By John & Nisha Whitehead
We have become a nation in a permanent state of emergency.
Power-hungry and lawless, the government has weaponized one national crisis after another in order to expand its powers and justify all manner of government tyranny in the so-called name of national security.
COVID-19, for example, served as the driving force behind what Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch characterized as “the greatest intrusions on civil liberties in the peacetime history of this country.”
In a statement attached to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Arizona v. Mayorkas, a case that challenged whether the government could continue to use its pandemic powers even after declaring the public health emergency over, Gorsuch provided a catalog of the many ways in which the government used COVID-19 to massively overreach its authority and suppress civil liberties.
Yet while the government’s (federal and state) handling of the COVID-19 pandemic delivered a knockout blow to our civil liberties, empowering the police state to flex its powers by way of a bevy of lockdowns, mandates, restrictions, contact tracing programs, heightened surveillance, censorship, overcriminalization, etc., it was merely one crisis in a long series of crises that the government has shamelessly exploited in order to justify its power grabs and acclimate the citizenry to a state of martial law disguised as emergency powers.
These attempts to use various crises to override the Constitution are still happening.
It doesn’t even matter what the nature of the crisis might be: civil unrest, the national emergencies, “unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters.”
They have all become fair game to a government that continues to quietly assemble, test and deploy emergency powers, a long laundry list of terrifying powers that override the Constitution and can be activated at a moment’s notice.
We’re talking about lockdown powers (at both the federal and state level): the ability to suspend the Constitution, indefinitely detain American citizens, bypass the courts, quarantine whole communities or segments of the population, override the First Amendment by outlawing religious gatherings and assemblies of more than a few people, shut down entire industries and manipulate the economy, muzzle dissidents, “stop and seize any plane, train or automobile to stymie the spread of contagious disease,” reshape financial markets, create a digital currency (and thus further restrict the use of cash), determine who should live or die.
While these are powers the police state has been working to make permanent, they barely scratch the surface of the far-reaching powers the government has unilaterally claimed for itself without any pretense of being reined in or restricted in its power grabs by Congress, the courts or the citizenry.
As David C. Unger, observes in The Emergency State: America’s Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have given way to permanent crisis management.”
The seeds of this ongoing madness were sown several decades ago when George W. Bush stealthily issued two presidential directives that granted the president the power to unilaterally declare a national emergency, which is loosely defined as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.”
Comprising the country’s Continuity of Government (COG) plan, these directives (National Security Presidential Directive 51 and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20), which do not need congressional approval, provide a skeletal outline of the actions the president will take in the event of a “national emergency.”
Just what sort of actions the president will take once he declares a national emergency can barely be discerned from the barebones directives. However, one thing is clear: in the event of a national emergency, the COG directives give unchecked executive, legislative and judicial power to the president.
The country would then be subjected to martial law by default, and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights would be suspended.
Essentially, the president would become a dictator for life.
It has happened already.
As we have witnessed in recent years, that national emergency can take any form, can be manipulated for any purpose and can be used to justify any end goal—all on the say-so of the president.
The emergency powers that we know about which presidents might claim during such states of emergency are vast, ranging from imposing martial law and suspending habeas corpus to shutting down all forms of communications, including implementing an internet kill switch, and restricting travel.
Yet according to documents obtained by the Brennan Center, there may be many more secret powers that presidents may institute in times of so-called crisis without oversight from Congress, the courts, or the public.
Remember, these powers do not expire at the end of a president’s term. They remain on the books, just waiting to be used or abused by the next political demagogue.
So, too, every action taken by the current occupant of the White House and his predecessors to weaken the system of checks and balances, sidestep the rule of law, and expand the power of the executive branch of government makes us that much more vulnerable to those who would abuse those powers in the future.
These presidential powers—acquired through the use of executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements and which can be activated by any sitting president—enable past, president and future presidents to operate above the law and beyond the reach of the Constitution.
This is what you might call a stealthy, creeping, silent, slow-motion coup d’état.
If we continue down this road, there can be no surprise about what awaits us at the end.
We must recalibrate the balance of power.
For starters, Congress should put an end to the use of presidential executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements as a means of getting around Congress and the courts.
At a minimum, as The Washington Post suggests, “all emergency declarations [s]hould expire automatically after three or six months, whereupon Congress would need to vote upon any proposed extension.”
We’ve got to start making both the president and the police state play by the rules of the Constitution.
As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, it must start with “we the people.”
ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His most recent books are the best-selling Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the award-winning A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, and a debut dystopian fiction novel, The Erik Blair Diaries. Whitehead can be contacted at email@example.com. Nisha Whitehead is the Executive Director of The Rutherford Institute. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Trends Journal.