Yes, there is a national emergency in America.

But it’s not the kind U.S. presidents have declared 58 times since 1979, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Those were done to block the property of terrorists after 9/11. To respond to a flu pandemic. To prohibit transactions with foreign enemies who disrupted the peace process in the Middle East.

American presidents have repeatedly called national emergencies to protect democracy.

Donald Trump may become the first to do it to undermine democracy — on our very own soil. If he employs the National Emergencies Act to get his wall, it would be to save face, not to save lives.

The White House’s announcement Thursday that the president planned to declare a national emergency so he can disregard a hard-fought congressional compromise and build his wall at the border would be a clear abuse of power that should offend any patriotic, Constitution-loving American. He would be using a special power reserved for emergencies to settle a political score with Democrats, to usurp Congressional power and to just plain get his way.

And that is the national emergency.

Trump coyly announced that he would sign a spending bill approved by the Senate Thursday, and on track to win approval in the House, that would keep the government open. The bill includes $1.4 billion for new barriers, $100 million in technology funds between ports of entry, $112 million for aircraft and sensor systems and $564 million aimed at improving scanning capability at the ports, where most drug and human trafficking occurs.

But it didn’t fund “the wall” Trump has promised. So, his spokeswoman announced that he planned to declare a national emergency anyway, a strategy that could allow him to redirect federal funds for construction of the border wall. Even members of his own party have previously warned against it, including Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

“This is not about immigration,” Don Bongino, a right-wing commentator, said on Fox News Thursday. “… This is about a political victory that has to happen.”

Anybody who reads a daily newspaper should know that illegal crossings at the border, which are at a 45-year low, are not a national emergency. Nor are Central American moms and dads and kids who turn themselves in to seek asylum. They pose a challenge, but no, they’re not terrorists or invaders threatening our very way of life.

No, our way of life is threatened by any leader who doesn’t respect the foundations of U.S. government, who takes constitutional limits on his power as a personal affront. Who regards an act of Congress, an equal branch of government, as an inconvenient obstacle.

Whether the law would actually allow Trump to do what he wants to do is up for debate. Regardless, the matter would be tied up in the courts for a long while. And even if Trump’s team can make a technical case, no good lawyering can obscure the fact that Trump is violating the intent of the law. It was designed to help presidents respond quickly to crisis, not to failed negotiation attempts with the opposing party.

The act is meant to be used only when Congress is unable to act swiftly on an urgent matter. Congress is acting as we speak. And what kind of “emergency” lollygags along for two months — drifting in and out of the headlines and Trump’s tweets — before it’s deemed a clear and present danger? What’s more, the Democratic-controlled U.S. House would almost certainly condemn Trump’s misuse of emergency powers, which should give any court pause.

Trump’s threats, says Rice University political science chair Mark Jones, are “more akin to the abuses of executive power we are accustomed to seeing by presidents in flawed presidential democracies than in the United States.” The declaration, if it happens, “adds some weight to the side of the scales of justice in support of impeachment.”

We acknowledge that millions of Americans took a chance on Trump because they believed the former reality TV show host would act in the nation’s best interest. They looked past his sordid personal controversies, his six declarations of bankruptcy, his abusive words toward women and minorities to see, somehow, a patriot. We implore you, loyalists: look again. Trump has threatened the guardrails of our democracy with an unconstitutional travel ban of Muslims. He fired an FBI director who wouldn’t pledge personal loyalty. He has undermined our national intelligence community, our federal judiciary, and now, if he goes through with his threat, the very structure of our democratic system.

Americans voiced their alarm in the mid-term election. It’s time for the newly elected, and for the veteran congressional members of conscience, to check this president. Passing restrictions to the National Emergencies Act is a longshot but needed. Voices of outrage are needed. Resistance, through rallies, through votes, through phone calls, is needed.

Patriots, real ones, are needed to respond to a very real emergency.



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