If George Washington had declared a National Emergency he might have abolished political parties. In his farewell address he called party politics “potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government.”
Dwight Eisenhower might have taken on another powerful force: “… we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”
But neither Washington nor Eisenhower acted on those inclinations. Would we have been better or worse off if they had? One could argue both sides of that question. I suggest that they did not act, because such an action would accomplish that which they feared most — the subverting of the power of the people. I fear that the current occupant of the White House will use his Declaration of a National Emergency for the opposite reason. He wishes to usurp for himself the reins of government. He is utilizing an old trick of authoritarians everywhere — select a vulnerable foe; demonize that foe; use fear of that demon to accumulate power.
What’s next? My occasional uninvited associate, Travis Redfish, says: “Jaba The Trump might declare the voting process to be a National Emergency and allow only white males to vote? Would he include transgender males as eligible?” Redfish is unsure about how he stands on taking the vote away from women and minorities, but he opposes declaring a National Emergency that requires all school children to carry firearms? Redfish is a big fan of coal and Big Oil, but he thinks that declaring clean air and fresh water to be a National Emergency threat to our energy sources is going too far.
Redfish has a point when he says a future president might use Trump’s version of Executive Power to outlaw guns completely. After all, (if one ignores Trump’s made-up numbers) we learned last Spring that “more children have been killed by guns since Sandy Hook than U.S. Soldiers in combat since 9/11.” *
Future Presidents unchecked by Congress could declare “Irreverence” to be a Spiritual National Emergency and declare Evangelical Christianity, or even Scientology, to be our National Religion. A thin-skinned liberal President might ban critical media such as Fox News. A Trumpian-style Prez could ban MSNBC and The New York Times. Depending on a President’s personal politics, even a humble gadfly like me could be declared an outlaw. (Were those cheers I just heard from certain readers?)
But, of course, all of Redfish’s hypotheticals are completely absurd. Right? They imply an attack, not just on perceived demons, but also on all citizen voters and their constitutional rights. Redfish’s suggestions are as crazy as thinking a philandering playboy draft dodger who avoids paying employees by declaring bankruptcy — and who finds glory as a TV “Personality” — could convince evangelicals and working-class voters to elect him President.
But this is The United States of America. Anything is possible.
* “The number of children killed by gunfire in the U.S. since the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook
Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, surpasses the total of American soldiers killed in
overseas combat since 9/11, according to a Department of Defense report.”
Ryan Sit, Newsweek, 16 March 2018
James BigBoy Medlin © 2019
James BigBoy Medlin was the sports writer for the original Austin Sun. His column was called "Why Not?"
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