Theresa May’s Government Lives on—and So Does the Brexit Chaos


January 18,2019

Theresa May’s Government Lives on—and So Does the Brexit Chaos

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the other members of the government should be confined to a psychiatric hospital. Having narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday, in which a loss would almost certainly have led to a general election, May and her colleagues are now looking to resurrect her Brexit plan, or a slightly refined version of it, which was subjected to an overwhelming defeat in the Commons on Tuesday evening.

With just ten weeks until March 29th, when Britain is supposed to leave the European Union, May is hoping that the prospect of the country crashing out without any withdrawal agreement—an outcome that could cause shortages of essential medicines and industrial parts, as well as bedlam at the Channel ports—will persuade a majority of parliamentarians to back her plan as the least bad option available. Of course, this is precisely the same logic that the Prime Minister was relying on when she delayed a vote on the Brexit plan until Monday, after the New Year, and she ended up suffering what was widely described as the biggest loss ever inflicted on a sitting British Prime Minister. But, after what she has been through in the past couple of years, May can perhaps be forgiven for getting a little addled. The entire country is a little addled. More than a little.

In making the closing argument for the motion of no confidence during Wednesday’s debate, Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, was careful to acknowledge the efforts that May had already made to solve the political equivalent of Goldbach’s conjecture. “I think the country recognizes that effort,” Watson told the packed chamber. “In fact, the country feels genuinely sorry for the Prime Minister. I feel sorry for the Prime Minister. But she cannot confuse pity for political legitimacy, sympathy for sustainable support.” May’s strategy had failed utterly, Watson said, and “the cruellest truth of all is that she doesn’t possess the necessary political skills, empathy, ability, and most crucially the policy, to lead this country any longer.” The question facing the House, Watson said, was whether it is “worth giving this failed Prime Minister another chance to go back pleading to Brussels, another opportunity to humiliate the United Kingdom, another chance to waste a few weeks. The answer must be a resounding no.”

Making the closing argument for the government, Michael Gove, the minister for the environment, sought to divert attention from the humiliating setback that May had suffered, and the fact that more than a hundred Conservative M.P.s had rejected her plan. He turned his invective to Watson’s boss, Jeremy Corbyn, the leftist leader of the Labour Party, whom the Tories still view as their trump card. After noting that Watson hadn’t mentioned Corbyn during his speech, Gove, who is known at Westminster as a clever and slippery fellow, gleefully caricatured many of the Labour leader’s positions, claiming that Corbyn rejects Britain’s role in NATO and wants to get rid of the country’s nuclear deterrent. (A longtime antiwar activist, Corbyn has held these positions in the past, but official Labour policy, which Corbyn now supports, rejects them.) “No way can this country ever allow that man to be our Prime Minister,” Gove said, to loud cheers from the Conservative benches.

Since ten M.P.s from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which holds the balance of power in a narrowly divided Commons, had agreed to support the government, Gove knew that he and the Conservative government were on safe ground. But although the subsequent vote—of three hundred and twenty-five votes to three hundred and six—assured May’s survival, it merely confirmed the Brexit stalemate. A bit later in the evening, the Prime Minister emerged from 10 Downing Street to say that she had invited M.P.s from all parties to meet with her in an effort to find a way forward. Corbyn quickly rejected the offer, saying that the Labour Party wouldn’t join the talks unless May explicitly ruled out a no-deal Brexit—an option favored by some right-wing Conservative M.P.s.

So the show goes on, a very dark comedy. The hardline Conservative Brexiteers, led by the faux aristocrat Jacob Rees-Mogg, are encouraged because they have defeated May’s plan, and they know the default position is that Britain will crash out on March 29th.

Like a First World War general, May is soldiering ahead. Corbyn, relieved for now of the alarming prospect of having to step into May’s shoes, still says that he wants to honor the result of the referendum—in which many working-class, Labour-supporting areas voted Leave—but also to negotiate a better exit deal. (How he’d manage this, he hasn’t said.) But many Labour Party members—a large majority of them, according to recent polls—want to stay in the E.U., and seventy-one Labour M.P.s have now expressed support for the People’s Vote campaign, which is advocating a second referendum. In the coming days, Corbyn will face strong pressure to clarify his position and commit to another referendum.

 

Image result for may survives vote of no confidence

How and when will it all end? On Thursday, the government announced that Parliament would debate and vote on May’s “Plan B” on Tuesday, January 29th. M.P.s who spoke with the Prime Minister said that she still thinks she can tweak her deal and win, but few people outside of Downing Street believe it. The E.U. has ruled out making any more significant concessions. Both major parties are horribly split. And when the pollsters present the British public with the three options on offer—a no-deal Brexit, a Brexit on May’sterms, or a decision to Remain—there is no clear majority for any of them.

“I cannot recall Britain falling so low,” Philip Stephens, a veteran political commentator for the Financial Times, wrote in Thursday’s paper. “The Suez debacle in 1956? As supplicant at the door of the IMF 20 years later? These were moments of national shame. They were moments also that passed. The impact of Brexit has been cumulative. Each chapter in the story heaps on more humiliation. However it ends, the damage will not be quickly undone.”

And who, ultimately, is to blame? Before the vote on Wednesday, a BBC News crew approached David Cameron, the former Conservative Prime Minister who decided to hold the 2016 Brexit referendum, near his home in West London. He said that he didn’t regret that decision, even though the result went against his wishes. (He was a Remainer.) Then he set off on his morning jog.

A previous version of this post misstated the day that the vote on Theresa May’s Brexit plan took place.

https://www.newyorker.com/news

Is Anwar Ibrahim really our great white hope


January 18, 2019

Is Anwar Ibrahim really our great white hope?

Opinion  | by Mariam Mokhtar

 

  “Anwar seems to have one face for speaking in Malaysia and another for speaking when he is abroad. So, who is the real Anwar Ibrahim, and can we trust him’?”–Mariam Mokhtar

COMMENT by Mariam Mokhtar

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Their leader, Anwar Ibrahim, told England’s newspaper The Guardian that he would “…root out corruption and end a system of affirmative action for ethnic Malays…” if he were toform the next government.

Remember this word, “end”.

Soon after the GE-14 win, on May 10, 2018, Anwar was pardoned and released from prison.

On May 17, he told Associated Press (AP) that affirmative action policies for Malays must be discarded in favour of a new programme to help the poor, regardless of race.

Anwar said, “I have said that the NEP should be dismantled, but the affirmative action must be more effective. I believe that poor, underprivileged Malays will benefit more through a transparent, effective affirmative action policy than the New Economic Policy which has been hijacked to enrich a few cronies.”

What happened to the word “end”, which he mentioned in 2008?

Politicians make all sorts of promises, many of which they know they cannot keep. Why should Anwar be any different? What a pity that in Malaysia Baru politicians continue to pander to the ultra-sensitive Malays.

So, how does one unite a nation, when one section of the community is treated like ‘Little Emperors’, while the rest of the population is told to get on with the limited resources available?

On January 13, at a dinner to celebrate his win as president of PKR, Anwar urged the non-Malays to understand the concerns of the Malays and bumiputeras, who feared that their rights and position would be threatened.

Instead, Anwar should have highlighted the betrayal and exploitation of some Malays by other Malays. He should have mentioned Tabung Haji, Felda, Mara, the silence of the previous Malay-majority cabinet about the scandal involving 1MDB, and embezzlement in the various ministries by senior civil servants. Malays were at the helm of these institutions.

Another Pandora’s Box

For decades, PAS and UMNO Baru made the outrageous claim that the non-Malays, specifically the Chinese, wanted to destroy the nation, make it Christian and get rid of Islam and Muslims. The real enemy is within the Malay fold. We have yet to investigate the alleged corruption of the money donated to mosques, or tahfiz schools, which will open another Pandora’s Box.

Affirmative action policies make Malays weak, arrogant and dependent upon handouts. If the selection criteria for army recruits were to be lowered, we would have snowflakes defending the nation. A lowering of the examination pass mark, for the Malays, is self-defeating. The Malays cannot thrive in an environment which stifles competition and creativity. In the law of the jungle, only the fittest and those who are willing to adapt will survive.

In his monthly assembly speech at the Prime Minister’s Department, Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that Malaysia had not achieved true unity ‘despite six decades of independence, because each race wanted to maintain their own culture and heritage’. He said, “We accept the fact that we cannot be a country where the people identify themselves as one race.”

Mahathir is confused by the definition of “race”. How can the rakyat identify themselves as Malaysians when they are discriminated against with race-based policies for housing, schools, universities, business loans and more. Get rid of affirmative action policies and help all Malaysians, irrespective of skin colour or religion. Get rid of the bangsa and agama (race and religion) on our identity card.

So, is Anwar the great white hope?

The taxi drivers seem to think so. Najib could not help them, nor Mahathir. Taxi drivers fail to comprehend that they need to change their attitudes, to improve customer service. They think Anwar is their last bastion of hope.

During his five-day working visit to India, Anwar told the Indian newspaper, The Hindu, that Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail would vacate her position when he became PM.

He said, “Yes, she has said she wants to step down when I assume office, because she feels it will not be proper. She will continue to play her role, especially for health and culture and welfare.”

Did she really say that she will step down? Or was Anwar speaking for her?

The threat of nepotism means that many very good people will not want to work for the party. They know they will not progress far. Few people are prepared to criticise the boss’s wife, or daughter. Already, PKR is known as “Party Keluarga & Rakan-rakan”.

After eight months, the new Pakatan Harapan administration should have addressed serious issues concerning welfare and women and children’s rights. They seem to have avoided those issues, especially in matters pertaining to child marriages, treatment of single mothers who have been wronged by the system, lesbians who have been whipped and transgenders who have been murdered. Can a dutiful Malay wife go against her husband’s wishes?

In 2008, Anwar said he wanted to end affirmative action policies. A few days ago, he urged non-Malays to understand the concerns of the Malays. Can he make up his mind?

Anwar seems to have one face for speaking in Malaysia and another for speaking when he is abroad. So, who is the real Anwar Ibrahim, and can we trust him?


MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO). Blog, Twitter.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

 

Orang Asli Development: A New Starting Point Needed


January 17, 2019

 

Orang Asli Development: A New Starting Point Needed. It is time to stop playing  politics with their future.

By Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Image result for orang asli malaysia The neglected and humiliated original Malaysians. Time to stop playing  politics with their future.

In the last few weeks there has been an unusual flurry of press statements drawing attention to the Orang Asli community. They include the announcement of a national conference to be held on January 11 to discuss proactive proposals to resolve the issues faced by the 200,000 Orang Asli in our country.

The conference – which seems to have been aborted – was to have been preceded by a roundtable discussion on January 6 to identify the primary issues faced by the community, including rights to land, infrastructure access, education, the digital gap and youth empowerment.

Image result for orang asli malaysia

Simultaneously, the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail during a visit to Cameron Highlands declared that the Government was studying the need to create a comprehensive development plan in line with that of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 107 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples which encourages governments to involve Indigenous People in development projects and provides guidance on the protection of tribal people.

Observers may be forgiven if they have linked these announcements to the coming Cameron Highlands by election. Orang Asli votes comprise over 20% of the estimated 32,000 voters for this parliamentary constituency and are perceived to be a key swing factor in the much watched election taking place on 26 January.

Another Ditched Pakatan Harapan Promise?

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For GOD’s sake, Wan Azizah– Get your priorities right

But perhaps the Orang Asli voters and the larger community in the country may want to give the benefit of the doubt to the new government in view of the promises contained in the Pakatan manifesto on the preservation of Orang Asli customary land rights and concern for their welfare and development.

Will this be one key election promise made by Pakatan that can be realized without too much delay and controversy?

After all, examination of the economic and socio-cultural indicators available including infant and child mortality, life expectancy, educational levels, income levels, etc. – and there can no dispute over them in respect to those of this minority community – point to the shameful reality that 60 years after independence, the Orang Asli community – indisputably the first peoples in the Malay Peninsula – remain the poorest, the most marginalized, and the most dispossessed of home, land, means of subsistence, history, language, culture and identity.

Image result for orang asli malaysia

To expedite the process of reintegration of Orang Asli into the mainstream of society, it is imperative that the old template for resolution of the community’s problems be discarded and a new starting point of reference is established to restore the rights and status of our first peoples.

New Starting Point to Correct Past and Present Wrongs

Here are 3 suggestions for the Pakatan government (and for whoever wins the Cameron by election) to consider:

  1. Ratify ILO convention 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples in place of ILO convention 106 which was introduced more than 60 years ago.  The newer convention 169 which came into force in 1991 but which Malaysia has yet to sign on has been found necessary in view of the worsening developments in the situation of indigenous and tribal peoples in all regions of the world. This has made it appropriate for countries to adopt new international standards and to remove the assimilationist orientation of the earlier convention.

                                   ILO Convention 169

Convention No. 169 represents a consensus on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples within the nation-States where they live and the responsibilities of governments to protect these rights. It is based on respect for the cultures and ways of life of indigenous peoples and recognizes their right to land and natural resources and to define their own priorities for development. The Convention aims at overcoming discriminatory practices affecting these peoples and enabling them to participate in decision-making that affects their lives

2   Resolve the land problems of the Orang Asli communities by recognising their ownership right to customary and ancestral lands and providing them with permanent titles. This can begin with analysis of land office, survey, mapping, forestry and other archival records of British colonial rule as well as the records of the post-colonial government which can establish the boundaries of areas where the Orang Asli have had their traditional settlements and hunting-gathering territories; and which,during the colonial period, were demarcated and regarded as Orang Asli territories.

3.  Honour the Orang Asli by recognizing their rightful place in this country through a national apology or a similar declaration from the highest level of government expressing regret for the historical injustices done to the community; pledging and honoring to right past wrongs committed during the colonial and post-colonial era; and promising action to build a sustainable and meaningful future for the community.

To date national political apologies or official expressions of remorse have taken place in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States of America, Norway and Sweden.  Similar expressions have also been recently made by political leaders in some Latin American countries with indigenous communities.

A declaration to this effect would be a significant first for Malaysia in the ASEAN Community while we would be the second nation after Taiwan in Asia to provide such a political initiative.

This move has been seen by scholars researching the topic of apologies to indigenous peoples in comparative perspective as having the merit of putting things on record and as a prelude to reconciliation and correction of ethical flaws in the state political culture.

More importantly to me, an official expression would demonstrate the nation’s commitment to respecting human rights, and upholding justice, equality and non-discrimination.

 

Nudging Mahathir into consensus mode


January 17,2019

Nudging  Mahathir into consensus mode

Opinion  |  P Gunasegaram

Published:  |  Modified:

 

QUESTION TIME | Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s current beef is wealth inequality, and so he wants to restart the redistribution of wealth – to Malays (and bumiputeras). This is something which I commented on here. But that’s not even a stopgap measure, because acquired wealth can be sold off. It also reflects the policies of old, which have been discredited.

The only way that wealth can be increased and retained within a community is to increase incomes, rather than to distribute existing wealth, even if it is held by the government. And the only way incomes can be increased is to put in place plans to raise incomes for all Malaysians, since 67 percent of the population is bumiputera, with Malays forming 50.5 percent of the population.

The issue of wealth and income equality comes back eventually to the effectiveness of the government and how successful it has been in narrowing opportunity gaps between rich and poor through well thought out and carefully implemented programmes.

For that to happen, it is necessary for some steps to be taken. I agree that for this to happen, it is not just the duty of Mahathir, but also the partners in the Harapan coalition government, to exert force, for at the end of the day, Mahathir only commands a small minority of MPs in the coalition.

Considering that he is advanced in age and may be lacking in vitality, it is necessary for change to start from his other partners – the leaders in PKR, DAP and Amanah – who had envisioned a different plan and programme than that of Mahathir’s Bersatu, a racial reconstruction of UMNO, where the membership is exclusively restricted to Malays and bumiputeras, with many of its members having come from UMNO.

Exerting influence

Thus, it is incumbent upon other leaders to push Mahathir into change and consensus mode. There are at least two ways this can be done – through the Harapan presidential council and the cabinet. First, Harapan’s presidential council rightly should be the place from which all broad policies for the government should emanate.

 

Image result for mahathir's cabinet

Here is where Harapan’s de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim and his wife and Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail should exert their influence after discussions with DAP leaders such as Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng, and Amanah leaders such as Mohamad Sabu, Khalid Abdul Samad and Dzulkefly Ahmad.

Since the other parties are in the vast majority in terms of their number of MPs, their combined weight should hold a lot of sway, and Mahathir can be persuaded that the policies taken should reflect that of the majority view.

If the other Harapan leaders do not take such measures and wait patiently for Mahathir to exit the scene in a year and four months from now, they must also take joint responsibility for any wrong, improper move which delay things towards an open, freer country which moves forward based on government transparency, accountability, good governance and competence.

Pushing for Anwar’s inclusion in the cabinet

 

Image result for mahathir's cabinet

The other thing that the presidential council should do is to push for Anwar’s inclusion in the cabinet and for him to become Deputy Prime minister like in 1998 soonest.

The other thing that the presidential council should do is to push for Anwar’s inclusion in the cabinet and for him to become deputy prime minister soonest. That is the natural thing to do if Anwar is to become prime minister 16 months from now, as agreed by all the coalition partners.

That may pave the way for Wan Azizah to step down from politics, as she has said many times beforehand that she wants to do after Anwar is in the picture.

It would ensure that Anwar has enough time to have a good grasp of everything that happens in the cabinet in the lead-up to him taking over as Prime Minister. It is necessary that Harapan leaders have the gumption, courage and conviction to push for this to take place.

With the presidential council becoming a greater force in making national policy with the input of all leaders, instead of being dominated by a minority leader, even if it is Mahathir, then decision-making is likely to better reflect the true aspirations of the overall Harapan coalition instead of that of Bersatu and Mahathir – as it is now. That would reflect, too, the aspirations of voters.

Get the necessary work done

Next, the cabinet. Cabinet members seem to be waiting for Mahathir’s approval before they do anything, even though it is impossible for Mahathir – or anyone else who is Prime Minister – to understand the full implications of all measures to be undertaken by the ministries.

Thus ministers should seek to take their ministries forward in terms of increased competence, work and efficiency, with full regard at all times to such key issues as integrity, honesty and doing away with patronage in decision-making and implementation. Surely no one, not even Mahathir, would fault them for coming up with good strategies and programmes for implementation that would work.

In other words, ministers should move their butts to get the necessary work done and not wait for orders and instructions from the top, who in this case is Mahathir. If they don’t take the initiative to get things done much better than before, they can’t turn around and blame Mahathir.

It’s their job to get action plans done and present them to the cabinet for approval. If their plans are found to be good and workable, it is unlikely that Mahathir or the other members of the cabinet are going to turn them down.

These are tough times and Mahathir may well need some help to initiate changes. If he is straying from the path the coalition agreed on, who better to tell him than his coalition partners and to steer him back to the right one?

That needs courage, conviction and the willingness to face confrontation, which could eventually lead to a conciliatory path that is more beneficial to the country. After all, is that not the way of consensus, which is how the election was won by Harapan?

Next: 10 ways to increase incomes and raise living standards.


P GUNASEGARAM believes consensus comes out of genuine desire to find the right path. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

The Guardian view on May’s Brexit deal: it’s over, but what’s next? –Editorial


January 16, 2019

The Guardian view on May’s Brexit deal: it’s over, but what’s next?

https:// http://www.the guardian.com

The PM leads a party that is divided and a country stockpiling food and medicines as if preparing for war. She needs to humbly reach out to her opponents and find a way to prevent Britain crashing out of the EU in weeks.

https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/e57ca7e9b0d16aa7701e154d67acbfc590e8316e/0_215_3500_2100/master/3500.jpg?width=620&quality=85&auto=format&fit=max&s=a73c39d2868c0e7c12c31689b2b212bc

Theresa May addresses parliament after the vote on her Brexit deal. Photograph:  Mark Duffy/AP

The overwhelming and decisive rejection by MPs of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement to leave the European Union is a shattering blow to the authority of the prime minister. She has spent two years negotiating a deal, which in substance was the opposite of what she said she wanted in public, only to see it repudiated by parliament. Her minority government has now been defeated on no fewer than 28 occasions

 Britain is leaving the EU in weeks and Mrs May leads a cabinet that is hopelessly split, a party that is riven with disagreements and a country that is deeply divided. So emphatic is the Commons historic rebuff that Mrs May’s deal is finished. Mrs May lost by 230 votes – the greatest defeat of a government ever. The scale of the opposition means it is not credible Mrs May could bring the motion back to the Commons, modified with a few tweaks from Brussels, and hope for success a second time round.

We do not have to settle for the Hobson’s choice of the May deal or no deal. The trouble is the Tory party is split between those who want a deal and those who do not. Mrs May has intensified the divisions within her party, rather than resolve them. She chose to start negotiations over Brexit not with the EU but with her own hardliners.

The red lines Mrs May subsequently set made it impossible for her to get a deal that would bring her fractious party together, let alone reach out to her political opponents. Her agreement ended up shaped by Mrs May’s obsession with immigration and placating Brexit extremists. The result is a “blindfold Brexit” –where almost everything about the future relationship with Europe is up in the air for two more years. It required a leap of faith to place trust in a prime minister who, the Commons wisely decided, deserved very little.

In the current circumstances, there is no majority in parliament for any of the alternative Brexit deals. This could lead to a disaster: Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal. That is why MPs must remove it as an option.

Labour has triggered a vote of no confidence in the government but is unlikely to win. That points to the need for a mechanism to allow a Commons majority to take control of the Brexit process. This would require innovation, of the kind seen last week, so committees can be empowered and laws brought forward. But to have other options would require asking the EU for more time. It requires parliamentary cooperation of the kind hitherto unseen.

Jeremy Corbyn and Mrs May ought not to stand in the way of such dealings. Constitutional devices such as citizens’ assemblies, raised by Labour MP Lisa Nandy, and another referendum would allow leaders to hold their parties together and provide legitimacy for whatever the public decides. These are not denials of democracy but a reinforcement of it.

Mrs May’s decision to put party politics ahead of national interest means this country will aimlessly drift as the government attempts to recast a withdrawal agreement. An absence of leadership can lead to a sense of panic, one inflated by a government stockpiling food and medicines as if preparing for a war.

We need to end the chaos and division that have done so much to disfigure our country. The question we face is whether there can be a durable relationship between Brexit Britain and the EU, which allows both to cooperate on the basis of shared interests and values. Mrs May left it far too late to accept the costs of leaving, preferring to pander to MPs whose snake-oil sales pitch is that there will not be any cost associated with Brexit at all. “Having your cake and eating it” is the Brexiter attitude that encapsulates this inability to think in terms of costs and benefits.

Yet coming clean about these things is necessary to move forward. The country now faces a situation without precedent in its constitutional history: how to reconcile the sovereignty of the people with the sovereignty of parliament.

The prime minister has been humbled into admitting she needs to win her opponents over. The Brexit vote was driven by stagnant wages, regional disparities and a soulless form of capital accumulation. These were not caused by the EU, nor will they be solved by leaving it. Only policies enacted by purposeful government can do that. Mrs May has not provided either.

 

Trump has conjured a crisis out of thin air. That should worry us all.


January 16, 2019

Trump has conjured a crisis out of thin air. That should worry us all.

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

ttps://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/1/10/trump-has-conjured-a-crisis-out-of-thin-air-that-should-worry-us-all

Image result for fareed zakaria

Watching the struggle over funding for a border wall, I am struck by the way in which, in one sense, President Trump has already achieved success. He has been able to conjure up a crisis out of thin air, elevate this manufactured emergency to national attention, paralyze the government and perhaps even invoke warlike authority and bypass Congress. He may still fail, but it should worry us that a president — any president — can do what Trump has done.

Image result for Trump and The Wall

Let’s be clear: There is no crisis. The number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has been declining for a decade. The number of people caught trying to sneak across the southern border has been on a downward trend for almost 20 years and is lower than it was in 1973.

As has often been pointed out, far more people are coming to the U.S. legally and then overstaying their visas than are crossing the southern border illegally. But it’s important to put these numbers in context. More than 52 million foreigners entered the U.S. legally in fiscal year 2017. Of this cohort, 98.7 percent left on time and in accordance with their visas. A large portion of those remaining left after a brief overstay, and the best government estimate is that maybe 0.8 percent of those who entered the country in 2017 had stayed on by mid-2018.

As for terrorism, the Cato Institute has found that, from 1975 to 2017, “there have been zero people murdered or injured in terror attacks committed by illegal border crossers on U.S. soil.”

As for drugs, the greatest danger comes from fentanyl and fentanyl-like substances, which are at the heart of the opioid crisis. Most of this comes from China, either shipped directly to the United States or smuggled through Canada or Mexico. Trump has addressed the root of this problem by pressing the Chinese government to crack down on fentanyl exports, a far more effective strategy than building a physical barrier along the Mexican border.

Even the Drug Enforcement Administration acknowledged in a report last year that while the southern border is the conduit for most of the heroin entering the United States, the drug typically comes through legal points of entry, hidden in cars or mixed in with other goods in tractor-trailers. In other words, a wall would do little to stanch the flow.

And yet, the power of the presidency is such that Trump has been able to place this issue center-stage, shut down the government, force television networks to run an error-ridden, scaremongering Oval Office address, and now perhaps invoke emergency powers. This sounds like something that would be done by Presidents Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, not the head of the world’s leading constitutional republic.

When the U.S. government has created this sense of emergency and crisis in the past, it has almost always been to frighten people, expand presidential powers and muzzle opposition. From the Alien and Sedition Acts to the Red Scare to warnings about Saddam Hussein’s arsenal, the United States has experienced periods of paranoia and foolishness. We look back on them and recognize that the problems were not nearly as grave, the enemy was not nearly as strong and the United States was actually far more secure. The actions taken — suspending civil rights, interning U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent, taking the nation to war — were almost always terrible mistakes, often with disastrous long-term consequences.

And yet, presidential powers have kept expanding. Modern media culture has made it easier for presidents to set the agenda, because the White House is a central and perpetual point of focus and now receives far more attention than it ever had. Trump has managed to use this reality and turn good news into bad, turn security into danger and almost single-handedly fabricate a national crisis where there is none.

This whole episode highlights a problem that has become apparent in these past two years. The U.S. president has too many powers, formal and informal. This was not intended by the founders, who made Congress the dominant branch of government, and it is not how the country has been governed for much of its history. But over the past nine decades, the presidency has grown in formal and informal authority.

I have been an advocate of a strong executive for most of my life. I don’t much like how Congress operates. I now realize that my views were premised on the assumption that the president would operate within the bounds of laws, norms and ethics. I now believe that an urgent task for the next few years is for Congress to write laws that explicitly limit and check the powers of the president. I would take polarization over Putinism any day.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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