What Trump could do by declaring a state of emergency: The Atlantic lays out the worst case scenario
Without becoming unduly alarmist, Goitein soberly lays out exactly what Trump could do with the Presidential powers he has been entrusted with, should he feel threatened by the prospect of impeachment, for example, preceding the election in 2020. The powers he could exert are reserved to him in the context of declaring a “National Emergency.” And they are considerable.
Unknown to most Americans, a parallel legal regime allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply. The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts. Other powers are available even without a declaration of emergency, including laws that allow the president to deploy troops inside the country to subdue domestic unrest.
Goitein notes that these powers—most of them legislatively granted—are grounded in the assumption that the President will use them in the country’s best interests. But Trump has given no one the impression that he has anyone’s interests but his own in his mind at any given time. So given his narcissistic mindset, given his past behavior and given his repeatedly demonstrated instability in the face of threats to his own personal power, there is no reason to believe that he would do anything but abuse these powers to save his own skin.
The problem that Goitein sees is that we are in uncharted territory with Trump. No one before him has so openly embraced sheer brutality as a solution to impediments to his policies. And while he has found resistance in the Courts, he has gotten away with more than anyone expected, with policies effectively sanctioning Gestapo-like behavior by our immigration officials, the forcible kidnapping of children at our borders, and his shocking repudiation of the historical right to asylum. Those are all examples of how he responds to external threats. The power of declaring a “state of emergency” allows him to turn those impulses inward, towards American citizens who displease or oppose him.