I don’t agree with President Trump on much. Here’s one area where we are in agreement: Our nation is in the midst of a national emergency.
Whereas Trump’s national emergency at the southern border is not real, a lie, and literally a figment of his own imagination, the national emergency that I am afraid of is very real. It is Trump himself.
I see my liberal friends — and liberals generally — on social media calling for a boycott of the president’s nationally televised address tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern. They will not be watching. I understand the impulse to refuse to grant the president one of his most beloved prizes: excellent ratings. I understand the desire to want to turn away, to protect your mind from his bigotry and lies.
This time it is different. This time what he is calling for could have profound consequences for the foundations of our democracy itself. And we cannot bury our heads in the sand. This is not an incoherent press conference, a ridiculous tweet, or a rambling, nonsensical television interview that we can shake our heads at. This is far more dangerous than any of those humiliations to which we have grown accustomed. We — all of us — need to pay attention closely this time.
Let’s be clear about what Trump is calling for. He is threatening to use his executive powers to unilaterally declare a state of national emergency at the southern border with Mexico as a way of getting the money to build his border wall without the need for congressional approval. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 gives the president the power to declare a state of emergency during a crisis so profound that it threatens the stability of the country and requires immediate, urgent action.
This is unprecedented. And terrifying. Yes, presidents have declared national emergencies before, such as when George W. Bush did in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
However, a president has never declared a state of national emergency on the basis of a manufactured, politically motivated stunt.
Under the National Emergencies Act, according to a Congressional Research Service report, “the President may seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens.”
These are incredibly broad and sweeping powers.
And Trump will be telling the nation tonight that he should get them on the basis of his many lies.
The lie that our nation is suddenly being overrun by illegal immigrants. (It’s not. Illegal immigration has been declining dramatically each year since the early 2000s. The number of border arrests is the lowest it’s been since 1971.)
The lie that a wall will solve the problem of undocumented immigrants entering our country through its southern border. (It won’t. Most illegal immigrants do not “sneak” across our borders; they enter our country legally with visas and then overstay them. For example, Homeland Security reported that in 2017 more than twice as many immigrants overstayed their visas than were arrested at the border.)
The lie that the areas near the southern border are riddled with violence and crime. (They aren’t. In fact, research from the Wilson Center demonstrates that “If you are an American concerned about safety, your best statistical bet is to live close to the border. The crime rates in U.S. border counties are lower than the average for similarly sized inland counties.”)
The lie that undocumented immigrants commit more crime. (They don’t. There is no correlation between immigration status and the likelihood of criminal activity. In fact, a number of studies have conclusively demonstrated that illegal immigrants are much less likely than native-born American citizens to commit crime.)
The lie that $5 billion would pay for a significant portion of the wall. (That amount would be a small drop in the bucket of the actual costs. Estimates for how much the wall would actually cost range from a low of 21.6 billion from the Department of Homeland Security to several times that amount.)
The lie that terrorists are entering the United States through our southern border. (There’s no evidence for this whatsoever. While the administration is claiming that 4,000 “known or suspected” terrorists have been caught at the border, our own State Department has found “no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States.” Those 4,000? They tried to enter through airports.)
The lie that undocumented immigrants are overrunning the country with drugs. (Not true. A report by the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute called a border wall “is the worst possible investment” in stopping drug smuggling. In fact most drugs are smuggled in cars, through tunnels, or through ports of entry on ships.)
The lie that former presidents agree with him about building the wall. (They don’t. All four living former presidents have said that Trump’s claim about their support of the wall is inaccurate.)
Tonight we can be sure that our president will lie to us. He will lie to us about the threat of immigrants to our country. He will lie to us about how a border wall will make our lives safer.
He will use isolated anecdotes to erase the power of facts.
I know it’s easy to dismiss these lies as, well, just the same sort of lies we hear every day from this administration. We have a president who lies to us every day, about everything.
This time the stakes are higher. They truly are. We can’t go down the path that a declaration of a national emergency on the basis of a made-up crisis would take us.
Today, in the Washington Post, concentration camp historian Andrea Pitzer wrote: “Totalitarianism rises out of a process, not a single event. Declaring a state of exception in response to a political impasse would be a big step toward degrading an already vulnerable system. A fake emergency could trigger a real catastrophe — one that a split Congress would be unlikely to resolve and that a Supreme Court sympathetic to an imperial presidency might even worsen. We have more than a century of precedents at home and abroad to demonstrate all the ways things could go wrong.”
If the president declares a state of emergency tonight, we cannot pretend this is just another day of Trump lies. We need to act: call our representatives, write letters to the editors of our local newspapers, confront lies about immigration on social media. Speak out and resist.
Trump is inventing a national crisis. None of us should play along. The true national emergency will be talking to you from your television screen tonight.