Three migrants who managed to evade the Mexican National Guard...

Three migrants who managed to evade the Mexican National Guard and cross the Rio Grande onto U.S. territory walk along a border wall in El Paso, Texas, on July 17. Credit: AP/Christian Chavez

Few things have animated President Donald Trump and his supporters as much as his promise to build a wall on the Southern border. Debate has been vigorous about the wisdom of the project.

But there is no debate regarding the latest development in this border war. Trump wants aides to act aggressively to seize private lands, fast-track construction contracts worth billions of dollars, and disregard environmental rules governing that construction, and he's told them he'll pardon them in the likely event they must break the law to deliver on his demands.

This is conduct befitting a despot, not the president of the United States.

Trump's motive is clear. He desperately wants to make good on his promise at rallies to build some 500 miles of border fencing by the 2020 election. The Army Corps of Engineers has finished only 60 miles of barriers that replaced existing infrastructure. But the principle is what's important here. It's rarely good when politics trumps governance.

Hurrying the contracting process means that deals would lack proper vetting, which could mean higher costs for lower quality work. Seizing land without due process is illegal and especially unpopular in the Southwest, where cases are contested in court for years. Disregarding environmental rules causes long-term harm. It's not that Trump hasn't been warned that his orders are illegal or simply not possible. He doesn't care. The same is true of his order to transfer $271 million for disaster relief funding to border enforcement.

The inevitable pushback won't be because The Swamp is conspiring against him. It will be because rules and regulations are the underpinnings of a functioning democratic government, and must be followed lest there be anarchy.  

Building a wall might or might not be a good idea. But getting it done lawlessly is plainly wrong. — The editorial board


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months