The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Military Version of Eminent Domain Proposal Is Entirely Out of Trump’s Self-Interest

President Donald Trump speaks to the media in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/REUTERS)

For the moment, let’s put aside philosophical, legal, and constitutional reservations about the “military version of eminent domain,” of which I have many. Politically, it’s a crazy idea — save perhaps for Trump personally.

At this very moment, Democrats are fawning over the idea of a Green New Deal which would radically transform the U.S. economy. One of its most prominent popularizers, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, invokes the military mobilization to confront the Nazis as a model.

What we did was that we chose to mobilize our entire economy and industrialized our entire economy, and we put hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people to work in defending our shores and defending this country,” she continued. “We have to do the same thing in order to get us to 100 percent renewable energy, and that’s just the truth of it. It may seem like really big, like really ambitious, or really radical — as people love to say, but the fact of the matter is that we are dealing with a radical truth, and a radical reality.

This argument, that climate change needs to be treated as the moral equivalent of war, has been swirling around for over a decade now. And I think it’s fair to say that liberals believe it just as earnestly as Donald Trump believes we need a wall. Do we really want to establish the precedent that the president can simply declare “It’s an emergency” like some magical incantation and then completely bypass property rights and the will of Congress just so he can fulfill a campaign promise that, if Sam Nunberg is to be believed, began as a consultant’s gimmick to get the candidate Trump to talk about immigration and what a great builder he is?

Moreover, if Trump actually attempted to use the military to seize private land, spending money Congress did not authorize, think of what the news cycle would look like, not from Trump’s perspective but from the perspective of other elected Republicans. Assuming that the Supreme Court or Congress didn’t stop him — a big assumption — would you like to run for office defending hourly images of armed U.S. troops kicking in doors or rolling out concertina wire? Is it beyond imagining that at least one Texas or Arizona rancher would get shot defending his property?

Of course, that scenario is unlikely because Congress or the courts — never mind the military itself — would probably stand in the way of such a presidential order being carried out.

Which brings me to Trump’s personal interest here. The most plausible theory circulating in Washington is that the White House — if not necessarily Trump himself — understands that the order would be blocked almost immediately until the courts could deal with the blizzard of lawsuits that would instantly result. But Trump would have a good talking point for his base about how he did everything he could but was stymied by the “establishment” or the “Deep State” or some such.

That might indeed be good for Trump. I just don’t see who else it would be good for.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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