Bad Emergencies, Good Emergencies, and the Shock Doctrine
Politically aware people (and even a slim majority in Congress) are justifiably against Trump's assault on the Constitution over the Mexican Wall. However, Trump's veto will hold because the vote against the emergency declaration was a bare majority instead of a unanimous rejection of this blatantly dictatorial move. Still, there are myriad denunciations of Trump's invocation of emergency powers, many by Republicans, who warn specifically that this sets a precedent for a Green New Deal (GND) declaration of emergency.
Lawmakers in both parties warned Trump against declaring an emergency. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who cautioned that a future Democratic president could use the same powers to declare an emergency on climate change, said yesterday that Trump's plan is a "bad idea." Other Republicans, including Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, also indicated displeasure at the idea. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had questioned the need for a national emergency declaration in the past but said yesterday he would support it.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said that declaring a national emergency could undermine the Constitution.
"By circumventing Congress and Article I of the Constitution, President Trump is opening the door for any future president to act alone without Congressional approval," she said in a statement. "If elected president, how would Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders use this precedent for a national disaster declaration to force the Green New Deal on the American people?"
This is not simply rightwing paranoia. It is a fact that the version of the GND outlined by AOC (It does not have enough detail to be called a proposal.) explicitly calls for a declaration of a climate emergency and the creation of organizations that cannot be controlled by democratic politics. Henceforth, I will call this version the "Emergency GND".
It seems as though our politics is so paralyzed that the emergency solution idea is contagious. To recap, some of the GOP and some of the Dems are in favor of some emergencies, and against others. Clearly the meaning of the word emergency has been degraded over time by various ongoing national "emergencies" that aren't really emergencies.
A better way to say that is: one's man's emergency is another man's Shock Doctrine. That is, an emergency is an opportunity to ram through plans that have long since been prepared and are only waiting for an excuse to be implemented. The USA PATRIOT act is one instance of such a tactic, relying on the 911 shock to implement a surveillance state and indefinite detention without trial.
Here's the thing about the declaration of a climate "emergency": the society has been collectively aware of the climate problem for at least thirty years. The UN issued a report on it in 1987, called the Bruntland Report (Our Common Future).
I would guess that most people reading this report would suspect that virtually nothing will be done about this situation...In fact, if you are reading these words in 1989 or after, the chances are that you will be wondering what the Brundtland Report was. There will be no move to arrest the coming system-break because all of the institutions named by the report...hope to solve these problems by means of a mind-set that is itself the problem.
- Morris Berman, Coming to Our Senses - Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West (1989)
Berman has turned out to be a prophet. Because, had I not read his book thirty years ago, I would never have heard of the Brundtland Report. But it was a UN report, and TPTB could hardly have been unaware of it. And yet, TPTB have done nothing. In fact, they have done the opposite. They have attacked the concept as "fake news" for at least a decade. They have passed laws to prevent the words "climate change" from being used in government reports. They have vilified, even sued, scientists like Michael Mann of "hockey stick" fame. They have tried to obtain scientists private emails in order to shut down anyone involved in demonstrating the reality of climate change. They dismantled the Canadian EPA and similarly crippled the Australian EPA.
But, after 30 years of denying the problem, the weather has simply gotten too bizarre and too destructive to ignore. Hurricane Harvey deluged Houston for over four days. Miami floods on a regular basis. We just had a "bomb cyclone" devastate the Great Plains. Pine forests are burning across the West and Canada, including Los Angeles and Marin County. The Pacific Coast alternates between massive drought and massive rainfall, due to the pacific blob and the rain superhighway it creates. The Arctic is largely ice free and generates "polar vortices" that deliver extreme weather to the US. The Antarctic is melting even faster than predicted, with giant ice shelves calving off at increasing rates.
TPTB have known about climate change for at least three decades, but have done nothing, unless you count making a bundle out of business as usual, and incrementally making the crisis worse with each passing year. But suddenly, yet another UN report about climate change (which, if history is any guide, should have been as obscure as the Bruntland Report) is the excuse for a Shock Doctrine like "emergency" - an "emergency" that has been sitting in plain view for at least half of everyone's lives; an emergency which can be very profitable for our corporate masters, even if it fails.
Do you know why the Emergency GND had to be proposed by a socialist? Because corporations can't propose a government program to save the environment. It runs counter to their "free market", "government is the problem" ideology. But they can let some useful anti-capitalist idiots on the left declare that said program must be run as an "emergency". They are happy to let the left concede, before the debate has begun, that we need to suspend the law in order to solve this problem. They are happy with the implicit admission that democratically arrived at tax penalties, pollution regulations, tax incentives, and public works programs are simply insufficient to the task.
Pardon me, but I've seen this movie before. First you stonewall an issue for years. Then you declare that its time to move on. In our case, TPTB have stonewalled democratically legislated climate change regulations and international treaties for decades. (The weak tea Paris Accords were the only significant event, and Trump withdrew from them.) Now the chattering classes declare that its too late for democratic remedies, and that we need to move to authoritarian measures.
I'm not saying that all GNDs would be Shock Doctrines. I'm saying that the Emergency GND is a Shock Doctrine proposal. I'm saying that it opens the door for a corporate hijacking of the GND. We constantly complain that our current government is a corporate-controlled monster, but we now want to give it dictatorial powers? What is wrong with "the left"?
“If there’s an emergency, you create a set of security rules that are supposed to suppress politics,” Eric Schewe, an expert on authoritarian regimes, told The Outline. The history of such emergencies shows that they result in the expansion of repressive state power, short-circuiting political debate in favor of urgent, often militarized action to protect narrowly national interests, permitting governments to selfishly marginalize affected people even further.
“It presents climate change as external threat or enemy to be conquered,” when in fact “there’s no identifiable external enemy here; it’s not something that can be conquered or defeated through that kind of marshalling of national resources.”
Basically, the Emergency GND is a stalking horse. Its designed to fail. What else could the outcome be with a troglodyte GOP president and a GOP Senate, with a Democratic Party dominated by corporatists ("centrists") who have spent three years smearing the left with the bogus Russiagate nonsense? The real purpose of the Emergency GND is to justify a corporate counter-proposal that preserves and extends the poison pills of the Emergency GND.
What are those poison pills? Public private partnerships, with no effective government supervision, for one. Second, the emergency GND makes zero mention of the military, the largest consumer of fossil fuel on the planet and the largest polluter. I'm sure the MIC will be happy not to disturb that glaring omission.
On the "designed to fail" side, the Emergency GND inserts the politically polarizing language of IdPol, which is guaranteed to destroy any bipartisanship. That will be the pivot around which a GOP/corporate modification of the proposal will turn.
I'm not saying that any Emergency GND legislation will be passed and signed into law in the next six years - through the end of Trump's second term. (Like Joe Biden, Que Mala Harris, Beto and Switch, or any of the other "acceptable" candidates can beat him?) I'm saying that the Emergency GND proposal is laying down a marker for dictatorship. its the second bet on the table, with Trump's Wall being the first bet.
When the only solutions that people come up with are emergency declarations, you can be sure democracy has left the building.