On 19 February, 16 US states announced that they were combining to sue the administration of President Donald Trump over Trump’s decision to declare a “national emergency”.
Trump declared the “emergency” on 15 February. Previous presidents have declared “emergencies”, to gain powers to bypass Congress, but mostly on foreign policy issues. Trump himself has declared three previous emergencies. This one is different. Its only purpose is to enable Trump to pursue a longstanding domestic policy, building a wall along the US-Mexico border, by diverting money voted by Congress for other purposes. Even when the Republicans had a majority in Congress, Trump was not able to get Congress to vote him the wall-building funds he wanted.
Trump’s “emergency” is vulnerable on at least three fronts other than its unusual domestic policy focus. One: there is no emergency. Even if you reckon that hard-pressed people entering the US to work and live might be an “emergency”, the numbers crossing the border are much lower than in the early years of this century. Two: to use the “emergency”, Trump has to take funds from other purposes voted by Congress. Those include, for example, military construction projects. Even right-wing conservatives are likely to object. Three: Trump has said: “I can do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. I would rather do it much faster”.
On 18 February, Richard Painter, the former chief ethics attorney for Republican president George W Bush, declared that Trump is “not well at all mentally” and should be removed under the 25th Amendment to the US constitution. The 25th Amendment gives procedures for replacing a president who has died or become incapacitated, rather than been impeached by Congress as Richard Nixon might have been if he had not resigned in 1974. The same day Andrew McCabe, former deputy director of the FBI (and at one time acting director, until sacked by Trump) claimed that he had been in conversations with serving deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about a 25th Amendment procedure.
In its early days the Trump administration had a number of senior figures who were established, mainstream, “orthodox”, bourgeois experts. Pretty much all of those have since resigned or been sacked. A whole chunk of the established “cadre” of the bourgeois state is alarmed by or hostile to Trump. And Trump is openly hostile to them. Trump also has very high disapproval ratings in polls (for a US president). When elected in November 2016 he had low scores in most of the US’s big cities, only 18% in New York City for example. Those scores have not improved.
Among the anti-Trump, big city population, there is a drift to the left. A poll in late 2018 showed 31% of people aged 22 to 37, and 48% of Democrat supporters in that age range, defining themselves as “socialist” or “democratic socialist”. Most of them would see “socialist” as meaning support for a comprehensive welfare state, rather than common ownership of the productive wealth. Nevertheless, among young people in the traditionally anti-socialist US, as many now declare for “socialism” as against it. It’s a big shift. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib have become the first two members of the Democratic Socialists of America to win election (as Democrats) to Congress (DSA originated from a 1973 split in the longstanding Socialist Party of America. It often, but not always, supports Democrats in elections).
Yet opposition to Trump from Republicans in Congress has been minimal, and even more so since the death in August 2018 of John McCain (Republican presidential candidate in 2008). And Trump’s electoral base has remained surprisingly steady. His poll approval ratings are low, but no lower than they were when he was first elected. The relatively booming condition of US capitalism over the last two years — owing little to Trump’s policies other than his tax cuts for the well-off — will explain some of that. But far from all: there is a mass right-wing ideological base underpinning Trump. There is a political emergency too: the need for the left to find ways to dig into and win over sections of the plebeian layer of that right-wing base.