by James M. Wall
On January 11, the Washington Post took readers back to April 8, 1952, the day President Harry Truman (right) declared the nation was in a crisis.
That journey resonates with our present moment as President Trump repeatedly insists the nation in a crisis because it does not have a wall separating the U.S. from Mexico.
President Trump demands that Congress authorize five billion plus dollars to “complete” the wall he deems essential for the nation’s security.
The weakness of his case rests on the definition of what constitutes a crisis.
President Truman acted on April 8, 1952, as this nation was winding down its involvement in a real war in Korea. Union workers in the nation’s steel mills were on strike. Owners of those mills refused to yield to the workers’ demands.
President Truman was a political ally of unions. He was reluctant to force the striking workers to return to work. They were, after all, an important part of his “base”. He was unwilling to offend his “base” by forcing an end to the strike.
President Trump is not dealing with a strike. But his “base” had been hoodwinked by fear and fantasy. His “base”, those voters who helped put him in the White House after he promised to block immigrants from “pouring across the southern border”, demands their wall.
President Trump, the master hoodwinker, wants the wall because he believes that what he wants, he must have. Nor does he want to arrive at reelection time in 2020 without winning his battle of the wall.
He threatens to get his five billion plus dollars from other pouches in the federal budget, legitimate pouches designed for real emergencies. Congress has refused to give him his wall money for what Mark Summer described in the Daily Kos as a “wholly manufactured crisis with just one objective: to give Donald Trump the excuse to seize power with the aid of compliant Republicans”.
Steve Hendrix began his Post analysis of Harry Truman’s 1952 confrontation with Congress:
The president was frustrated. He was at odds with Congress. The regular workings of government didn’t let him do what he desperately wanted to do. So he went on national television to explain why a public policy impasse amounted to a national emergency allowing him to take extraordinary action.
“My fellow Americans, tonight our country faces a grave danger,” President Harry S. Truman said from the White House on the night of April 8, 1952. “These are not normal times. These are times of crisis.”
Truman went on to explain why he had just directed his secretary of commerce to seize control of the country’s steel mills. An ongoing dispute between the companies and their workers threatened to deny U.S. troops the weapons and tanks they needed to fight in the Korean conflict.
“I would not be faithful to my responsibilities as president if I did not use every effort to keep this from happening,” he argued.
Hendrix points to political parallels in the two events 67 years apart. In 1952, Truman’s action led to a Constitutional dispute that found its way to the Supreme Court through Youngstown Steel & Tube Co. v Sawyer, “a great test of presidential power”.
The government argued that even though the Constitution did not explicitly empower the president to seize private property, his role as commander in chief gave him authority to do so in times of national emergency. The steel companies argued that not only did Truman lack the power to take over their mills, but also that Congress had considered granting him such powers while debating the Taft-Hartley Act and deliberately rejected it. Instead, it had approved another mechanism to protect national security by giving the president authority to suspend a strike.
By a vote of 6 to 3, the justices sided with the steel companies. The “President’s power, if any, to issue the order must stem either from an act of Congress or from the Constitution itself,” Justice Hugo Black wrote in the majority opinion.
In his 2019 speech from the Oval Office, President Trump made his case that “the United States is facing a security crisis at its southern border”. Though he has threatened on several occasions to declare a national emergency, he chose not to make that declaration during his short White House address.
In his analysis of President Trump’s demand for his wall, the Daily Kos‘ Mark Summer exposed the absurd claim of “crisis” in President Trump’s threats.
Summer writes of documented facts, not made-up fantasy stories:
There is no crisis on the border. The influx of undocumented immigrants is at its lowest point since 1971. The drugs that Trump points to are entering through legal ports of entry. The State Department has made it clear that no—zero—terrorists have entered the country by illegally crossing the southern border.
Beyond that, the wall isn’t a solution, or even a strategy. It’s a talking point created by Trump’s advisers to keep him on message at rallies. There is no plan. There was never any plan.
So why do those who guide our President these days, continue to bolster his ego and play to his needs rather than to the needs of the country he was elected to lead?
This is a wholly manufactured crisis with just one objective: to give Donald Trump the excuse to seize power with the aid of compliant Republicans. That Trump didn’t try to push this funding for the wall through in the first two years, when he enjoyed a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, isn’t a coincidence. Because it’s not about the wall.
And don’t expect the slightest push-back from the Republican side. Mitt Romney may have entered the Senate with an op-ed stating his disagreements with Trump. But just days later, when a crisis came, Romney demonstrated his true mettle, refusing to even say that there’s a problem with Trump overriding Congress, and hurrying away to the safety of the Senate GOP lunch.
When the executive asks for something and Congress says no, the answer is no. That’s a little thing called American democracy. A little thing perched very perilously on a knife edge.
The crisis in our nation is the one created by those members of Congress who lack the moral courage to resist the President of the United States, a man so emotionally stunted he does not care what damage he causes by demanding he get his way.
The major crisis at our southern border is not found in the false statistics of President Trump’s message of fear and danger. It resides in the suffering children and families who remain separated by the United States government, perhaps forever.