President Trump is preparing the ground to use the State of the Union address to declare that the Congress delaying funding of the wall on the Mexican-U.S. boundary is a national emergency.
The emergency President Trump is facing is the emergency to his own Presidency. It is the one big roll of the dice that he has left, short of invading another tinpot country and going full “Mission Accomplished”.
The border wall concept during the campaign was a strong part of his appeal. Failure to deliver that campaign promise so far has been roundly criticised by Fox News and many non-msm outlets and right-leaning opinion leaders. The idea of the wall has massive symbolic power to his base. Without the wall underway by the next Presidential election, his base will likely desert him and he ends as a one-term failure.
The broader public largely takes the Democratic side on this one, with 57% against a wall compared with 38% in favour, according to a poll from December 2018.
He knows he needs a big poll bump.
The most senior figures in the United States political establishment have all declared that they do not support President Trump in this wall proposal.
But Trump is focused squarely on his base of support, declaring specifically against those previous presidents in a Rose Garden news conference on Friday: “This should have been done by all of the presidents that preceeded me. And they all know it.”
This perceived threat of latino immigration is no mere figment of political imagination. It delivers recent results. President Trump skilfully used this fear during the recent mid-term elections to secure votes in southern border states that were critical to shoring up Republican Senators.
So Trump has the political evidence of both his own campaign and the mid-terms that this close-coded race stuff works.
If you look at white voters alone from his Presidential win, you get a clear picture of where this evidence is coming from for his own re-election. Trump defeated Clinton among white voters in every income category, winning by a margin of 57 to 34 among whites making less than $30,000; 56 to 37 among those making between $30,000 and $50,000; 61 to 33 for those making $50,000 to $100,000; 56 to 39 among those making $100,000 to $200,000; 50 to 45 among those making $200,000 to $250,000; and 48 to 43 among those making more than $250,000. In other words, Trump won white voters at every level of class and income. He won workers, he won managers, he won owners, he won robber barons. This is not a working-class coalition; it is a nationalist one.
The way to re-elect Donald Trump to be President is to continue to show that non-whites are the problem of social ills.
Trump needs to continue to force an ideological frame in which white voters understand their challenges and misfortunes. Build that wall. Stop that threat to your people.
Whether this is why Trump won in 2016 is beside the point. He campaigned endlessly on the invocation of existential threats of all kinds.
For white evangelical Christians, the wall is a code for sin. Sinners – those on the outside of the wall – must not touch the chosen people of God on the inside of the wall. Christian mythologies rely a lot on Judaic epic tales about walled cities, including Jericho and Jerusalem. Walls in this version of Christianity have moral meaning that resonate very powerfully, dividing the clean from the unclean, the saved from the unsaved, keeping sacred from the world that which is holy. This wall mythos happens to work just fine with anti-immigration policies.
I think there is a real chance that Trump declaring the production of this wall to be a national emergency will work for a while. At some point there will be limits to how much the armed forces can reallocate funding across disciplines for the task, but they won’t miss a few billion. There will be a test whether the armed forces who would be asked to complete it consider this a military command from their Commander In Chief. With a few inevitable resignations, I think they will interpret any such order as appropriately defending the interests of the United States.
He may as well mention the Alamo.