The politics of declaring martial law

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, Ph.D OW Oped | 3/12/2020, midnight

In a way, the jig is up. Clearly, the Trump administration has shown itself to be patently incompetent regarding the coronavirus problem in the USA. It has simply lied too much, bungled too much, and left the country underprepared and virtually helpless in the face of what is certainly a slow-moving, massive assault on the American way of life.

For a constant showman and flim-flam man, this is not good news. It will be less so as more and more Americans get infected---or are simply shown through public testing to already be infected---and die. There is no vaccine in sight, and the inevitability of the disease’s advance make this a nightmare situation just as the 2020 election activity kicks into high gear.

The negative pull on the stock market, the closing of famed educational institutions like UCLA, USC, Stanford and Harvard, with many public schools already planning to follow suit, can all collectively make Mr. Trump ‘want to holler’ !

But wait ! Along comes a hint from Fox News or one of Trump’s White House minions, and the POTUS is reminded of another power he has that he had forgotten briefly: the power to declare martial law, or simply declare a national emergency. Both give Mr. Trump virtually unlimited powers to front, swagger and pretend that he is really in charge. That pretense may play very well through the regular media and the Internet. It may be just the con he needs to fool a handful of people beyond his base. He may yet make himself competitive this election season.

The fact is that once Trump declares martial law or a national emergency, as POTUS he instantly acquires over 120 statutory powers that Congress cannot impede, nor can any American institution block, save the Supreme Court. Those powers can virtually make Mr. Trump an autocrat who cannot, alone, cancel the November election, but who can refuse to abide by it if he is not re-elected. As comedian-host Bill Maher keeps saying, Trump will refuse to leave the White House if/when he loses the election, and his emergency powers can actually help him pull that off. We’ve already seen that this POTUS has no problem provoking a constitutional crisis for his own benefit.

Presidents have had access to this kind of authority for a long time, and Congress has allowed the power to grow uninhibited for the last 70-odd years. The SCOTUS (Supreme Court) has had to step in to stop former president Harry Truman from seizing control of the steel industry and the railroads during the Korean War, allowed Roosevelt’s order for the arrest and re-settlement into prison camps of Japanese Americans, and allowed George Bush to establish a nationwide wiretapping program and torture activity for suspected terrorists.

The National Emergencies Act of 1976 is supposed to control this kind of presidential latitude to seize direct control of national power, but it does not do so. Actually, nothing can really stop a determined POTUS right now who is hell-bent on staying in power, not even the November election.

Not only is that more than scary, it is shocking to realize the full extent of this country’s affinity with the so-called “banana republics” of the world. Short of the SCOTUS stepping up to the plate to protect the integrity of American democracy, the rest of 2020 looks like it will be one hell of a ride, with a madman at the wheel careening down a mountain curve with no brakes.

Don’t pity the others, said the Seer, pity yourselves !!

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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