It’s less than a week until Election Day, and Donald Trump is scared. Most polls indicate that Democrats are poised to retake the House of Representatives. From there, they’ll be able to unleash a wave of oversight investigations into scandals that his Republican allies in Congress have largely squelched or ignored. It’s less likely that Democrats will also win back the Senate, but if so, they’ll have veto power over every one of Trump’s judicial and executive nominees until 2020.
Republicans are struggling to make the case for retaining power after two years of unified control of the government. The president’s party usually loses seats during the first midterm election, and the unpopularity of both Trump and the GOP’s legislative agenda isn’t helping. Not only did the Affordable Care Act largely survive an all-out push to repeal it, but many Republican lawmakers are now being forced to defend their votes to strip coverage requirements for people with pre-existing conditions. Most voters also rightly think that the GOP’s tax-cut package, once touted as a near-certain midterms boon, was simply a handout to the rich and powerful.
Thus, Trump is trying a different message with voters: a virulent melange of nationalism and authoritarianism, largely centered on the caravan of several thousand migrants traveling toward the U.S. from Central America. He has likened the caravan to a foreign “invasion,” and is using it to justify extraordinary measures. He ordered more than 5,000 troops to the border with Mexico on Monday, though their mission is limited and largely theatrical. He’s also reportedly mulling an executive order to close the southern border to asylum-seekers.
Then came Tuesday’s news. Trump is considering an executive order that would unilaterally reinterpret the Fourteenth Amendment to scrap birthright citizenship, a bedrock principle of post-emancipation American democracy. “It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment,” he told a reporter. “Guess what? You don’t.”
Elected officials have a habit of over-promising and under-delivering during campaign season, but Trump’s moves over the past two weeks go far beyond that. He’s deployed the military within the U.S. against a phantasmal threat. After one of his supporters was arrested for sending mail bombs to his political adversaries, the president responded by warning that he “could tone up” his rhetoric even further. Now he’s asserting the power to single-handedly narrow the definition—and thus the protections—of American citizenship. In effect, Trump is posing a question to the American electorate: What level of racist authoritarianism are you willing to accept?
Any attack on birthright citizenship in particular should set off klaxons about American democracy. Republican politicians have long railed against the practice because it also applies to undocumented immigrants who have children on U.S. soil. During the 2016 elections, multiple GOP presidential candidates suggested that they could take steps to curtail it in some fashion through legislation. Michael Anton, a former Trump national-security aide, took it a step further earlier this year by asserting in a Washington Post op-ed that the president could instruct the federal government to disregard birthright citizenship by executive fiat.
Read more at The New Republic