According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are approximately 228,000 words in the English language. After Donald Trump’s nonsense visit to the US-Mexico border, pretty much all of them are failing me.
It began before he even got on the plane. “When during the campaign I would say, ‘Mexico is going to pay for it,’ obviously, I never said this,” he told a gaggle of reporters, “and I never meant they are going to write out a check.” In a December 13 tweet, and about 11 billion times before that, he said, “I often stated, ‘One way or the other, Mexico is going to pay for the Wall.’”
So, yeah, that set the tone. During the same confrontation with the press, Trump also said: “The wall that we’re doing is very, very hard to penetrate.”
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And: “If we don’t make a deal, I mean, I would say 100% but I don’t want to say 100%. … It would be very surprising to me that I would not declare a national emergency.”
Followed by: “I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency. I haven’t done it yet. I may do it. If this doesn’t work out, probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely.”
As Trump winged his way to the Rio Grande, the one question on everyone’s mind was whether or not he intended to follow through on his threat. “Trump would be on shaky ground if he were to declare a national emergency and divert funds to build his wall,” wrote Marjorie Cohn for Truthout as the president was still in transit. “Any attempt by Trump to declare an emergency in order to justify diverting funds for his wall to help the military enforce immigration law would violate the Posse Comitatus Act.”
As if to underscore his threat, Trump initially planned to bring top White House lawyer Pat Cipollone with him to Texas, ostensibly to help him explain how declaring an emergency over an unnecessary wall is at all legal. Amusingly enough, Cipollone is among the many who have spent this week trying to talk Trump out of it. In the end, Cipollone wound up not making the trip, a strong indication that despite all Trump’s bluster, no emergency declaration would be in the offing.
That, in the end, was precisely the case: Trump did not declare a national emergency, again. Instead, he lumbered from photo-op to photo-op, beginning with a roundtable discussion at a Border Patrol station with a variety of local and federal officials. The room was piled high with cash, weapons and what Splinter News reporter Rafi Schwartz described as an “Iggy Pop-level of drugs,” all confiscated by border agents… but confiscated at lawful ports of entry, where most of this kind of stuff comes through, and not out in the williwags where the wall would be.
One woman present recounted losing her son, a border control agent, to a “criminal alien” while Trump sat with his white MAGA hat pulled low, looking for all the world like he had just wandered in from one of his golf courses. John Cornyn, the other gruesome Republican senator from Texas, graced the proceedings with a proclamation about “people who don’t come here to achieve the American Dream, but people who come here to cause death and destruction and human misery.”
This, sad to say, was the high point of the afternoon. By the time the roundtable was concluded, the national media had returned its collective gaze to the District, where Michael Cohen had agreed to testify publicly on February 7 before Democratic Chairman Elijah Cumming’s House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform. I’m sure the news was well-received on Air Force One.
It is difficult to imagine how this shutdown mess could be going any worse for Trump. His GOP allies in Congress have become increasingly restive over what will soon be the longest shutdown in US history. (He does like to do things bigly.) After Trump’s prime-time Oval Office farce, eight Republican House members joined Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in a successful vote to reopen the Treasury Department and guarantee that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would be able to process the millions of refund checks that would otherwise go unsent during the shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of course, shot the Pelosi bill down on Thursday morning, putting the GOP in the uneasy position of having voted in broad daylight against getting people the refunds they depend on. Let there be no mistake: Pelosi is playing with live ammunition. McConnell and Trump can expect to see more bills like this coming out of the House basically every day until the government is opened again.
Indeed, the headwinds blowing against Trump’s shutdown are reaching gale force. Furloughed employees marched outside the White House to demand the government be reopened and their jobs restored. Polls taken in Texas show a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the proposed border wall, and those numbers grow even more bleak when the entire nation is asked. No lesser light than Jim Darling, the mayor of McAllen, Texas, where Trump visited on Thursday, believes the border wall and the shutdown are equally preposterous. The only people who really seem to want this thing are Trump, his congressional Republican hostages and the ever-shrinking number of voters who believe all of Trump’s spoken words are immediately carved onto stone tablets.
Do not get your hopes up that Trump is going to walk away from his threats to declare a national emergency, despite the swelling social and political calamity he has unleashed with all this. According to a Thursday afternoon Washington Post report, Trump and his cohorts are still trying to square this particular legal circle, and are even now “laying the groundwork for a declaration of national emergency to build President Trump’s border wall, including searching for unused money in the Army Corps of Engineers budget.”
For the record, “unused money in the Army Corps of Engineers budget” means plundering disaster relief funds meant for Puerto Rico and California to pay for the border wall. And here I thought only vampires drank the blood of the innocent.
The trip to Texas was, as Trump himself groused before departing, nothing but a waste of time. The same can be said for every meeting he has had with congressional Democrats, his prime-time address on Tuesday and indeed the shutdown itself. Everything Trump says and everything he does will continue to be a blatantly harmful waste of time until he finally admits defeat, takes his beating from his base and signs legislation to reopen the federal government.
If he doesn’t, and this thing drags on, the shutdown itself will become an absolute justification for impeachment. Hundreds of thousands of furloughed workers are struggling to make rent and mortgage payments without their paychecks coming in. Our national parks are slowly transforming into Superfund sites due to untended trash and human waste. Food inspections are grinding to a halt, putting the population at large at risk. The national economy will be staggered if the shutdown prevents the IRS from sending people their needed tax refunds. Before much longer, vital services like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will no longer be able to provide food to families in need. Domestic violence shelters will be shuttered and services on Native reservations will cease in abrogation of multiple treaties. This is an abbreviated list.
We are witnessing presidential malpractice on a towering scale. The first death by food poisoning due to uninspected meat, the first person murdered because she could not access a domestic violence shelter, the first reservation resident to die from lack of available medical care, will be the sole responsibility of master dealmaker Trump. Risking the lives of ordinary citizens in pursuit of a narrow political strategy to satisfy the nationalist desires of a sliver of the population is the legal definition of “reckless endangerment.”
It is time for this to end before someone really gets hurt.