Views of CCJR Members

It is time for clarity and courage on Trump's emergency declaration

From The Morning Call 


The news just broke that the president has declared a national emergency in order to access funding to build a wall on the U.S. southern border. With this step, he has ventured into territory that demands our careful scrutiny and utmost courage.

It is one thing for a political figure, even a president, to use the language of fear and crisis and urgency to build a following, seek popular support and characterize opponents as weak or ignorant. We have a different picture when the president uses a pretext of crisis and fear, reeking of racism and hypocrisy, to commandeer the resources of the country for his own political agenda.

I have consistently avoided and counseled against likening the actions of this president to those of Adolf Hitler, but this is now the stuff of Germany in 1933. Just one month into his chancellorship, Hitler responded to a fire in the Reichstag — the German parliament building — by issuing an emergency order suspending certain articles of the constitution, particularly those guaranteeing basic civil liberties. It also accorded “temporarily” to the executive branch of German government, “the powers of the highest state authority.” But the temporary order never expired.

Hitler’s ostensible goal was to thwart “communist acts of violence endangering the state,” because the parliament fire was set by a young Dutchman who had formerly belonged to the Communist Party. Historians still debate whether the arsonist acted alone or in fact received assistance from Hitler’s own Nazi party in order to create a crisis. It hardly matters, since the focus on Communists only set the stage for a wider targeting of anyone perceived as threatening to the Nazi government. According to the editors of the “Nazi Germany Sourcebook,” Hitler used the emergency order “to create a permanent state of emergency that served as the legal basis of the Nazi police state.”

There were new elections for the parliament within a week after the fire. By arresting all the Communist candidates (offering them “protective custody”), Hitler was able to forge the parliamentary majority that he needed for his Enabling Act. That act was passed by a two-thirds majority of the new parliament within several weeks. It effectively dissolved the German Constitution and eliminated the separation of legislative and executive powers in the German government. The executive branch, under Hitler, could write German law as it saw fit. And although there was a sunset clause in the legislation limiting its effect to four years, by the time it expired there was no effective legislative body left to counteract Hitler and his Nazi cabinet.

Why all this history, about another country 85 years ago? Because Germans were not fools and most Germans were not Nazis, yet the Nazi party was able to maneuver its way through legitimate means into a power position that few Germans would have desired or approved. And it was at the outset — when a crisis was declared demanding urgent, unusually strong action — that it needed to be stopped. Within two years, it became clear that nothing short of a world war would be able to dislodge the power that Hitler had begun to assert within the first month of his chancellorship.

The current “crisis” is no crisis at all. If we have a broken immigration system, it can be addressed, as the recent bipartisan agreement on border security attempts to do. But reports from immigration officials, studies of criminal behavior by immigrants and government records of drug seizures all contradict the president’s familiar cry of wolf about the threat to our national security. It’s time we stopped jumping at his cries. It’s time for Congress to take its robust, responsible place in our country and provide the check and balance on the executive branch that our founders intended it to be.

We need not call one another names or try to prove that anyone’s character is deficient. Those are the time-worn tactics of tyranny, irrationality, bigotry and demagoguery. We do need to continue to prove that ours is a nation of laws, a government of divided and balanced powers, a culture of respect for persons and for information, and a community of courage.