January 8, 2019
Trump is set to deliver remarks from the Oval Office tonight at 9pm EST. Will he declare a “state of emergency” at the border in an effort to get the Pentagon to pay for the wall? Or will he simply use the airtime to recite false statistics and relate the most gruesome details of the ugliest crimes committed by a handful immigrants in order to sway public opinion to his side?
The broadcast networks and cable news networks have all agreed to give Trump “at least 8 minutes” of airtime tonight. Democrats are demanding equal time – as networks have previously refused to give their hottest primetime real estate to presidential statements they deem to be partisan politics. Decisions and details remain to be seen.
We’ll find out later tonight. In the meantime, let’s do some quick fact-checking and then look at the wider implications of a national emergency.
Trump will surely cite the “4,000 known or suspected terrorists” apprehended at the southern border. In fact, CBP reported 6 “encounters” with people whose name matched a name in a database or watchlist.
As for his claim that past presidents have told him that they wish they had built a border wall themselves, Jimmy Carter has come forward to complete the list of former presidents who confirm they most certainly did NOT.
Trump’s claim that most people support the shutdown and want a wall, not so much.
Also [and again], Mexico is not paying for the wall. That’s what the entire shutdown is about – the fact that Democrats won’t pass a bill allowing the US government to pay for the wall.
Who is going to pay for the wall? Mexico. Mexico. Mexico.
Who is going to pay for the wall? American taxpayers.
And if I don’t get $5 billion from them, I’m going to shut down the government.
Whatever Trump decides to do tonight, I hope his remarks include this:
...Remember this. Throughout the ages some things NEVER get better and NEVER change. You have Walls and you have Wheels. It was ALWAYS that way and it will ALWAYS be that way! Please explain to the Democrats that there can NEVER be a replacement for a good old fashioned WALL!
Declaring a “national emergency” has potentially far reaching implications, as “more than 100 special provisions become available to him” once he does so. These include the power to “seize control of U.S. internet traffic, impeding access to certain websites and ensuring that internet searches return pro-Trump content as the top results” (recall the bee he had in his bonnet about Google search results, which led the president of Google to testify before Congress). He could also freeze assets of US citizens and declare martial law.
Though we included a link to this in yesterday’s Dispatch, here is a fuller excerpt of Elizabeth Goitein’s article in the most recent edition of The Atlantic:
Imagine that it’s late 2019. Trump’s approval ratings are at an all-time low. A disgruntled former employee has leaked documents showing that the Trump Organization was involved in illegal business dealings with Russian oligarchs. The trade war with China and other countries has taken a significant toll on the economy. Trump has been caught once again disclosing classified information to Russian officials, and his international gaffes are becoming impossible for lawmakers concerned about national security to ignore. A few of his Republican supporters in Congress begin to distance themselves from his administration. Support for impeachment spreads on Capitol Hill. In straw polls pitting Trump against various potential Democratic presidential candidates, the Democrat consistently wins.
Trump reacts. Unfazed by his own brazen hypocrisy, he tweets that Iran is planning a cyber operation to interfere with the 2020 election. His national-security adviser, John Bolton, claims to have seen ironclad (but highly classified) evidence of this planned assault on U.S. democracy. Trump’s inflammatory tweets provoke predictable saber rattling by Iranian leaders; he responds by threatening preemptive military strikes. Some Defense Department officials have misgivings, but others have been waiting for such an opportunity. As Iran’s statements grow more warlike, “Iranophobia” takes hold among the American public.
Proclaiming a threat of war, Trump invokes Section 706 of the Communications Act to assume government control over internet traffic inside the United States, in order to prevent the spread of Iranian disinformation and propaganda. He also declares a national emergency under ieepa, authorizing the Treasury Department to freeze the assets of any person or organization suspected of supporting Iran’s activities against the United States. Wielding the authority conferred by these laws, the government shuts down several left-leaning websites and domestic civil-society organizations, based on government determinations (classified, of course) that they are subject to Iranian influence. These include websites and organizations that are focused on getting out the vote.
Lawsuits follow. Several judges issue orders declaring Trump’s actions unconstitutional, but a handful of judges appointed by the president side with the administration. On the eve of the election, the cases reach the Supreme Court. In a 5–4 opinion written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Court observes that the president’s powers are at their zenith when he is using authority granted by Congress to protect national security. Setting new precedent, the Court holds that the First Amendment does not protect Iranian propaganda and that the government needs no warrant to freeze Americans’ assets if its goal is to mitigate a foreign threat.
Protests erupt. On Twitter, Trump calls the protesters traitors and suggests (in capital letters) that they could use a good beating. When counterprotesters oblige, Trump blames the original protesters for sparking the violent confrontations and deploys the Insurrection Act to federalize the National Guard in several states. Using the Presidential Alert system first tested in October 2018, the president sends a text message to every American’s cellphone, warning that there is “a risk of violence at polling stations” and that “troops will be deployed as necessary” to keep order. Some members of opposition groups are frightened into staying home on Election Day; other people simply can’t find accurate information online about voting. With turnout at a historical low, a president who was facing impeachment just months earlier handily wins reelection—and marks his victory by renewing the state of emergency.
Well... that’s it for today’s Daily Dispatch!