Donald Trump still has vast power at his immediate disposal. He can hire the worst people to fill vital posts. He can sign Executive Orders that allow the dumping of toxic chemicals into aquifers. He can continue to rip families apart at the southern border. He can ruin longstanding international relationships and cuddle up with despots and dictators. He can ignore the climate even as it comes crashing down around him. He can order an airstrike against any point on the map. He can peel the crust off the Earth with nuclear weapons if he so chooses.
That is an emergency.
Trump’s Oval Office address last night was yet another national humiliation. The administration will grind on until Congress finally locates its purpose and the rule of law has its turn. The man himself, however, has been exposed — more so than ever before — as a desperate liar, injudicious, petty, a dangerous small fraction of a president who will say anything to please that dwindling slice of the population which, somehow, still doesn’t wince when he opens his gob.
That is also an emergency.
The absence of a massive, expensive, legally dubious wall at the US-Mexico border is not an emergency, nor is Trump’s inability to browbeat Congress into paying for a campaign promise that began in 2014 as a mnemonic device to help him stick to the campaign script; the fact that the government is shut down because of this is an emergency. The fact that the Democrats have offered billions for border security minus the useless wall is not an emergency; the fact that Trump keeps lying and blaming them for the ongoing fiasco of his shutdown is.
Trump’s address last night did not last 10 minutes, but the folks doing the fact-checking at papers like The Washington Post had smoke pouring out of their ears before the five minute mark. It was a campaign commercial Sheriff Joe Arpaio would have endorsed: A tattered tapestry of fear, old lies and bluster from a broken-down hustler trying to bluff his way out from under a busted straight. It was a disgrace to the office from beginning to end.
As ever, behind Trump’s lugubrious read-through of all those teleprompter words, behind the ersatz empathy he tried and failed to convey with lines like “so sad, so terrible,” lurks the White House’s #1 racist white nationalist adviser: Stephen Miller. White House reporter April Ryan, speaking to Don Lemon on CNN, confirmed that Miller was the author of the address. Further, she explained, the address was not meant to offer solutions for immigration policy or the shutdown crisis, but was tailored solely to telegraph racist fearmongering as far as the broadcast could reach. Mission accomplished.
The official Democratic response by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer was tepid yet effective, and as brief as Trump’s address. While Trump only deigned to mention the shutdown once, Pelosi and Schumer leaned into it throughout their remarks. This was Pelosi’s first opportunity to address the whole nation after becoming speaker, and she got right to the point: “The president has chosen fear,” said Pelosi. “We want to start with the facts.”
Once more, however, both old-guard Democrats succumbed to the galling and seemingly ever-present urge to please their tormentor. Trump went out of his way to blame this entire fiasco on the Democrats, even after telling Schumer to his face that he would proudly take responsibility. Yet there were Pelosi and Schumer, making sure to tell the world how much they agreed with the man who just slandered them on live television from his seat in the Oval Office. “Make no mistake,” said Schumer, echoing Pelosi. “Democrats and the president both want stronger border security.” The need felt by certain powerful Democrats to cleave themselves to right-wing bullies and charlatans continues apace.
There were other responses more worthy of the moment, thankfully. Sen. Bernie Sanders deftly turned the conversation to the actual emergency of climate change. “The scientific community,” he said, “has made it very clear in telling us that climate change is real and is causing devastating harm to our country and the entire planet. Mr. president, we don’t need to create artificial crises. We have enough real crises.”
Far and away the most impactful rebuttal came from newly minted Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who called into deep question the very existence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement itself on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show.” She accused Trump personally of violating human rights at the border by manufacturing a crisis with his brutally racist policies. “These women and children who are coming here with nothing but the shirts on their backs,” she said, “are acting more in the American tradition than this president right now.”
A great many people expected Trump to declare an emergency last night as a means of securing funding for his preposterous wall. As it turns out, he was talked out of doing so — for now, anyway — by a number of his conservative allies, who feared such a drastic overreach would empower future Democratic presidents to declare their own false emergencies for political gain. Thus, we are momentarily spared from having to wade through that specific mess, leaving us only with all the others.
This is not the Trump administration. This is the Trump defenestration. Last night’s address was a 10-minute infomercial on the necessary existence of impeachment and the 25th Amendment. A president who would deliberately hurl his country into such dangerous disorder in a fit of temper over his desire to appease white supremacy is not fit to hold the office, and is a prima facie menace to the nation and the world.
Trump is planning to flap his balderdash again on Thursday, this time at the US-Mexico border, and smart money says he will only serve to reinforce the glaring truth: He is a fool and a liar, a ball of bad noise and a threat to us all. The longer he lingers, the deeper we sink, and we are down damned deep already.
It is past time to recognize the obvious — Donald Trump is the emergency — and act accordingly. It is entirely enough already. Whatever tattered standing Trump possessed by dint of winning the election in 2016 was rendered to ashes last night. The rest is aftermath.