The Trump administration’s response to the Coronavirus has been subpar by any objective evaluation. As the economy continues to contract and the financial indices continue to decline, it is only a matter of time before unemployment increases and the three pillars of Trump’s imagined success (the stock market, low unemployment, and the benefits of deregulation) will be gone and his ineptitude will be laid bare for all to see.
But don’t count Trump out just yet. The recent national emergency that he declared might yet breathe new life into his failing presidency. In a recent article in The Atlantic Elizabeth Goitein wrote “The Alarming Scope of the President’s Emergency Powers”. This article lays out in incontrovertibly sober terms the steps Trump can take to avoid his ignominious White House departure.
Before I go through the possible scenarios we might find ourselves in by November, it’s necessary to clarify a few powers that a president has after having declared a national emergency.
When the president declares an emergency it lasts for 1 year unless terminated by Congressional review which happens every 6 months.
During a national emergency the president could under Section 7.06 of the Communications Act of 1934 control or terminate all internet traffic.
During a national emergency the president can seize or freeze any banking transaction that it believes to be involved with a suspected foreign enemy.
During a national emergency the president has control over all state national guard troops. Remember when Trump sent troops to the U.S. Mexican border leading up to the 2018 midterm elections?
During a national emergency the president could possibly use US troops against American citizens.
Elizabeth Goitein wrote her article for the January/February 2019 issue of The Atlantic and she laid out a detailed chronology of events based on the then impending impeachment hearings which was compelling. I have, using our current state of affairs with Covid-19, updated the scenario.
It’s the summer of 2020 and Trump’s approval ratings remain at an all-time low. A disgruntled former Trump administration employee leaks documents showing that the Trump administration delayed using WHO coronavirus testing kits so that the government could order the kits from an American company in which he has a sizeable stock investment. A few of his Republican supporters in Congress begin to distance themselves from his administration. Joe Biden is ahead of Trump by 15+ points after the Democratic convention.
Trump seeing that the political winds are beginning to change, he directs his Attorney General Bill Barr to do a full-scale investigation of Joe Biden and Hunter Biden. Trump then directs his Republican acolytes to issue an arrest warrant for Hunter Biden as he has already stated that due to the coronavirus that he will not attend a hearing in D.C. because his wife is pregnant. Chaos and violent protests erupt in the streets. The national media except for Fox News demands accountability.
Trump declares a national emergency and based on the “fake news media” working with a foreign power to interfere with the election (who he can’t reveal based on national security) he invokes Section 706 of the Communications Act to assume government control over internet traffic inside the United States. He also declares a national emergency under ieepa, authorizing the Treasury Department to freeze the assets of any person, organization, or news organization suspected of supporting the country whose identity he can’t reveal, because their activities are against the United States. Wielding the authority conferred by these laws, the government shuts down several left-leaning websites and domestic civil-society organizations, based on government determinations (again classified, of course) that they are subject to foreign influence. These include websites and organizations that are focused on getting out the vote
Lawsuits follow. Several judges issue orders declaring Trump’s actions unconstitutional, but a handful of judges appointed by the president side with the administration. On the eve of the election, the cases reach the Supreme Court. In a 5–4 opinion written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Court observes that the president’s powers are at their zenith when he is using authority granted by Congress to protect national security. Setting new precedent, the Court holds that the First Amendment does not protect foreign propaganda and that the government needs no warrant to freeze Americans’ assets if its goal is to mitigate a foreign threat.
Protests continue and escalate. On Twitter, Trump calls the protesters traitors and posts that they could use a good beating (remember Trump said that he has the support of the police, the military, and the bikers). Counter-protesters happily activate when Trump blames the original protesters (remember Charlottesville) for sparking the confrontations and he deploys the Insurrection Act to federalize the National Guard in blue states. Using the Presidential Alert system first tested in October 2018, the president sends a text message to every American’s smartphone with a text starting that “far-left radicals have caused a significant risk of violence at polling stations” and that “troops will be deployed strongly” to keep order. With some people afraid to vote and others either receiving misinformation or no information due to the internet being shut down, turnout is at a historical low and Trump easily wins reelection and renews the state of emergency.
I know this seems impossible. All of this could never happen. There is only one way to guarantee that this does not occur and that we don’t have to collectively live through a Donald J. Trump second term. We have to vote at Obama 2008 levels on steroids. What Ms. Goitein and I have imagined may be inaccurate, but it’s close.