President Trump declares a national emergency, in order to build a wall along the southern border, during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House on Feb. 15, 2019, in Washington. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit Feb. 18, 2019, against Trump's emergency declaration to fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Becerra released a statement Monday saying 16 states — including California — allege the Trump administration's action violates the Constitution. (AP Photo Evan Vucci, File)

How a national emergency order endangers the 'other'

People from Pittsburgh’s New Light Congregation and Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church join members of Mother Emanuel Church to march in Charleston’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade on Jan. 21, 2019. Photo by Brandon Fish/Charleston Jewish Federation

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

(RNS) — We write as victims of violence, who know the trauma inflicted by evil people who target the “other.” As the pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and the rabbi of the New Light Congregation in Pittsburgh, we've seen beloved members of our congregations shot down in our holy spaces within the space of three years.

We share a grief that stems from violence that began with hate-inciting speech — one attack motivated by fears of African-Americans, the other by fears of Jewish support for a wider open-door policy for persecuted refugees.

We now share a concern about the president's recent misuse of the words “national emergency.”

These are words of mobilization, words warning us of serious danger. The president's so-called emergency isn’t about hurricanes or burning forests or a terrorist invasion. It is a “national emergency” directed against others.

RELATED: Fighting hate, from Tree of Life synagogue to Charleston’s Mother Emanuel Church

History is littered with examples of despotic overreach justified as "national emergencies." We have seen it in Jim Crow legislation and the war against African-Americans. We have seen it in the rise of Hitler and the eradication of Jews. In both cases, the call to national emergency was to make the people living inside the borders “pure" and to deem those outside second-class citizens, impure. With the black community, it led to mass lynchings and other forms of race-directed violence. With the Jews, it led to extermination on a massive scale.

President Trump declares a national emergency, in order to build a wall along the southern border, during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House on Feb. 15, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo Evan Vucci)

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Everybody, especially leaders, needs to watch their words, and use them strategically. We cannot equivocate. There is provocation on all sides. When one side shouts “Jews will not replace us!” as happened in Charlottesville, Va., there are not good people on both sides. When Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, lies about a “Jewish” lobby named AIPAC buying off congressmen, she is also guilty, just as an online hate group was wrong to blame HIAS for helping “invaders” from criminal countries. We need to be careful that words will not rip apart our communities and further enable murder.

The worshippers at our two houses of worship, African-Americans and Jews, are considered the “others” of white America. The misguided assassins who attacked us are symptomatic of a hatred of the “other” that is now sweeping the world. We see it in anti-Semitic attacks in France, and in Germany and in Poland against Syrian refugees. We see it in the U.S. immigration policies against refugees from Latin America.

Our country's founders hoped for a land of religious tolerance. The South Carolina colony was the first to extend an invitation to immigrants regardless of religious expression. A young John Locke wrote in 1669 that Carolina welcomed those who in “any seven or more persons, agreeing in any religion, shall constitute a Church or profession including Jews, heathens, and other Dissenters from Christianity.”

This model of religious liberty welcomed those who were considered “other” in countries outside the U.S. This creed of equality was one of the building blocks of the First Amendment, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil Rights Acts, and an invitation to the many immigrants who built the American economy in the 20th century.

Worship should never be an act of bravery. We pray that the souls of those martyred while immersed in the spirituality of their moment, whether Sabbath prayer or Wednesday night Bible study, will help us move forward to religious values of peace, love and kindness. Let prayer and study help us to lift up our words and be an example to our leaders to provide us with a world devoid of violence and injustice.

People from Pittsburgh’s New Light Congregation and Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church pose for a photo with members of Mother Emanuel Church at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 21, 2019. Photo by Brandon Fish/Charleston Jewish Federation

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Last month in the streets of Charleston, S.C., members of our congregations linked arms in protest and solidarity to honor Martin Luther King Jr. We held up placards and shouted “We’re Pittsburgh strong! There’s No Place for hate!”

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said of King: “Where in America do we hear a voice like the prophets of Israel? Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the United States of America. His presence is the hope of America.”

We could use a prophetic voice like King’s in Washington right now.

Our mutual faith brings us to protest the immorality of scapegoating the “other” and inciting violence. Such rhetoric may bring politicians applause and score points with their political base, but harmful words do not serve us well if they are infected with a scornful urgency that is created out of falsehood.

We believe – as our religious traditions instruct us — we must dedicate ourselves to using our words wisely. As it says in Proverbs 18, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

(Rabbi Jonathan Perlman serves New Light Congregation in Pittsburgh. Pastor Eric Manning is senior pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)


  1. “We now share a concern about the president’s recent misuse of the words ‘national emergency.’”

    More accurately they disagree with the President declaring a national emergency.

    The legislation under which it was declared is pretty clear and it gives the President wide latitude which heretofore has never been challenged.

    The odds are slim that the courts will begin challenging it now, although the Ninth Circuit may make a show of a challenge before the Supreme Court quashes it.

    Congress has a remedy under the legislation, and that’s the course opponents are most likely going to have to follow.

  2. Funny how there was no “national emergency” when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress for TWO WHOLE YEARS. Funny how Trump waited until the minute Democrats took control of the House before he declared his great “emergency,” which doesn’t exist.

    Trump’s most terrible legacy (and there will be lots to choose from) will certainly be the way in which he has rendered words meaningless among his cult following. To quote George Orwell from “1984,” “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

    The real culprits, however, are Trump’s cult followers who allow themselves to be deceived on a daily basis. They are responsible for the real national emergency, which is the so-called presidency of Donald J. Trump. In the end they will be judged harshly, and they will deserve every bit of what’s coming to them.

  3. I would place ore blame on all of those calculating people who cynically support Trump, because that keeps their party in control and them in a job. I place the blame on people like McConnell and all of the Republican senators who refuse to stand up to the sitting president, as well as on those who agree to work for the sitting president, thereby enabling him.

  4. There is a special place in hell waiting for Mitch McConnell.

  5. Okay, you hate Trump, McConnell, and the Republicans.

    That is hardly profound.

  6. Two more bigots equating desire for effective enforcement of our immigration laws with hatred and racism. They ought to take the chapters in Acts about the early Christian community in Jerusalem and ask an economist what the inevitable results of that economic model will be. The economist—ANY economist—will tell them that the inevitable result will be the economic ruin of the community due to loss of capital.

  7. In this country, politicians generally take one of two paths to power. One is to inspire people, to unify them in the pursuit of some great cause. But that path takes a lot of effort, great moral courage and considerable oratorical skill, which is why it’s the one less traveled.

    The far easier path is to scare people. To do that effectively you need a scapegoat of some sort, and the best scapegoats are groups that are powerless to speak up for themselves. Trump understands this (or at least intuits it) and his border crisis is a textbook example of it.

    Still, what matters most about Trump’s declaration of a national emergency isn’t his motive but whether or not it will withstand the legal challenges ahead. Time will tell.

  8. Jesus is reported to have said that it isn’t what you put into your mouth that defiles you but what comes out of it!

  9. I think it is the large number of Trump supporters that are the “real” national emergency. They are the living proof of a society that has lost its way.

  10. I think you are right that Trump “intuits” it rather than fully understands it. He is incapable of deep thought! He simply has gut responses to cheers and to jeers! His EGO/narcissism is in full control. He doesn’t seem to have in Freudian terms a Super-Ego or Higher self.

  11. What did all these people do when Obama was for the wall?

  12. I am old, white, a Christian, a Texan (Southerner), conservative, pro-Israel, middle class, small-town, Trump supporter – I think that is enough of a mental picture. And, oh yes, most of the people I know share many of the same characteristics and beliefs. Speaking for me and my friends, we do not see blacks, jews, asians, or hispanics as the “other.” We do not “fear” them. That is ridiculous. They are not well represented in this small Texas community, but we are people of good will who love everyone no matter what color or shape or size they are. We see “people,” not race or ethnic group. We socialize, we intermarry. Racial purity is not on our minds and is regarded as Nazi idea. Of course there are a very small percentage of people on all sides who are extremists haters – all races and political persuasions. To us, the brownshirts of Antifa and the KKK are the same. These are the people are the problem and their actions and beliefs should not be used as a generalization for any larger group. That is kind of talk is wounding and keeps previous wounds from healing. This article mentions Trump along with liberal dog-whistles such as “hate-inciting,” Jim Crow, Hitler, lynchings, racial violence, and extermination. That is unfair and extreme. My support of Trump is not absolute but I agree with his declaring a national emergency to fund a border wall. This emergency is not a hurricane or forest fire which result in death and destruction, but is regarding people who enter our country illegally and produce the same effect. (Color or nationality is not the issue.) Where do we find walls? Israel, the Vatican, the White House, as well as around the homes of all the unprincipled politicians who voted for a wall previously but now say walls are immoral. What if your spouse or son or daughter, Mother, Father were murdered, maimed, raped or robbed by someone in the country illegally – someone who should never have been here? What if a wall would have kept that person from entering the country? Illegal aliens are not “the other,” they are people who are like us who want to improve their lot in life – but they are not legal citizens and have to go through a process to be admitted to the club..

  13. Did he declare a national emergency or force the government to shut down to get one?

  14. They voted for 700 miles of fencing along with other security improvements. And…? Did anyone force a shutdown on the issue or did Obama declare a national emergency?

  15. you’re right . it is rather commonplace and understandable to respond to trump’s hate and dysfunction in like manner .

    what is extraordinary are the people who attempt to reach out to trump supporters and aid their return to civil society .

  16. I suspect you’re correct but these days I try not to spend too much time thinking about Trump’s psychopathology. His orbit is one I prefer to spend as little time in as possible for the sake of my own health and well being.

  17. obama, and other democrats, voted for 700 miles of fencing . neither as high nor as expensive as the wall that trump speaks of .

  18. they accepted 700 miles of republican fencing, Sandi in EL, not a wall .

  19. again, Sandi, fence, not wall, fence . neither as high nor as expensive .

  20. The only national emergency here is we have a fool for a president.

    No, Congress not approving the president’s useless boondoogle vanity project is not a national emergency.

    Nor is the 50+ years of endemic illegal immigration going too and from this country.

    Nor is this garbage from President Cheeto analogous to emergency orders done by the last 3 presidents. None of them involved large expenditures of money nor were disputed by Congress.

  21. I feel bad that you support such an incompetent bigot as president. Someone who has knowingly screwed over any supporter who works for a living, abused his position for personal gain, attacked all institutions of a democratic nation, and made the nation a laughingstock to the rest of the world.

    But you support a person endorsed by neo-nazis, who has no regard for rule of law and uses bigoted appeals with alarming frequency. Racial purity is precisely the motivation behind Trump’s immigration policies and attacks on legal immigration. Much of it uses white supremacist language and adopts policies from white supremacist groups.

    Can’t say you have made a single honest point here. Better luck next time from the troll farm.

  22. Bigots are the ones talking about enforcement of our immigration laws without a clue what they are. Not a single conservative ever makes honest or correct representations of the laws and system behind it.

    Trump has made intentionally racist panicky appeals to get his way here. Trump supporters spread rumors and false narratives which appeal to a wide spread of bigoted ideas. Including linking nativist sentiments to anti-semitism. Such messages coming from Trump and his supporters were the claimed reason a man shot up a synagogue and killed 11 people.

  23. it is true that both can be tunneled under or have drones fly over carrying drugs .

    but still the wall is much, much more expensive .

  24. the democrats accepted 700 miles of fence and moved the subject to better and more flexible border security .

    the hair splitting is only relevant to your inability to grasp the difference that a wall and a fence can make .

  25. most “illegal” folks come through check points and overstay visas . the wall is totally useless for prevent that .

  26. “a lot” is a vague term . do you have numbers on that . my understanding is that the border patrol doesn’t believe that it’s that many .

  27. oh well. that does not indicate that it does not happen.

  28. I generally remain apolitical and share George Washington’s disdain for political parties.

    However, the law is clear.

    Reprogramming appropriated money is common in Federal fund accounting – it is one the reasons why California had billions to piddle down a hole on the train to nowhere.

  29. Speaking of incapable of deep thought, every single thing you just wrote you absorbed and/or copied and regurgitated in the post to which I am responding.

    Freud had a few problems himself.

  30. Now if you could just tie that to some sort of point.

  31. Wow! So someone actually dares to offer a respectful, but differing POV and all you want to do is name call and espouse hatred. You’re opinion is no less, but certainly of no more value than his.

  32. Tone trolling. How useless.

    The guy was full of it and not giving a respectful civil POV. He was giving a canned party line. I did not insult him personally. Only the person he chose to support. A person of low character who has done terrible things with public power.

    Obviously hearing another view has you triggered. I guess you are probably better off with breitbart or townhall, where they ban people who do not follow the right wing canned narrative.

  33. I’m neither in grade school nor H. S. So your tone, words, and bullying tactics don’t “trigger” me nor anger me in the least. Your hatred for others is evident. Very sad.

  34. Could have fooled me. You sound quite triggered.

    I guess reading views other than the scripted garbage coming from conservatives gets you all upset.

    So sad.

  35. Both Democrats and Republicans felt it important to secure our border and voted for 700 + miles of an appropriate barrier. We are still building new barriers and replacing the old. No racism or bigotry. No controversy.

    Enter Donald Trump. He proposed a massive concrete wall along the entire border. His first public comments as a nominee was his bigoted painting of the vast majority of illegal immigrants as thieves, murderers and rapists. His wall represents racism. His emergency is made up and an excuse to circumvent the House. He is desperate to fulfill his promise. Now, because of the symbolism of the wall, the Democrats are against a wall. The wall is immoral! Some advocate tearing down the existing walls and allowing free movement across the border.

  36. Trying to portray attempts to make the border an actual border, previously endorsed by the Democratic President Bill Clinton on down, as racism is a dishonest unsupported political ploy by a party pandering to identity politics and stirring racial strife.

  37. “His first public comments as a nominee was his bigoted painting of the
    vast majority of illegal immigrants as thieves, murderers and rapists.”

    Except, of course, the actual text of what he said did not “paint… the
    vast majority of illegal immigrants as thieves, murderers and rapists”.

    An inconvenient truth.

  38. Spuddie’s specialty is name-calling and hatred.

    She seems to be a transmission belt for “anti-fa” left wing twaddle.

  39. And the Trump supporters feel that the Democratic yellow running dogs of leftist drivel are the national emergency.

    Now that we’ve got that out of the way, back to intelligent conversation.

  40. The entire Left ani-fa Resistance is spending too much time on “Trump’s psychopathology” and too little time on developing a coherent political offering to counter doing what the majority of the people would like and a booming economy.

    You can’t build a political coalition that can win on hating white people and a nonsensical Green New Deal.

  41. Frank Delano Roosevelt built his coalition on scaring people.

    And, despite a complete lack of results, he is almost a secular saint in some parts of the country.

    Perhaps which path the politician is on is in the eye of the beholder.

  42. The number of illegals crossing the southern US border peaked in 2000-2003 at about 1.6 million/yr. . To me, that is an intolerable situation and qualifies as a national emergency. The rate, however, has dramatically been reduced in recent years to about 400,000/yr and this was accomplished without a Trump wall but by approximately doubling the number of ICE agents. So let us increase the level of ICE agents a bit more without the expenditure of $8 billion dollars on a wall which would be vitiated by tunnels, holes and flyovers.

  43. I don’t romanticize FDR, but there’s a high wall and a deep ditch between his rhetorical style and that of Trump. Can you imagine Trump ever saying something like, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself?” Not in a million years.

    For all his flaws — and they were many — Roosevelt did mobilize the nation to deal with two of the biggest legitimate threats in our history, the Great Depression and World War II. I don’t want to get down in the weeds on a discussion of the ultimate success or failure of the New Deal, but there’s no question that he played a leading role in motivating both the citizenry and American industry for the massive war production it took to win the war. I doubt any serious historian would dispute that.

    My problem with Trump’s rhetoric is that it’s consistently inflammatory. Yes, I know he’s not the only one and, yes, I’m also concerned about the level of vitriol I see coming from the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others on the left. But the president has the bully pulpit. It disappoints me that he uses it most often to divide rather than unite.

    I know American politics has always been, to some extent, a bare-knuckles enterprise, but it’s more dysfunctional today than it’s been at any time since the Civil War. What politicians today don’t seem to understand is that civility isn’t just about politeness but about maintaining an environment where things can get done for the good of the nation.

    What does get done today isn’t through the art of political compromise but by force of majority. That works in the short run and it keeps the folks happy in homogenous congressional districts, but it’s also a cancer in the body politic and that cancer is becoming increasingly aggressive.

  44. My interest in Trump’s mental and emotional state extends no further than whether or not he could be removed from office for incapacity. And since with this Congress and this Vice President that’s not likely to happen, I don’t dwell on it.

  45. Of course, I should be accurate:

    “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

  46. Just so we are on the same page:


    He lost the context of the written presentation, which was illegal immigrants.

    Are illegal immigrants their best? No.

    Are they bringing various kinds of crime?

    Every day the news is full of it.

    Are some of them good people?

    Yes, they are.

    Was the following an accurate statement?

    “His first public comments as a nominee was his bigoted painting of the
    vast majority of illegal immigrants as thieves, murderers and rapists.”


  47. “I don’t romanticize FDR, but there’s a high wall and a deep ditch between his rhetorical style and that of Trump.”

    So, the fact that FDR was a smooth talker papers over the reality of his actual program.

    “… Roosevelt did mobilize the nation to deal with two of the biggest legitimate threats in our history, the Great Depression and World War II.”

    At the same time Europe was recovering from the Depression, America was still bogged down in it. Roosevelt needed WWII to get the economy back on its feet, and he went out of his way to provoke the Japanese to accomplish it. For example, a year before Pearl Harbor he was secretly using the American Navy to drop depth charges on Japanese submarines. The result was predictable.

    What counts is what is done.

  48. I didn’t characterize FDR as a smooth talker, though he did have a gift for oratory. My point was that he used rhetoric to unify while Trump uses it to divide. As for the rest, I’m not a Roosevelt apologist but I don’t buy the tired old notion that he provoked the Japanese into war. Japan had been aggressively pushing their boundaries in the Pacific since the middle of the 19th century. Roosevelt just happened to be in office when it reached a tipping point.

  49. FDR did not use rhetoric to unify. He used it skillfully to propagandize.


    His policies, which for the most part did not help the economy revive, were couched in the code of class warfare:

    “Now it is worth remembering, and the cold figures of finance prove it, that during that time there was little or no drop in the prices that the consumer had to pay, although those same figures proved that the cost of production fell very greatly; corporate profit resulting from this period was enormous; at the same time little of that profit was devoted to the reduction of prices. The consumer was forgotten. Very little of it went into increased wages; the worker was forgotten, and by no means an adequate proportion was even paid out in dividends–the stockholder was forgotten.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt, Acceptance Speech at the Democratic Convention, July 02, 1932

    “…. I don’t buy the tired old notion that he provoked the Japanese into war.”

    That’s pretty hard to square with actions like secretly engaging the American Navy in warfare, which was an act of war.

  50. Shall I cherry-pick a few Trump quotes to illustrate my greater point, which, by the way, I notice you ignored? Actually, I don’t think I will. Moving on. Have a nice weekend.

  51. Sure, cherry pick a few.

    You know you’re cherry picking to support your position that civility trumps peformance, and that being blunt is not to your liking.

  52. Easy solution

    Tell the Lazy Dolt in Chief we have already received a check from Mexico for $1 trillion dollars and are building an invisible force field at the border. It will be up and running in 24 hours.

    Both Trump and his supporters (a rather uncritical bunch when it comes to facts or common sense) will accept it and move on to the next GOP manufactured crisis.

  53. Nothing wrong with walls and barriers at the border if they serve their purpose. We have over 700 miles and if the border experts think we need more, fine by me. It’s just that the Wall has become a symbol to fight over.

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