A lot of people don’t know that Donald Trump knows almost nothing about American history, and the history of the Republican Party and the way the U.S. government works.
Actually, a lot of people do know that. I was kidding to set up the next couple of paragraphs.
I said that thing at the top because I was dredging up from memory the day in 2017 when Trump, speaking to the National Republican Congressional Committee, made a reference to Abraham Lincoln, and then riffed:
Actually, the last time a national survey attempted to measure this knowledge, Pew found that a solid majority knew that Lincoln was a Republican. (In fact, he was the first Republican president. Actually, the Republican Party often refers to itself as the “Party of Lincoln.”) But Trump apparently didn’t know it, even though he is now the titular leader of the party that refers to itself that way.
I bring it up just now because I’m troubled that Trump is apparently about to summon powers he probably doesn’t have to declare an emergency that doesn’t exist to build a wall on the Mexican border. We’ll see if our system is strong and honest enough to enforce itself and prevent him from doing that.
But I was encouraged to see (and this is what set me off on this little rant) that such an established bastion of conservatism as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) put out a press release yesterday expressing considerable alarm at some combination of Trump’s ignorance of our constitutional system and the possible damage he might do as a result of said ignorance.
Mackenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow at AEI, was quoted in the press release, thusly (emphasis in original):
This [move] will forever destroy precedent for what constitutes an “emergency” under executive authority. This abuse and broadening of the interpretation means that there is no limit to what any president can now use as cover to pilfer finds from other priorities and skirting Congressional checks and balances.
The gambit simply will not work. It will be immediately challenged in court and likely stall out until adjudicated. In the meantime, however, the funds taken from Army Corps of Engineers’ projects will halt all work on whatever else was supposed to be done, likely degrading military readiness. Not to mention that the funds will have to be replaced at some point anyway thereby adding to the cost of the “emergency.”
I agree that if a president has an unenumerated implicit power to move money around within the budget simply by throwing around the word “emergency,” then the power of the purse, which the Constitution clearly assigned to the legislative branch, has been substantially transferred to the current occupant of the Oval Office. I wish I had as much confidence as Eaglen does that the courts will not allow this power grab.
It’s especially heartening that this view is emanating from AEI, a major organ of the right.
And, just in case you think I’m making too much of one AEI fellow’s view (I probably am), I’ll mention that the same press release includes the view of AEI Research Fellow Rick Berger, who opined:
This emergency declaration is short-sighted in every way. It will hurt military readiness and disaster-ridden communities by diverting funds … that were authorized by Congress for specific purposes. More troops will have to be pulled from training against Russia, China, and terrorists to string up barbed wire on the border. It will [also] do lasting harm to the military as a whole by pitting the wall against the troops in the upcoming negotiations to avert almost $300 billion in defense cuts over the next two years.
Congress can and should act to neuter this emergency proclamation and reclaim its constitutional authority as the ultimate arbiter of American’s taxpayer dollars.
And in case you wonder whether I’m cherry picking the AEI experts who happen to agree with me, those are the only AEI experts quoted in the AEI press release.