It seems to me….
“People might not protest for overtly political or social causes, but when they can’t feed themselves and their family, they will take to the streets.” ~ Marcus Samuelsson.
The U.S. faces a number of critical challenges but perhaps the most threatening is the breakdown of political compromise resulting in the possibility of an elected political leader attempting to impose a totalitarian governance supposedly for the “good” of the nation. Though most people consider the possibility highly improbable, that also was widely believed in Chile, the German Weimar Republic, and other nations until after it had actually occurred.
The primary risk is in one political party gaining sufficient power to stack the courts with sympathetic judges, manipulate voter registration, using the courts to challenge election outcomes, and, finally, invoking “law-enforcement” to use the police, National Guard, army reserve, or army to suppress political opposition.
It has frequently been observed that democracy contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. While political polarization constitutes the single greatest threat facing the U.S. today, it hardly is our only serious problem. Other major threats are social and economic inequality and our failure to adequately invest in those aspects which provide the foundation of our social and economic strength: healthcare, education, infrastructure, and research.
There now is a new generation of Republicans no longer familiar with our nation’s tribulations in the Joseph McCarthy era who need to learn the lessons from back then anew as many of the same tactics are being employed by Trump today.
Beginning in 1950, McCarthy became the most visible public face of a period in the U.S. in which Cold War tensions fueled fears of widespread Communist subversion. He alleged that numerous Communists and Soviet spies and sympathizers had supposedly infiltrated the U.S. federal government, universities, film industry, and elsewhere. Ultimately, the smear tactics that he used led him to be censured by the U.S. Senate. The term “McCarthyism” is commonly used today to mean demagogic, reckless, and unsubstantiated accusations, as well as public attacks on the character or patriotism of political opponents. This tactic, unfortunately, should seem all too familiar to us today.
Most of the weapons Trump attempted to use in the weeks leading up to the 2018 midterm elections were rhetorical featuring a mix of lies and false inducements that failed to carry the day. Now, Trump will likely conclude they were too timid but it is unclear how much further he might go in 2020 when his own name is on the ballot – or possibly even sooner if he considers his impeachment to be a likely possibility.
A State of Emergency is a situation in which a government is empowered to perform actions that under normal conditions would not be permitted. States of emergency can also be used as a rationale or pretext for suspending rights and freedoms guaranteed under the nation’s Constitution or basic laws. The National Emergencies Act regulates this process at the federal level and requires the President to specifically identify the provisions activated and to renew the declaration annually so as to prevent an arbitrarily broad or open-ended emergency. Presidents have occasionally taken action supposedly justified as necessary or prudent under a state of emergency only to have the action struck down in court as unconstitutional.
The moment the President declares a “national emergency”, a decision that is entirely within his personal discretion, he is able to set aside many legal limits solely on his authority.
Economic powers are among the President’s most potent legal weapons. The 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act allows the government to freeze assets, limit trade, and confiscate property in response to an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to the U.S. that supposedly originates substantially outside of it.
In 1942, Congress amended Section 706 of the Communications Act of 1934 permitting the President to shut down or take control of “any facility or station for wire communication” theoretically allowing the President to seize control of Internet traffic, impede access to certain websites, and ensure that Internet searches return pro-Trump content as the top results.
Americans might be surprised to learn just how readily the President can deploy troops inside the U.S. The Constitution does not prohibit military participation in police activity nor does the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 outlaw such participation. The Insurrection Act of 1807 provides the necessary authority for the President to deploy troops unilaterally, either because he determines that rebellious activity has made it “impracticable” to enforce federal law through regular means, or because he deems it necessary to suppress “insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy” (terms not defined in the statute) that hinders the rights of a class of people or “impedes the course of justice”.
The U.S. is confronting a wide variety of threats: political, economic, and social; but primarily a test of our national will and commitment. Trump, with broad backing from the Republican controlled Congress, has created the very real probability of an economic slowdown and possible recession by disregarding all accepted economic theory. The national debt to GDP ratio is in a range where debt default is a very real possibility. Unemployment has been below the Federal NAIRU estimate threatening future high inflation. The Federal interest rate is sufficiently low that a downturn would result in a liquidity crisis. Personal debt is at an all-time high; any substantial interest rate increase would result in a greater number of defaults than the mortgage defaults that triggered the 2008 recession. The Geni Coefficient is in a range where social unrest must be considered increasingly probable. There are now additional indicators of possible recession such as the recent bond inverted yield curve. Factor in that the U.S. economy is statistically overdue for a correction – the fear is that the longer it is delayed, the more severe it might be.
Given the increasing risk potential of an economic downturn due to the precarious state of our economy, Trump might very well use that pretext to declare a state of emergency and attempt to claim emergency authority. The fact that it has become more probable as a result of his extremely ill-advised policies would likely fail to dissuade any intemperate responses by him. He would claim that only he can save us from an emergency for which he is primarily responsible.
In the event of a downturn, Trump might declare a large tax reduction and additional import tariffs further increasing both the national debt and consumers costs. This could spark wide-spread demand by workers for wage increases fueling spiraling inflation long constrained below the theoretical NAIRU. There also would very likely be considerable social protest and strife due to inequality as corroborated by the Geni Coefficient. The ability of Federal Reserve to combat any downturn is extremely limited due to the combination of an excessively low federal interest rate and high national debt resulting in a liquidity crisis. The U.S. could subsequently default on national debt payments. The combination of social unrest and plummeting value of the dollar would threaten an economic collapse providing adequate justification for Trump to declare a State of Emergency.
The Republican Party has moved sufficiently to the extreme right to now advocate neofascist policies. Fascism, only slightly further to the extreme right, is the belief that liberal democracy is obsolete and the complete mobilization of society under a totalitarian one-party state to be necessary to prepare a nation for armed conflict or in response to economic difficulties. Many of Trump’s base believe Democrats are attempting to make the U.S. a socialist nation and might be inclined to support such a move.
Would Trump resort to such tactics? He has long signaled his disdain for the concepts of limited Presidential power and democratic rule; misuse of emergency powers is a standard gambit among leaders attempting to consolidate power. Authoritarians Trump has openly claimed to admire have all utilized this ploy including the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He has seen how effectively it worked for them and might very well be tempted to try it himself.
That’s what I think, what about you?
 Marcus Samuelsson is an award-winning Ethiopian Swedish chef and restaurateur, cookbook author, philanthropist, and food activist.
 Diamond, Jared. Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations In Crisis, Little Brown, New York, Chapter 9. What Lies Ahead for the United States? Strengths and the Biggest Problem, 2019.
 Chou, Mark. Sowing The Seeds Of Its Own Destruction: Democracy And Democide, University of Melbourne, https://www.auspsa.org.au/sites/default/files/sowing_the_seeds_mark_chou.pdf.
 Joseph Raymond McCarthy was a two-term Republican U.S. Senator from Wisconsin who dominated the U.S. anti-communist movement in 1950–1954 until his career receded after censure by the Senate.
 Goitein, Elizabeth. The Alarming Scope Of The President’s Emergency Powers, The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/01/presidential-emergency-powers/576418/, January/February 2019 Issue.