)