Editorial: A dangerous point to ponder

Why does it matter if Trump is granted emergency powers to fund a few billion dollars of a wall along the border with Mexico? Certainly it is not that the $5.6 or so billion he asked for will break the national treasury.
Heck, if his Republican blue collar supporters will support a trillion dollar tax break to his fellow billionaires, what’s a few billion to Trump cronies to build a wall the country doesn’t need?
And hasn’t this president already wasted more than that amount playing golf —171 times since he took office on Jan. 20, 2017, which is 25 percent of the days he has been in office (by comparison President Obama played golf 3 percent of the time he was in office) — and toting his family around on expensive trips, lavished with government security and travel expenses? Hasn’t he already charged exorbitant fees to the government for events at his hotels, violating the emoluments clause in the Constitution? Hasn’t he single-handedly debased the decorum of the presidency with his talk of grabbing women, paying others off to keep them quiet for past sexual affairs, and lying to hush it up? Hasn’t he already cow-towed to Russian President Vladimir Putin so frequently, and inappropriately, that the FBI has seriously considered using the 25th Amendment to stop Trump from putting the nation in peril? Hasn’t he used the military for a blatant political stunt — at a cost of tens of millions of dollars — moving thousands of US troops to the Mexican border during the Christmas holiday in a fake stunt to stop a “horde of murderous villains” as Trump termed them. And where was the outrage for such waste when Trump supporters should have realized that “the horde” was rather hundreds of women and children seeking legally seeking political asylum?
So how could one more assault on our democracy from this president be so upsetting?
Because it could be worse than all the others (unless he is found guilty of collusion with Russia and charged with treason.) If the president can skirt Congress’ power of the purse by declaring a fake emergency (and lying about its need) what else would the president not be able to do? With any faux cause, he could gin up an excuse to make any issue an emergency, pay his cronies to carry out the deed, and act like the dictators he has praised for the past two years.
Republicans might discount that possibility because they are still blinded by the propaganda Fox News, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and others feed to those viewers desperate to believe in Trump, but it’s not a far stretch for many Americans to believe that Trump knows he has a slim chance of avoiding impeachment and jail time, and that’s only if he can shut down (or impede) the Mueller investigation and win a second term. If he can, by hook or crook, he might be able to manipulate the system to his will — and we have already seen that congressional Republicans, and Republican voters — will put party before country without hesitation.
What’s equally troubling is that the laws are not crystal clear to prevent a president from evoking the National Emergencies Act, which while putting restraints on the presidency, stopped short of defining what an “emergency” was to allow a president discretion to do his duty.
As Washington Post columnist Max Boot writes: “…Nothing Trump has done to date has been as alarming as his misuse of the 1976 National Emergencies Act to pander to his nativist base, which has been conditioned by his propaganda to imagine that the United States is under incessant assault by caravans of brown-skinned newcomers.” Facts show the opposite, as Boot noted that “illegal immigration has declined 75 percent since 2000, and that the only real emergency here is the way that Trump is misusing the powers of the presidency.”
Legal scholars don’t think the powers of the presidency are limitless in this regard, and even Trump’s own Justice Department has warned him that his case is likely to lose, but it’s an unknown and we now have a conservative Supreme Court that has been willing to expand presidential powers in some cases. And even if Trump loses this skirmish, he will have moved the goalposts ever further towards a more unrestrained presidency willing to question the very premise that the rule of law applies to his presidency — and that’s a dangerous point for any democracy to ponder.

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