A recap, followed by a comment:
A presidential candidate, who ran on a promise to build a great wall, received neither a majority, nor even a plurality of the vote, but thanks to the vagaries of the electoral vote system (and apparently with some help from foreign admirers) he nonetheless sits in the Oval Office.
For the first two years of his term, his own party controlled both houses of Congress, but for some reason, perhaps presidential incompetence, Congress didn’t appropriate the funds to build a great wall.
The electorate, with a chance to weigh in at the midterm, provided an impressive, bordering on overwhelming, victory to the party that opposes the great wall project. That election was, in an unofficial but meaningful way, a national referendum on the president, including on his promise to build a great wall. It is the electorate’s most recently registered message on the matter, not counting polls, which show the same but should not be given the same respect as an actual election.
(By the way, if you are inclined to think that the election was a split verdict, because Republicans retained control of the Senate, I would remind you that, actually, Democrats won 23 of the 34 Senate seats that were on the ballot. You can look it up.)
The new Congress passed a budget resolution, which was a bipartisan compromise, providing some funds (more than the zero funds that Nancy Pelosi might have preferred) to build a portion of wall, but not as much as the president wanted. Deciding how to spend the taxpayers’ money is a job essentially assigned by the Constitution to the Congress, not the president, although spending bills do require the president’s signature.
Trump refused to sign the deal, leading to the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history, which produced a roughly six-percentage point decline in the president’s already very bad and under-water approval rating (as measured by an average of many polls as compiled by fivethirtyeight.com.)
The president then caved, agreeing to a resolution that provided far less money than he wanted, and the shutdown ended. (Fairness requires that I mention that after he caved and the shutdown ended, the president’s approval rating recovered much of the ground he had lost during the shutdown.)
The president then decideed that since the legislative branch, which is in charge of appropriating federal funds, wouldn’t give him money to build a great wall, he would make a highly questionable use of his emergency powers to get more money for the project. The legality of that use of “emergency” powers is under legal challenge and will be decided by the courts.
(Congress has created some extraconstitutional “emergency” powers for presidents, but those powers have never before been used to overrule a vote that Congress had just taken, such as the vote to provide a smaller amount for great-wall-building.)
That’s the end of the recap. You already knew all that, but I hope my review is in some small way clarifying as to how we got where we are, simply from the point of view of majority rule and our constitutional system. There has never been a majority that favored the great wall project.
My small comment is derived from a historical piece I just read, via the excellent History News Network, in which M. Andrew Holowchak, a philosopher, historian, and Thomas Jefferson expert, attempted to introduce Jefferson’s views of American democracy into the discussion of Trump’s power grab. (The HNN piece is entitled: “’National Security Crisis’ or “Power Grab?’”)
Referring specifically to Trump’s attempt to use emergency power to build his great well, Holowchak certainly comes down on the side of “power grab.”
Jefferson, of course, lived in the time before opinion polling, let alone Fox News, talk radio, the internet and Twitter. Even elections in Jefferson’s day were limited to white, male property owners, and in a great many other ways, the then-operational version of democracy would be barely recognizable to us today.
But Holowchak argues that Jefferson believed and often said and wrote that a president is bound to govern as the majority of the citizenry would want him to. In his first inaugural, Jefferson said the “sacred principle” of the American system is that “the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail.”
The majority. Not the will of the president or even the president’s “base.”
I don’t mean to oversimplify too much. But there is no rational argument that Trump’s wall obsession is guided by the will of the majority of anything other than the majority of the minority that voted for him, and perhaps those in the great-wall-building business.