Pres. Trump declaring National Emergency isn't a Reichstag Fire moment ... except, we're talking about Trump

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"Build the Wall" has been one of President Trump's signature promises. According to Trump there are all kinds of rapists and criminals entering the USA through the open border, because those dang Democrats don't care about borders, and all Mexicans are rapists and criminals, and therefore we must have border security, and that means building a wall along the border. Never mind the fact the issues of violence and crime along the border has decreased dramatically the last several years. Never mind the fact that most "illegal aliens" (undocumented aliens) came in legally then overstayed their visa. Never mind that most drugs entering the country is in a truck entering through a normal port of entry.

Trump's insistence to build a wall grew such that in December 2018, immediately after he took a huge drubbing in the 2018 midterm elections, Trump's demands for funding for building the wall caused a government shutdown. It was the longest government shutdown in USA history, and caused lots of problems the most pressing of which was airport security (TSA agents not showing up to work) and air traffic control problems (with controllers not showing up to work).

In the midst of the shutdown drama President Trump started talking about a plan to declare a National Emergency so he could sidestep Congress and build the wall anyway.

That set off red flags for many of us. A Reichstag Fire scenario came to my mind upon hearing that plan.

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President Trump, the Nazi Party playbook to get power, and the Reichstag Fire

Ever since President Trump came to office his administration and the Republican Party have followed a course of action alarmingly similar to how the Nazi Party got power in Germany. THIS IS NOT TO SAY THAT TRUMP AND THE REPUBLICANS ARE NAZI's, OR THAT TRUMP IS HITLER. But there are eery parallels. I'm not writing here as a raving conspiracy theory nutcase. This is reasoned thinking, with a couple years of study and observation behind it. I do not say these things lightly, or from baseless fears, but from having looked at the pattern of actions with growing worry, after educating myself on what happened in Germany.

The actions taken in both cases included:

  1. Calling the press Lying Press or Fake News Media (in Germany the phrase was Lugenpresse, or Lying Press)
  2. Promoting Fox News and other right-wing-friendly news outlets (in Germany, the Nazi Party directly owned at least one news outlet which was promoted)
  3. Repeated attacks on the press (just as in Germany)
  4. Racial lies and stereotyping to demonize Mexicans etc (in Germany it was Jews, Gypseys, Homosexuals, etc)
  5. Fake science about Climate Change and other issues (in Germany some of the fake science was archeological studies supposedly proving the superiority of the Aryan Race)

Shortly after Hitler was elected Chancellor, the Reichstag burned down. This was Germany's Parliament building, and it wasn't clear who set the fire. But a culprit was found, and Hitler used that fire as pretext to declare a national emergency, suspend certain laws, start enacting other laws, declaring himself supreme ruler, etc.

Those of us worrying that Trump, with all his tendencies towards authoritarianism, and the similarities to the rise of the Nazi Party, fretted that Trump might latch on a Reichstag Fire moment to do something unpleasant. And therefore his threat in early January 2019 to declare an official National Emergency to build the wall, that set off a red flag.

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Declaring a National Emergency has been on Trump's mind for awhile?

In August 2017, President Trump answered a reporters question saying that the Opioid Crisis is a National Emergency.

That set off similar alarm bells but it turned into a whole lotta nothing when he did not follow through with the actions required to declare a National Emergency for real. It was just something he said, then didn't do anything about. Unless...

What if he said this because in the back of his mind, or in discussions with his advisors, they've been discussing finding a pretext to declare a National Emergency so they could.... er... there's a slippery slope down which we can cycle into rabid conspiracy theory junk.

This whole topic borders on conspiracy theory junk and I may have lost most of the readers with the previous section. It's about to veer into "don't worry land".

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Calm down, don't worry, it won't be that bad

Going to ones favorite search engine with the phrase "what limits scope of actions if president trump declare national emergency" is recommended. (BTW I use the DuckDuckGo search engine) I was relieved to find that not only has there been serious discussion of the above issues, that Congress already enacted laws describing how the President is allowed to proceed with declaring a National Emergency.

Any President can potentially wreak great harm upon the United States of America if a declared National Emergency is misused. But, the National Emergencies Act makes it harder for misuse to occur, and it's clear from history that any President declaring a National Emergency will face serious legal challenges.

But our predecessors already thought of the risk that a future President might go off the rails. In the wake of President Nixon going off the rails, the National Emergencies Act was enacted to reign in the potential for abuse. The Act outlines the process for declaring a National Emergency, and for rescinding one. Since this law was enacted nearly 60 National Emergencies have been declared, about half of which were since rescinded.

In other words - declaring a National Emergency is fairly routine and not something to be alarmed over. Except we are talking about President Trump, and all bets are off the table as to how he would implement a National Emergency.

The other takeaway from the following resources is that any President declaring a National Emergency is liable to find themselves with a court challenge. Certainly President Trump would be hauled into court to test whether the Emergency is real or not. Since the border crisis is entirely fake, the court will likely rule against Trump. But would that stop Trump, or just egg him on to some other more flagrant violation of the law?

Resources

What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency -- This article lists all the possible actions a President can take under a National Emergency. This is some serious stuff.

Trump can declare a national emergency to build his wall — and that should scare us Points to President Roosevelt (FDR) who successfully declared a National Emergency in the wake of the Great Depression so he could reshape the banking industry and the financial system. The article says "Herbert Hoover likened Roosevelt’s bank holiday to the Reichstag fire that enabled Adolf Hitler to assume dictatorial power in Germany." There's more scary stuff, including research by Congress in the 1970's concluding the President had hundreds of possible emergency powers with which the country could be ruled without any approval by Congress.

Truman declared an emergency when he felt thwarted. Trump should know: It didn’t end well. -- This tells the story of President Truman's attempt to declare a National Emergency to take control of steel mills to have enough guns and bullets to fight the Korean War. There were legal challenges that went all the way to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court shut Truman down. Truman was wise enough to say "okay" and withdrew the National Emergency declaration and gave the steel mills back to their respective companies.

National Emergency Powers and Trump’s Border Wall, Explained An explanation of the likely course of action should Trump make a National Emergency declaration.

Everyone Calm Down About That Declaration of National Emergency Serious legal scholars arguing that the US Constitution, the checks and balances with Congress and the Judiciary, and certain laws including the National Emergencies Act, will all play together to reign in Trump. There may be a period of Constitutional Crisis, but it should work out in the end.

The National Emergencies Act was enacted in 1976 in the wake of Pres. Nixon's flouting of the law. The Act empowers the President to declare emergencies, but imposes certain procedural steps.

There are already 28 National Emergencies in existence at the moment:

  1. Actions of the Iranian government
  2. Breakdown of law and order in Zimbabwe
  3. Breakdown of law and order in the Central African Republic
  4. Colombian narcotics traffickers
  5. Disruption of the Middle East peace process
  6. Erosion of human rights in Venezuela
  7. Expiration of the Export Administration Act
  8. Extremist violence in the Balkans
  9. Human rights abuses in Belarus
  10. Human rights violations by the Sudanese government
  11. Instability and violence in Libya
  12. Malicious cyber-enabled activities
  13. Nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula
  14. Political and economic instability in Lebanon
  15. Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction
  16. Sale of Iraqi petroleum
  17. Syria’s support of terrorism
  18. The 1979 Iranian hostage crisis
  19. The Sept. 11 attacks
  20. Threat of foreign terrorism
  21. Threats to Yemen’s peace, security and stability
  22. Transnational criminal organizations
  23. U.S. ships entering Cuban waters
  24. Undermining of democracy in Ukraine
  25. Violence and piracy in Somalia
  26. Violence in Burundi
  27. Widespread violence and atrocities in South Sudan
  28. Widespread violence and atrocities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo