Washington Post
Washington Post

Opinion: Republican Principles are Up Against the Wall

February 13, 2019

After writing my last article, “A Perversion of Strength,” I thought about other ways that President Trump’s attitude toward border security has uprooted a more traditional political approach. Beyond altering the diplomatic use of the word “strength,” Trump has challenged a fundamental principle of American Republicanism—the individual right to private property.

Trump will eventually leave the Oval Office. This could come as a result of the Mueller investigation, as a result of the 2020 election, or as a result of presidential term limits that would have him finishing out his second term through 2024. Regardless, there will soon be a time where the Trump presidency is a thing of the past. It is at this point that the Republican Party will need to make vital decisions; either to continue aligning with Trump’s ideologies, or to try revisiting and revitalizing what Republicanism was before Trump was sworn in.

Trump overtly challenges the Republican principle of an individual’s right to private property through his insistence on employing eminent domain to build the border wall.

Eminent domain is a government’s right to seize private property for public use, with the condition that just compensation is given to the private owners from whom land is seized. Eminent domain has been used in the past to construct roads, railways, and other public works projects designed to benefit the common good.

Historically, the Republican Party has been at odds with eminent domain. Much of their platform is based in the protection of private property, and Trump’s more lenient idea of eminent domain—that it should be available for both public and private gain—caused tensions during debates for the 2016 election.

One question I have continued to ask is why Trump would avoid building the wall by declaring a national emergency. The sheer fact that it can be considered as one of several courses of action shows that it is not in fact an emergency, Trump continues to throw around the idea without taking action on it. Beyond its obvious abuse of power, declaring a national emergency would in fact work against Trump’s ability to employ eminent domain.

It is much easier to assert the claim of eminent domain when it has undergone congressional approval. When Congress has approved the seizure of land, there is a more substantive and principled support of the need for use of the land that is easier to defend if challenged in smaller courts. However, under the declaration of a national emergency, claiming eminent domain would become much messier when citizens fight against the seizure, meaning that these cases would stay in courts and undergo appeals for a much longer time, potentially delaying the construction of the wall until long after Trump is out of office.

Between weighing the option of declaring a national emergency for political gain and undermining foundational Republican values, Trump has proven that his actions are based on results rather than principles. His actions take root in expedience, and this approach, without accounting for the longevity of the Republican platform, undermines the principles of the Republican Party. It seems as if Trump’s guiding principles for the party are ruled by a lack of principle altogether.


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