Despite everything, despite all we know about the extraordinary presidency of Donald Trump, it still comes as something of a shock that he has declared a national emergency in his bid to fund the longed-for border wall between the US and Mexico.
The president’s move came as he revealed he had agreed a funding bill in order to prevent another government shutdown. Since the bill includes no provision for the financing of his pet project, Mr Trump has pressed the nuclear button, using emergency powers to requisition $8bn (£6.2bn) from military infrastructure projects and existing measures to combat the drugs trade.
To justify this astonishing decision, Mr Trump has referred to a “national security crisis on our southern border”, pointing to an “invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people”.
Walls, he claimed simply, “work”.
This is the language of division and of hate; it is the attitude of a megalomaniac. And it is based on a flawed case.
For one thing, immigration has been relatively low during Mr Trump’s two years in office – his first 12 months in the White House saw the lowest number of incomers since 1971.
What’s more, the notion that most drug smuggling and human trafficking occurs clandestinely via unguarded entry points is plain wrong. Narcotics and trafficked people enter the US for the most part via official crossings.
Inevitably, and rightly, the president’s opponents will do all they can to prevent the declaration taking effect. Leading Democrats, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have already made clear they will introduce preventative legislation.
Mr Trump even acknowledged the likely legal battle in his speech, noting that “we will be sued”, even adding that “we will possibly get a bad ruling” in the court of first instance. He is, it appears, pinning his hopes on the Supreme Court.
Yet this will be no ordinary legal battle. As the Democratic Party’s two most senior politicians Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer put it, if the president is permitted to carry out his plan, he would at a stroke “shred the constitution”. Sure enough, checks on presidential power which have proved sufficient for centuries would effectively become moot if Mr Trump gets his way.
Even a cursory examination should be enough to show that the apparent national emergency on the southern border is nothing of the sort – and certainly not comparable with incidents which have led to past declarations: wars, outbreaks of disease, and the 9/11 attacks. Other declarations have enabled the imposition of sanctions.
Never has a national emergency been used to justify the fulfilment of an ego massage.
And yet Mr Trump is sufficiently emboldened to proceed. He guesses that his authoritarian behaviour will, far from upsetting his base, delight them. He might believe too that the current lineup of justices in the Supreme Court gives him a chance, ultimately, of victory.
Let’s be clear though: that would be an utter disaster for the governance of the United States, and for liberal values around the world.
Ever since he came into office, Donald Trump has turned normal politics on its head. That was central to his appeal, and his routine has been aped by other populist wannabes around the world.
And the fact is, there was always an element of truth in Mr Trump’s pantomime routine about how the political establishment had become stagnant.
But it has become painfully apparent in the last two years that this president is not interested in refreshing US politics – and truthfully he never has been. He is interested in his own position, his own power; and in grabbing as much of it as he can.
His critics and opponents have despaired. But they have also consoled themselves that the hurricane was temporary; that the constitution of their great nation was strong enough to withstand the Trumpian storm.
We may soon find out if they are right.
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