In an exchange with reporters at the White House Thursday, President Donald Trump boasted that he had “memorized” the emergency powers available to presidents under the 1988 Stafford Act, and that he has “the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about” in response to the spiraling coronavirus crisis.
“We have very strong emergency powers under the Stafford Act, I mean, I have it memorized,” Trump said, as quoted by ABC News reporter Mychael Schnell via Twitter.
Trump’s cryptic declaration about his emergency powers brought a dire warning from a journalist who covered the 2016 Trump campaign.
Saying that Trump is an “authoritarian” and that all such authoritarians are “insecure and incompetent,” journalist Jared Yates Sexton, author of the 2017 book The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters on Your Shore: A Story of American Rage, warned that Trump “can’t help but make this worse.”
Writing on his Twitter account, Sexton warned that as the coronavirus outbreak becomes more severe, Trump will “blame vulnerable populations and seize power.”
“We are in incredible danger,” Sexton wrote.
In the same exchange with reporters on Thursday, Trump claimed that the U.S. has instituted a comprehensive coronavirus testing program for international airline passengers.
Trump claims (falsely) all Americans returning to country are being tested:"We have heavily tested. If an American coming back or anybody coming back, we have a tremendous testing set up where people coming in have to be tested … if it shows positive … We have to quarantine." pic.twitter.com/ndGlKmSFJh
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) March 12, 2020
Sexton was not the first to express fear that Trump could use the coronavirus crisis to increase his own power. Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a Yale University psychiatrist who has co-authored a book analyzing Trump’s psychological condition, believes the crisis could even be used as a rationale to cancel the November general election.
Once deaths from the virus become “widespread,” Lee predicted, Trump would “blame them on Barack Obama, and people will believe him,” giving him license to take extreme measures, such as canceling elections or even imposing martial law.
Including his claim of comprehensive testing at airports, Trump has made a series of statements about the coronavirus outbreak, saying on Wednesday that “nobody ever thought” that the coronavirus pandemic would be “a problem.” Last September, however, the World Health Organization warned that a disastrous global pandemic was inevitable.
On February 26, Trump reportedly said that there were only 15 cases in the country when there were actually 60 at that time and that the number would be “zero” in “a couple of days.” As of Thursday morning, the number of cases in the United States topped 1,300, with 38 fatalities.
“By putting dangerous myths above objective facts,” Trump has created a “disaster,” according to Washington Post opinion writer Brain Klaas, in an essay published Thursday. “The rapidly worsening coronavirus outbreak is President Trump’s Chernobyl.”