Crises are time-tested means of subverting democracy. Autocratic leaders such as Vladimir Putin have long used national emergencies — some real, some not — to claim extra ordinary power. Autocratic leaders often vex under the constraints of constitutional rule and find democratic politics agonizingly frustrating. They lack the disposition for the give-and-take of everyday politics.
The building of a border wall is an attempt by President Trump to drive a wedge between Americans and give certain people the freedom to hate. But when it comes to declaring its building as a “national emergency” we are stepping into dangerous autocratic territory.
The president doesn’t lie (according to the president); everyone else lies about him. He doesn’t collude with Russia; the Clintons did. He’s not endangering the rule of law; Mueller is the real threat. The president is the true patriot; his opponents are traitors. Believe only me. Reality is what I say it is. And anyone who claims otherwise is an Enemy of the People. All of this is right out of the autocratic playbook.
“National emergency” is just another term for cheap political expediency. But it’s much worse than that. The fabrication of a security threat not only allows the president to bypass Congress, it follows the tradition of autocratic leaders.
The border wall as a national emergency is another assault on our democracy, which the president has been doing on multiple fronts. It would be ill-advised to cover all of his assaults as separate stories. The president’s abuse of power all traces back to the same autocratic impulse.
Besides Russia, there’s his tax returns, the laughable ethics arrangement for his businesses and the continued use of diplomatic business to promote Mar-a-Lago and steer cash into his pockets. All of these actions add up to a level of autocratic, above-the-law contempt for our democracy that is larger than the sum of its parts.
We will see what Senate Republicans do with the declaration of the building of a border wall as a national emergency. Thus far, they seem more devoted to this president and their political fortunes than to the country and the Constitution