If the modern left has an original sin, it’s redefining language. Much of the craziness of the culture wars and the idiocy of identity politics can be boiled down to one critical problem: we have lost the ability to talk to one another because we have lost our shared language. When one group of people uses critical words like ‘violence,’ and ‘safety,’ in ways that do not represent the historic meaning of these words, conversation breaks down. This time, it’s not the left, but the right, that is guilty of redefining language and using that new fangled definition to shut down and destroy the fabric of our national debate.
The Oxford English Dictionary describes an emergency as ‘a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action.’ Those words in no way describe what is happening at our border, and for Trump to label it as such — and for some in the party to stand idly by while he does — is unconscionable. In 1945, FDR had a blessing engraved in the mantel in the State Dining room of the White House. John Adams had written the benediction in a letter to his wife Abigail: ‘I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.’ The heavens seem to have failed Adams this time around. In cases of true emergency, it makes sense to take the power from the many and give it to the few. It makes sense to limit the number of people and agencies involved in any given decision. It makes sense to make the governing process a little less transparent and a lot more expedient. But this is not a true emergency.
In a frightening piece for the Atlantic earlier this year, Elizabeth Goitein outlined all the exceptional measures a president could legally take during a state of emergency. As a citizen of this country, in times of true crisis, I would never want my government to be slowed down or thwarted by bureaucracy. But the fact that there is a path to gain these powers is only comforting if the inhabitant of the White House is ‘honest and wise.’ If he is anything else, the possibility for a power grab is not comforting, but terrifying.
Even more terrifying: the number of Republicans who are letting this happen. Today, the Senate voted to overturn Trump’s declaration of what’s happening at the border as a national emergency. But only 12 Republicans joined with their Democratic colleagues to do so. 41 of them voted not to overturn. Perhaps the most disappointing of the ‘no’ bunch is Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina. It seemed like only last month that Tillis said in an op-ed for the Washington Post that he would vote otherwise. Oh wait. It was only last month. On February 25, the Post published a piece by Tillis. The title says it all: ‘I support Trump’s vision on border security. But I would vote against the emergency.’ He writes unequivocally in the piece: ‘although Trump certainly has legitimate grievances over congressional Democrats’ obstruction of corder-security funding, his national emergency declaration on Feb 15 was not the right answer.’ Tillis writes that ‘it is my responsibility to be a steward of the Article I branch, to preserve the separation of powers, and to curb the kind of executive overreach that Congress has allowed to fester for the better part of the past century.’ In a stunningly honest paragraph, he also contends that:
‘…conservatives rightfully cried foul when President Barack Obama used executive action to completely bypass Congress and unilaterally provide deferred action to undocumented adults who had knowingly violated the nation’s immigration laws. Some prominent Republicans went so far as to proclaim that Obama was acting more like an “emperor” or a “king” than a president. There is no intellectual honesty in now turning around and arguing that there’s an imaginary asterisk attached to executive overreach — that it’s acceptable for my party but not thy party.’
I may not agree with all of Tillis’s policy proposals, but these words were written by a leader. Where is that person today? And aside from the moral and intellectual argument, there’s a practical one as well. And Tillis himself knows it. He argued that ‘Republicans need to realize this will lead inevitably to regret when a Democrat once again controls the White House, cites the precedent set by Trump, and declares his or her own national emergency to advance a policy that couldn’t gain congressional approval.’
Tillis abandoned his own principles. But before he did, he wrote that ‘as a US senator, I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress. As a conservative, I cannot endorse a precedent that I know future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms.’ Every Republican who voted with Trump placed their allegiance to a man over their allegiance to the country, and the constitution. Let’s talk about that breed of dual loyalty.
Daniella Greenbaum Davis is a Spectator columnist and a Senior Contributor to the Federalist.