A National Emergency Regarding the National Emergency

PC: Associated Press

PC: Associated Press


I strongly believe President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration to build a border wall is a grave mistake. Personally, I’m rather ambivalent about the wall. I think both extremes are silly—the border wall isn’t racist or a morally repugnant idea, but neither do the justifications used to argue for its construction constitute a national emergency. Regardless of how one feels about the wall the method the president is employing to construct it should be worrisome. 

No room exists in the American tradition for leaders who unilaterally legislate their policy agenda in defiance of established government institutions and procedures, and Democrats need look no further than the present to understand this. 

But for Republicans who might be tempted to support the president’s decision, I’d encourage them to consider this simple fact: if Trump can declare illegal immigration a national emergency, so too could President Sanders, President Warren or President Harris declare gun violence, climate change or healthcare national emergencies. 

Following Trump’s precedent, it’s reasonable to imagine a future Democratic president unilaterally outlawing AR-15 rifles or taking meaningful steps toward a national single-payer healthcare system—all without congressional approval. I argue that even for Republicans who might be in support of the border wall, such a cost is far too high a price. 

Still, Trump isn’t creating a constitutional crisis. In the scope of historical presidential action of a similar nature, this declaration is nothing out of the ordinary. Increasingly, presidents have been given the latitude to determine what constitutes a national emergency. 

Regardless of 16 states filing a lawsuit challenging Trump’s action in the Ninth Circuit—a historically liberal appellate court—it seems likely the Trump administration will eventually prevail in the Supreme Court, aided heavily by the legal concept of precedence. For me, this represents a far deeper problem than an impulsive president with an aggressive policy agenda. Rather, it stems from a fundamental misunderstanding by our elected leaders about the role of the legislative and executive branches of government. 

In the simplest of terms, the role of Congress is to make laws while the role of the president is to enforce those laws. But this isn’t at all how our political system works today. For years, the legislative branch has slowly ceded more and more authority to the president, including the authority to declare and act upon national emergencies. 

For Democrats, the bad news is Trump is seizing on this opportunity now. For Republicans, the bad news is a Democratic president will inevitably do the same in the not-so-distant future. For all of us, the bad news is that the problem is much deeper than a single person—we’re so engrossed in political theatrics, we’re missing the forest for the trees. 

Jonathan Deemer is a senior studying business administration and international relations.