A Loaded Gun

The President has some extreme powers, and we should be worried about that because Trump is an irresponsible idiot. This is especially true for executive war powers, which include the ability to curtail movement or confine U.S. citizens out of pressing public necessity, such as during the threat of a foreign invasion. In other words, a wartime President can lock up whoever they want, regardless of U.S citizenship.

This was all laid bare in the U.S. Supreme Court case Korematsu v. United States. In 1944, Fred Korematsu was charged with disobeying an executive order mandating that all Americans of Japanese descent stay in their homes (and later, report to concentration camps). Fred was a U.S. citizen – one of more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans cruelly relocated to “internment camps” under the racist rationalization of defending against espionage during the Second World War.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled against Korematsu. Their decision cited the “military urgency of the situation” as grounds to override the constitutional rights of Fred and the other Japanese Americans on the West Coast. In sum, the case gave the President the authority to confine Americans in order to keep the country secure. Although the internment camps are viewed today as a particularly dark period in our history, the ruling is still on the books, and there are no legal protections to stop another President from taking similar action.

This is a problem because Donald Trump has proven he’ll do anything – whether it is grabbing pussies or seeking foreign support – to get reelected. He has also declared himself a wartime President as part of his administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Apparently, we are at war with the “Chinese Virus,” a label that Trump and his allies have predictably determined to be not racist.

Making matters worse, Nancy Pelosi is now urging the President to use his war powers to mobilize industry. In doing so, she is handing a toddler tyrant a loaded gun.

Congress urging the President to use his war powers to “combat” the virus is extremely worrisome. In the event they pass a resolution endorsing this action, the pussy-grabber-in-chief will be constitutionally enabled to abuse his new wartime powers however he sees fit. He also need not worry about overstepping his bounds, since Mitch McConnell has already made clear during the failed impeachment that Trump will not be held accountable for anything. Not to mention that the Senate Majority Leader could easily justify keeping the President in office as stabilizing presence during “wartime.”

Trump may also make a power grab to save face. After months of downplaying the virus and waiting for a miracle, he now is forced to take decisive action. His continued mismanagement of the disaster may lead him to double down with extreme measures in a desperate attempt to look better. Otherwise, the stock market – the only thing he cares about – could collapse further. Additionally, a large coronavirus death toll would certainly harm his reelection chances. As the situation with the virus grows more dire, so too with the desperation out of which Trump attempts to “help.”

Suffer no delusions that the President will act out of altruism. Nor will his efforts deviate from his ultra-right idealogy – including xenophobia, racism, and fear-mongering. Trump has taken great care to label COVID-19 a “foreign virus,” even as it now spreads rapidly across the United States. Already he has used the virus to accomplish one of his most important goals – closing the border with Mexico – despite the fact that our southern neighbors have only reported 164 cases of the virus (compared to 14,000 in the U.S).

Do not be surprised if he takes even more drastic measures with significant racial undertones, especially if he is given free-reign to use war powers. Is it implausible to imagine Trump ordering all Chinese-Americans into camps, claiming that doing so will prevent the spread of the virus? And why stop at Chinese-Americans? He could, in theory, force anyone he wanted into a mandatory quarantine; foreigners, rivals, anyone.

If Trump really went off the rails, the only immediate check on his power grab would be the Supreme Court – but don’t hold your breath for them to intervene. Firstly, the Supreme Court is loath to stop a President acting under wartime authority. History has taught us that much. Safety first!

Secondly, Trump has successfully stacked the courts with conservative ideologues who are not only happy to oblige far-right whims, but are fiercely loyal to him, perhaps even over the rule of law. Compounding the issue is that Trump will publicly denounce any judge who rules against him. Fear of public backlash may compel many judges to ratify the confinement – after all, they don’t want the President blaming them on Twitter for people dying. The President and his mob wield considerable clout – enough to give many judges pause, especially during a crisis.

For self-evident reasons, several judges dissented in the Korematsu case. Robert Jackson was particularly inspiring and prescient:

“But once a judicial opinion rationalizes such an order to show that it conforms to the Constitution, or rather rationalizes the Constitution to show that the Constitution sanctions such an order, the Court for all time has validated the principle of racial discrimination in criminal procedure and of transplanting American citizens. The principle then lies about like a loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need. Every repetition embeds that principle more deeply in our law and thinking and expands it to new purposes. All who observe the work of courts are familiar with what Judge Cardozo described as “the tendency of a principle to expand itself to the limit of its logic.” A military commander may overstep the bounds of constitutionality, and it is an incident. But if we review and approve, that passing incident becomes the doctrine of the Constitution. There it has a generative power of its own, and all that it creates will be in its own image. Nothing better illustrates this danger than does the Court’s opinion in this case.”

Jackson wrote this when FDR was our President, when people of education and character lead our country; thoughtful people who cared and tried, who lead us through the world’s greatest conflagration. Now we have a moron in charge and the loaded gun awaits. All that remains is a plausible claim, for the normalization is already there. And so I fear for the future. You should too.