In all the debate I’ve encountered regarding Trump’s emergency declaration regarding our southern border and the building of a wall, there is an insidious element in the opposition by primarily Democratic legislators and other representatives that has largely passed over without notice.
And that insidious element has to do with the observation that at least in terms of addressing the public, while the opponents are harping on the argument that what is going on at the border is not an “emergency” – they are appealing to the usual, popular usage of this word with all the connotations of a immediate endangerment to individual life or health and the visual imagery of sirens and emergency vehicles, rescue workers, etc, as we often encounter on the TV or radio newscasts. Or the imagery around a major disaster such as an explosion, natural disaster like a hurricane. Events that stimulate an intense emotional arousal in response.
And then they take this whole package and compare it to an ongoing issue that has serious political implications that many may view is spiraling out of control – but is not something that triggers the level of emotional arousal that surrounds life-and-death, for instance – and use that lack of emotional arousal or drama to argue that what we’re dealing with is not really an “emergency”.
Let’s take a closer look as to the dangerous direction this leads us towards.
First, what raises something to the status of an “emergency” – even in popular usage – at heart refers to the assessment as to the seriousness of a particular situation and the urgency that is needed to address that situation.
Since people may look at a situation and have different assessments, when it comes to whether the President is authorized to declare an emergency, we need to look at the definition of “emergency” that is contained in the law and judge the President’s actions based on whether his actions conform to that definition, the definition that is in the law.
And the rule of law rests on a civil agreement that we confine our review of and debate over interpretation and implementation of that law to the definitions of words that the law prescribes, even when it differs from the way we might use that word in our daily life or at times, the most common usage of that word that we might find in a dictionary. This certainly is a foundation of criminal and civil cases that come before our courts when complaints are issued that people have violated the law.
When instead, you bypass the objective definition defined in the law and inject into debate the requirement here that an “emergency” requires an intense level of emotional arousal and that therefore it is your personal, subjective feeling that regulates whether something is an emergency (and then assert essentially that something is an emergency only if you “feel” it is) – and then recruit others to ignore the language of the law as well – you then have elevated personal feelings and subjective opinion as an authority above the language of the law.
Which is another way of arguing that laws are just what I say they are – which is the antithesis of the rule of law and its substitution by the age-old rule that “might makes right”. And the further stoking of anger and civic discord.
That is, when people can no longer resolve their differences by words because they no longer will agree to share a common vocabulary (demanding that their feelings of the moment reign supreme), then only force and violence (either actual of the threat of) are left to resolve the conflict. And that again is the opposite of the rule of law.
* * * * * * * * * *
Now I’m not arguing here against honest debate over whether our border situation represents an emergency. And the law does allow Congress to express its disapproval of Trump’s actions and such action is acting within the boundaries of law and part of the political process. And there are various reasons why members of Congress would disagree with a president’s policies, which is just business as usual.
Moreover, if members of Congress now believe that this law represents and unconstitutional and/or unwise delegation of power to the President, then their response should be to repeal or amend this law (and not deflect their upset by attacking the President for the mere act of invoking this law, as past Presidents have done). This again is well within their purview.
But to accuse Trump of violating the law just because ‘this doesn’t wrench my guts enough or otherwise make me feel like it’s an “emergency” as I personally would define an emergency’ and recruiting others to the same – that is a whole different level of disagreement and a dangerous escalation that is a threat to the civil order, as I’ve argued above.