Did Mexico finally pick up the phone? I can think of no other reason why President Trump should suddenly have decided on Thursday, after weeks of pointless congressional wrangling and the longest (partial) government shutdown in history, that he is going to build his border wall by executive fiat after all.
The whole thing feels anticlimactic already. What even a few weeks ago would have been a Caesarian defiance of his enemies — an attempt to remake the geography of the entire southwestern United States unilaterally with the stroke of a pen — now seems about as constitutionally norm-defying as the annual White House turkey pardon. Timing is everything.
Did Trump have any choice here, though? Merely signing the compromise funding bill agreed to by both parties would certainly have been humiliating. "Only in Washington, D.C., can we start out needing $25 billion for border security measures and expect applause at $1.37 [billion]," Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, put it recently. Indeed. The $1.37 billion is even less than the figure he was offered by Democrat last year, before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's sudden, and already seemingly abandoned, pivot to zero funding for the wall.
Still, only a few days ago I expected Trump to sign the bill and leave it at that. Why? Because if he really wanted to declare a national emergency, he could have done it weeks, even months ago. He might have avoided the shutdown altogether, or at least ended it much sooner. It was a waste of time and political good will among the congressional GOP, to say nothing of Democrats. Whether it ends up costing him significantly in 2020 is beside the point. He stomped his feet, pouted, screamed, and typed messages on his phone for a month — and then gave up because of airport rumors. He lost.
What will come of his national emergency declaration, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he fully supports? Lawsuits, for one thing. The first of what will likely be dozens, possibly hundreds of individual challenges to the declaration — to say nothing of the actual construction, if it ever begins — is likely to come from Pelosi herself. Expect the wrangling over land upon which the fabled structure is to be built to carry on well past 2020, when Trump will either be free to let the project die or out of office.
In the meantime, since all of this is probably only going to happen on paper anyway, I think Trump and Stephen Miller should get busy dreaming. Start with the name of the executive order. Instead of something lame like "EO 23212 Regarding the Crisis at the U.S.-Mexico Border," he should call it "Order 66: Entombing America's Numerous Enemies in a Red Hot Grave Forever While the Rest of Us Shout F-R-E-E-D-O-M at Them From the Windows of Our Red White and Blue Ford Raptors." Likewise, I see no reason why he should exercise restraint when it comes to selecting materials. Concrete slats? Glass? Please. Stone or nothing. And I don't just mean the barrier itself either. The president should insist on populating the area on our side of the wall with obelisks, ziggurats, menacing Trump-faced sphinxes. He should run a river of molten lava underneath the wall and put archers along the border at 50-feet intervals. The briefs in which high-powered lawyers working pro bono argue that there is no constitutional mandate for the use of Department of Education funds to purchase of lava-proof immigrant-tracking nuclear submarines would make for amusing reading if nothing else.
Go hog wild, Mr. President. After all, Mexico is picking up the tab, right?