During this current partial government shutdown, President Trump has repeatedly threatened to declare a state of national emergency and use the U.S. military to build his coveted wall across our southern border. And conservatives—even many of the ones I thought had a grasp of the fundamental principles of liberty—are shouting their support.
Don’t get me wrong: I have been a longtime proponent of the U.S. stopping illegal immigration. When I campaigned for President on the Constitution Party ticket back in 2008, putting a stop to illegal immigration was one of the major planks of my platform. (Where were all of these anti-illegal immigration Christians and conservatives then? Supporting pro-illegal immigration Senator John McCain, that’s where.) My strong opposition to illegal immigration earned me a live interview on Lou Dobbs’ national television show and endorsements by several pro-legal immigration groups. My track record against illegal immigration is long and consistent.
However, I have not been shy about opposing Trump’s plan to build a wall. I think walls are a very bad idea. It’s one thing to put a wall around a private residence or even a private “gated” community; it is another thing entirely to fence in a country. Remember, walls not only keep people out (to some extent), they also keep people IN. When governments build walls, they are usually around prisons.
The fact is, we wouldn’t even have an illegal immigration problem if the stupid warmongering neocon foreign policies in Washington, D.C., were not creating refugees all over the world and if the Welfare State in D.C. (and several states within this country) wasn’t holding out every conceivable financial incentive in the world for illegals to ignore our laws and come here. Make no mistake, America’s Warfare State, with its punitive sanctions, embargos, regime changes, etc., is driving people out of their countries; and America’s Welfare State, with its allurement of free medical care, housing, education, food stamps, etc., is enticing illegals to come here—all of the rhetoric of politicians in Washington, D.C., notwithstanding. Solve those problems, and you solve the illegal immigration problem.
But illegal immigration is not the focus of this column.
The focus of this column is not even the wall itself. I oppose the wall, but I acknowledge the right of the President of the United States to build one—IF Congress appropriates the funds to do so. (Republicans held the House and Senate during Trump’s first two years in office. Why didn’t they appropriate funding for the wall then? And why no government shutdown then?) But the idea that Donald Trump will declare a National Emergency to circumvent Congress is abhorrent to every principle of constitutional government. Show me anywhere in the Constitution where the President (any President) is authorized to declare a National Emergency to bypass Congress—because it won’t pass a law he wants passed—and then implement that law via Executive Order. You can’t, because it’s not there.
I well remember Christians and conservatives angrily bashing Barack Obama and Bill Clinton every time they signed an Executive Order. But now these same Christians and conservatives are shouting their support for Donald Trump to pass not just an executive order but a national state of emergency. So much for conservatives supporting the Constitution.
Of course, our federal government didn’t behave constitutionally for most of the Twentieth Century—and it still isn’t. But the unconstitutional conduct of the federal government (and presidents in particular) is not a blessing; it is a curse. Most of the political problems that America is struggling with today are the direct result of the unconstitutional conduct of presidents, congressmen and Supreme Court justices in Washington, D.C.
The fact is, we have been living under an illegal state of national emergency since 1933. And in 1976, the federal Congress officially passed the National Emergencies Act (NEA). I guess they were tired of being seen as wimpish doormats for unconstitutional bully presidents, so they decided to go ahead and give presidents the authority to do what they do not have the authority to do—but do anyway.
Here is how a Senate committee examining the question in 1973 justified granting the President the power to declare national emergencies:
“[T]his vast range of [presidential] powers, taken together, confer[s] enough authority to rule the country without reference to normal constitutional procedures [emphasis added].”
Now, isn’t that hunky-dory? With that kind of reasoning, why even bother electing a Congress or swearing an oath to the Constitution? But I digress.
It didn’t take long. Three years after Congress passed the NEA, President Jimmy Carter declared the first National Emergency under the new law to freeze Iranian assets after the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. That state of emergency has been renewed every year since by six different presidents, by the way.
Since then, some 58 declarations of national emergency have taken place, enacted by presidents from both parties, and 31 of these are continually renewed. The thing that would make Trump’s declaration of a state of national emergency different from the others (should he declare it) is this national emergency would be directed to military activity within the continental United States.
Everyone seems to agree that when acting under a declaration of war or a declaration of national emergency, a president has virtually king-like power. For all intents and purposes, under such a declaration, a president becomes a monarch. Only a 2/3 majority from both houses of Congress can wrest emergency power from a president—meaning it’s all but impossible.
Add a National Emergency of this nature to existing laws passed by Congress, such as the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, sections giving domestic police power to the military contained in the NDAA, etc., and we have a recipe for disaster—a REAL emergency.
Writing a history of concentration camps around the globe, I’ve spent several years looking at how leaders, revolutionaries and military juntas have used “states of exception” — situations in which ordinary laws are deferred or no longer apply. The most notorious example played out between the world wars: Before Adolf Hitler was appointed German chancellor in 1933, Article 48 of the Weimar constitution was invoked more than 100 times, allowing the president to override legislative authority. After his appointment, Nazi leadership employed this extraordinary measure more aggressively to cement Hitler’s use of dictatorial power for more than a decade.
But as philosopher Giorgio Agamben noted in his writing on the topic, states of exception weren’t just for Nazis. Article 23 of Argentina’s constitution allowed for the suspension of constitutional guarantees in the event of domestic disorder. When generals seized power there in 1976, they made intricate, exhaustive use of the article to pervert the legal process. In Chile, a coup on Sept. 11, 1973, institutionalized extrajudicial governance, and the resulting state of emergency remained in place for 15 years.
More recently, Myanmar’s fledgling democracy declared a state of emergency over violence in the western state of Rakhine in 2012. The government imposed emergency powers to segregate the Rohingya Muslim population, isolating it behind checkpoints that helped lay the groundwork for ethnic cleansing.
Again and again, when democracies are destabilized, declaring a state of emergency is the linchpin of the process. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson noted in 1952, emergency powers “tend to kindle emergencies.”
Pitzer goes on to remind us:
The United States has its own history to consider. In December 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt put Hawaii under martial law in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Early the following year, he signed Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of about 120,000 Japanese Americans, most of whom were U.S. citizens. According to the popular understanding, the United States was frightened into violations of its own ideals, but that idea is false. Francis Biddle, the attorney general at the time, as well as U.S. naval intelligence and even J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI, understood that mass internment was unnecessary. But the power of the executive, in this case a president deferring to the military, overruled the advice of key officials. The Supreme Court backed the president, denying justice to tens of thousands of detainees.
Totalitarianism rises out of a process, not a single event. Declaring a state of exception in response to a political impasse would be a big step toward degrading an already vulnerable system. A fake emergency could trigger a real catastrophe — one that a split Congress would be unlikely to resolve and that a Supreme Court sympathetic to an imperial presidency might even worsen. We have more than a century of precedents at home and abroad to demonstrate all the ways things could go wrong.
Agree with building a wall along our southern border or not, this fact cannot be denied: If President Trump declares a National Emergency, he would be doing so to circumvent the will of Congress. That hardly meets the legitimate definition of an “emergency.” Even warmongers G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney only declared a National Emergency after the horrific 9/11 attacks—a Pearl Harbor-type emergency. Obviously, Bush and Cheney used the 9/11 attacks as justification to take us into two unconstitutional and immoral wars against countries that had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. Besides building a wall, what would Trump justify under his declaration of a national emergency? I shudder to think about it.
But Trump knows that if he fails to deliver on his promise to build the wall, his base of support will abandon him in droves, and he would have absolutely no chance of winning re-election in 2020. Donald Trump’s re-election hopes depend on the wall. And he knows it. And if Trump eventually caves on funding for the wall, it will be because he plans to leave office before the 2020 elections in order to cut a deal for clemency for himself, his family and his businesses—all of which are up to their eyeballs in criminal conduct—and turn the presidency over to globalist insider and ultra-Zionist Vice President Mike Pence. More on that down the road.
Regardless, the reason America was founded as a constitutional republic and not as a monarchy was to make it difficult for our president to assume monarchical powers. 99.9% of the time, gridlock in Washington, D.C., is GOOD. In a republic, laws are supposed to be difficult to pass. The constitutional checks and balances that retard the advancement of impulsive, frivolous, unnecessary or destructive laws protect liberties, not hinder them.
The problem in America today is both sides of the political debate only want to enforce constitutional (aka “limited”) government when the other side is in power. Democrats are fine with Barack Obama violating the Constitution but scream bloody murder when Donald Trump does it. And Republicans are fine with Donald Trump violating the Constitution but scream bloody murder when Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton does it.
This means that neither liberals nor conservatives, Democrats nor Republicans are constitutionally principled. All either side wants is power. And I have never seen anyone from either political party who lusts for power more than Donald J. Trump. I shudder to think what this aspiring despot would do should he declare a state of national emergency that targets America’s homeland.
Do I want to stop illegal immigration? You bet I do. But do I want to see a President become a monarch and destroy our Constitution to do it? Absolutely not!
I ask you, if we violate the laws of the land, how are we any better than those we want to keep out of our country for violating the laws of the land? And if we let the President of the United States violate the laws of the land, what does that tell the world about America?
Ah, shucks! I forgot. The American people—including our pastors and churches—have been letting their presidents violate the laws of the land (and the laws of God and Nature) for decades. So, why should I think it would stop now? Silly me.