"I can do it if I want"

 

The Federal government shutdown is now in its third week. It started on December 22nd. And now the President is floating trial balloons about declaring some kind of "national emergency" to give himself the authority to confiscate private property and build a wall on the southern border. We expect to hear about it in tonight's national address.

He says "I can do it if I want", which isn't true. The problem is that some Americans will say "Sure he can!", not because they have well-considered opinions about the use of emergency powers, but because they want the border wall.

That's putting the ends before the means, and it's a road to disaster. Because once you open that can of worms, you invite a future President Elizabeth Warren to use the same means of "emergency powers" to do whatever she wants -- like imposing a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

The overarching problem is that the President frames everything like a Manhattan real-estate transaction (two parties interacting in a deal lasting just one round, perhaps never to speak with one another again). In reality, the world is vastly more complex than that -- most importantly, almost nothing is excluded to two parties, and almost every interaction is part of a long chain of events (and people have memories). Deep down, it's less an ideological problem and more a game-theory problem.

My personal concerns with the President's behavior and decision-making have only grown since he was sworn in two years ago this month. And while I was skeptical of Federal power and the Imperial Presidency before, my anxiety grows almost daily because I see many of his opponents only wishing that they could have the kind of sweeping influence he claims. They don't see that the problem is the degree of power itself, and that the problems with who wields the power are only secondary.

The moral of the story: Sen. Elizabeth Warren showed up in Council Bluffs last week. I've already seen yard signs around Des Moines for John Delaney. John Kasich has all but announced his own Presidential exploratory committee (just wait until the day his term as governor of Ohio is over later this month). In other words: The 2020 race is now underway. A lot of promises will be made between now and then, but the most important one I'll be waiting to hear is the promise to breathe new life into Federalism -- knowing when DC is necessary and when it is not. And, not without relation, when something is truly an emergency worthy of national action, and when it is not.

 
Brian Gongol

Brian Gongol

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