It shouldn’t be necessary to explain federalism to a Republican president. But Donald Trump is a unique breed of Republican. His ends-justifies-the-means governing style would better fit his immediate predecessor, former President Barack Obama, who proved ever willing to distort the Constitution to get what he wanted.
Trump seems ready to put it through a document shredder.
That’s certainly the case with his threat to send federal troops to Chicago to quell that city’s ongoing homicide epidemic, repeated during a White House interview with ABC News this week.
Trump earlier warned on Twitter that if authorities in Illinois couldn’t bring the city’s murder rate under control, he would deploy the military to do it for them.
Here’s something Trump should hear loudly whenever he poses an executive overreach: You can’t do that.
The Constitution forbids such a unilateral deployment, except when requested by a governor and authorized by Congress to deal with a disaster that overwhelms the capabilities of the civilian government.
In fact, debate over the constitutionality of moving federal troops into a state without a gubernatorial request was what delayed the response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Washington was hung up by the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids the use of the military for domestic law enforcement “except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress.”
After the Katrina debacle, Congress moved — against the objections of every single state governor — to amend the law to allow the president to unilaterally send troops into a state to “respond to natural disasters and other major domestic emergencies.”
What’s happening on the streets of Chicago is a man-made crisis, and it is certainly a tragedy.
But it falls short of a “major domestic emergency” that local authorities can’t handle.
Chicago could solve its violence problem with a greater commitment to effective law enforcement. It could hire more cops. It could purge its police department of officers who refuse, for whatever reason, to enforce the law.
It could adopt a number of get-tough measures it lacks the will to impose.
The citizens of Chicago could also take steps, like booting out the politicians who have failed to protect them, starting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
And if all of that doesn’t work, the Illinois governor could ask Trump for help from the National Guard.
To those cheering Trump’s strong-man threat to take over a city they see as having been ruined by Democrats, we’ll offer the same advice we did when Obama was abusing the Constitution: Don’t give this president any power you wouldn’t want the next one to wield.
There are a whole lot of Democrats today ruing their silence while Obama was signing executive orders expanding his powers now that Trump is the one holding the pen.