Trump calls border a ‘crisis of the soul’: 3 scholars react to his Oval Office address

President Donald Trump’s address to the nation on Wednesday night from the Oval Office announced no new initiatives either to end the government shutdown or to build the wall that’s caused the shutdown.

Instead, Trump stressed the themes – most of them discredited – that he’s long depended on to support his demand for the wall to bar entry to a sea of immigrants who will bring crime, drugs and mayhem into the country.

We asked a panel of scholars to respond to the speech.

Trump backs himself against the wall

Enrique Armijo, Associate Professor of Law and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Elon University

Going into Trump’s speech, there was much speculation that the president might declare an emergency under the 1976 National Emergencies Act to pay for the $5.7 billion border wall that is behind the current government shutdown – funds that House Democrats have refused to provide.

That didn’t happen, though reports are the administration is still considering the option.

The constitutional issues associated with such a declaration are far from clear. First off, the facts underlying whether an emergency exists are disputed, to say the least.

A National Emergencies Act declaration for wall funding would immediately be challenged in court. Congressional Democrats would argue that this is a usurpation of their legislative appropriation power.

States and private landowners would also protest their land being taken by eminent domain for the project, since the federal government owns less than a third of the land needed to build the wall.

Despite the lack of legal clarity — and the inevitable delays that such a lack of clarity would bring — there is another more straightforward reason why the administration didn’t declare an emergency, one that was likely obvious even to a president who has shown himself to be not quite as good a dealmaker as was advertised.

The reason is this: The formal declaration of an emergency would limit Trump’s ability to strike a compromise.

Without one, Trump will be able to declare victory and sign a bill reopening the government after finding a middle ground with Democrats, and then try to sell that compromise to his angry base.

But once he declares it’s a wall or nothing, the issue will be resolved by the courts – which may well tell Trump he can have nothing at all.

It appears the self-declared “very stable genius” does understand a little game theory.

Making a crisis when there is none

Michael Blake, Professor of Philosophy, Public Policy, and Governance, University of Washington

Trump used the word “crisis” six times to vouch for his proposed wall.

He described a border under siege by an unprecedented number of undocumented migrants, unusually prone to violence and mayhem, whose progress could only be stopped by a physical barrier.

That description is, to put it mildly, poorly supported by the facts.

Migrants watch Trump’s Jan. 8 speech on border security in a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. AP Photo/Gregory Bull
The number of undocumented migrants seeking to cross into the United States is now considerably lower than it was only a decade ago; the undocumented tend to be more law-abiding than the native born, not less; and few experts think that a barrier itself is an effective means of preventing illegal immigration.