Archived Opinion

Hysteria yes; a national emergency, no

Hysteria yes; a national emergency, no

Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty-eight dead. Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, Virginia. Thirty-three dead. Stoneman Douglass High School, Parkland, Florida. Seventeen dead. Harvest Music Festival, Las Vegas, Nevada. Fifty-nine dead.

The bodies keep piling up, many of them the bodies of our country’s children, but we know that nothing will happen, because nothing ever does. The gun lobby still has too much power, the politicians too little will. We know there will be more shootings, more bodies added to the towering pile, so we prepare our thoughts and prayers for the next round of victims. Somehow, this is not a national emergency.

Millions of Americans are without health care, while millions more pay extravagant premiums for insurance with high deductibles. Their insurance may or may not cover pre-existing conditions, leaving a very large percentage of the population one catastrophic illness away not only from financial ruin, but from the possibility of needless early death because they cannot afford a procedure. Or insulin. Or something else that a decent, humane health care plan would provide. Somehow, this is not a national emergency.

Climate change is affecting our planet in horrifying ways, affecting not only weather patterns, but the availability of fresh water in some places, which damages ecosystems here and around the world. We have seen withering droughts in some areas, devastating floods in others. For those sentient beings that embrace science, climate change is not a political football — it is a crisis with the highest possible stakes. Somehow, this is not a national emergency.

Whether special counsel Robert Mueller ultimately finds that President Donald Trump is guilty of collusion with the Russians, it is now a settled matter that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Democrats know it. Republicans know it. Independents know it. Several key Trump associates and advisers have been indicted for a variety of crimes, including obstruction of justice and lying under oath. 

It remains to be seen whether Mueller will drop a bombshell that connects these dots, but even if he doesn’t, the fact that a foreign government tampered with our election should be a source of great alarm. The fact that this administration is so fraught with corruption on so many levels — some already known, some yet to be revealed — should be a source of great alarm. Somehow, none of this qualifies as a national emergency.

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Last week, after losing a battle with Congress to fund a wall along the southern border (that he promised during his campaign that Mexico would pay for), President Trump declared a national emergency, effectively circumventing the separation of powers and making a mockery of our rule of law, not so much because there IS an actual emergency on the southern border — he admitted as much hours later in a press conference (“I did not have to do this, but I just wanted to do it much faster”) — but because he hates losing and because the wall has become less about a sound strategy for addressing the complicated issue of illegal immigration and more of an all-purpose monument of “Trumpism” and all of its nastiest ingredients: xenophobia, racism, nationalism, and blinkered, binary thinking. Now a mantra among the Trump core, “build the wall” is a battle cry that really means, “Screw you, all of you who are not MAGA true believers: Democrats, liberals, progressives, independents, and lapsed Republicans who do not blindly support every Trump position and tweet.”

Here are some facts for the fact-challenged. Trump has relied on anecdotal evidence, hyperbole to the point of hysteria, gross distortions, and outright lies to make his case for the wall, a case that has largely been rejected not only by Congress but by most federal employees, most border security experts, and the majority of the American people (only about 4 out of 10 are in favor of his wall). In fact, according to a recent article in The Federalist, a favorite source among conservative voters, support for a wall has actually decreased over the past few years.

Of course, no one is suggesting that America does not have an illegal immigration issue. We do, but it is far more complicated than Trump would or could comprehend. For instance, there are a number of myths regarding illegal immigration, perhaps the biggest of which are that illegal immigrants are a huge drain on the economy and are stealing American jobs. 

Consider this post from Econofact, which was co-authored by Gretchen Donehower and Francine Blau, an economics professor at Cornell: “The evidence does not suggest that current immigrant flows cost native-born taxpayers money over the long-run nor does it provide support for the notion that lowering immigration quotas or stepping up enforcement of existing immigration laws would generate savings to existing taxpayers.”

The facts are that illegal immigrants contribute to the economy by paying taxes and by working in jobs that Americans often will not or do not do. They work on construction sites, in orchards and Christmas tree farms, in people’s homes washing laundry and dishes and windows, mowing yards, and on and on. Remove the illegal immigrants from those jobs and watch what happens.

Another myth is that illegal immigration is getting worse, thanks largely to those scary caravans, a symbol for this so-called “emergency” just as the wall is a symbol for the solution. Images may be powerful, especially when deployed as propaganda, but facts should matter more, and the fact is that in the year 2000, there were 1.6 million people apprehended at the border. Last year, that number was 400,000, or about a quarter of the illegals apprehended 18 years ago.

Furthermore, an examination of the facts proves that illegal immigrants commit crimes at a lower percentage of their population than Americans do, contradicting Trump’s portrayal of them as excessively dangerous.

Finally, according to the DEA in its 2018 Drug Threat Assessment, the vast majority of drugs coming across the southern border are coming through legal ports of entry. The wall would be of no help whatsoever in solving that problem, but using the money it costs to build one to strengthen security in other ways might.

Trump has accused the Democrats of being obstructionist, of favoring open borders, and of not being interested in addressing the issue of illegal immigration and border security, but that is plainly nonsense. They agreed to spending billions in increased border security, including $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new fencing, but it was not enough to appease Trump, who campaigned for president as a deal-maker extraordinaire, but who governs more as a king, treating every issue as a zero-sum game in which he must be the winner and the opponent must be the loser.

Declaring a national emergency because he could not “win” the battle for his wall is little more than a temper tantrum on a scale we have never seen, setting a dangerous precedent, embarrassing the office and the country, provoking a constitutional crisis, and further cementing his legacy as the most childish, out-of-control, and incompetent president the country has ever had. The real national emergency is the White House.

(Chris Cox is a teacher and writer who lives in Haywood County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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