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If Donald Trump follows through on his threat to declare a state of emergency, it puts the American state further into deep crisis – with historian Dr. Gerald Horn and host Paul Jay

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PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

Today in Washington there was a meeting between President Trump and the leader of the House and leader of the Senate, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. And they met to decide whether they could come to some kind of “compromise” on Trump’s demand for over $5 billion for his wall, and Pelosi and Schumer insisting that he bring back the government. And then Trump asked, will you declare a state of emergency in order to break this deadlock? First of all, here’s a clip of that question to Trump.

DONALD TRUMP: I think we might work a deal. And if we don’t, I may go that route. I have the absolute right to do a national emergency if I want.

REPORTER: What’s your threshold for when you might [inaudible]

DONALD TRUMP: My threshold will be if I can’t make a deal with people that are unreasonable.

PAUL JAY: Trump says his threshold for declaring a state of emergency if is he can’t make a deal with the leading Democrats. And this is how well that meeting seems to have gone. Here’s Chuck Schumer.

CHUCK SCHUMER: He asked Speaker Pelosi, will you agree to my wall? She said no. And he just got up and said, then we have nothing to discuss. And he just walked out. Again, we saw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way, and he just walked out of the meeting.

PAUL JAY: So they’re deadlocked. And that’s the threshold, Trump says, for him to declare a state of emergency. Now, states of emergencies aren’t completely unprecedented or so completely unique. There’s apparently 30 of them in force that have been declared over the last few decades. But most of them have been used to target foreign countries, foreign powers to levy economic sanctions without having to do those sanctions as a piece of legislation through Congress. President Obama declared something like five states of emergencies, for example, to target certain leaders of Venezuela. And it’s been used against Libya and other countries, as well.

This one is different. If Trump declares the state of emergency to build his wall, then he’s doing it specifically to get around Congress. And that is a little unusual. Now joining us to talk about the significance of this if, in fact, he does declare a state of emergency is Dr. Gerald Horne. Gerald Horne holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African-American studies at the University of Houston. His recent books, Storming the Heavens and the Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism. Thanks for joining us, Gerald.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.

PAUL JAY: This is a pretty weird moment in the state of the American state. Sections of the American state are at war with the President; the FBI, the Department of Justice is investigating the President. Apparently he’s at odds with sections of the American intelligence community. And now that Democrats have taken over the House. He’s at war with the House, and this one is kind of maybe more profound, because if he does declare a state of emergency, there goes checks and balances and three equal branches of government. What do you make of this?

GERALD HORNE: Well, I’m afraid to say that chickens may be coming home to roost. First of all, as you noted, most of these states of emergency have been imposed on actors abroad. For example, Venezuela after 9/11, for example. But because in part of the fact that there was not sufficient domestic opposition, not least in Congress, and given the fact that the opportunities for U.S. imperialism have been reduced with the rise of China; the fact that colonialism and even neoolonialism have taken punishing blows in recent decades. That means that if a certain sector of the U.S. ruling elite would like to continue its superexploitation, it may have no other choice but to ratchet up tensions here at home.

And so you see this discussion now about using a state of emergency to do an end run around Congress to build this so-called wall. But I’m afraid to say that once the state of emergency is invoked, assuming that it is invoked, given the fact that Mr. Trump is a well known bully. Ask Justin Trudeau about that, ask Chancellor Merkel of Germany about that. It seems to me that it’s almost inevitable that a state of emergency could be used to further circumscribe civil liberties at home, particularly as raucous opposition mounts to his dictatorial tendencies.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, apparently four Republican senators have declared that they don’t support the idea of a state of emergency and want the government shutdown to end. I don’t know how true this is, but MSNBC and CNN, and I say, I don’t know how much, how true it is. They’ve become so anti-Trump I don’t know whether to trust what they say. That being said, they say the support for Trump’s position at the moment is getting very shaky in the Republican Party.

But I think there is something more profound going on here. The Mueller investigation, the various cracks within the American state, they don’t trust this cabal that have taken over the White House. And you know, they talk about having some adults in the room, which is kind of funny, Mad Dog Mattis being someone who is considered someone who’s reasonable to mitigate Trump. I don’t know if it was you, or someone, was mentioning he wasn’t called Mad Dog for nothing. But the American state, the broader state is definitely concerned about this cabal going nuts.

GERALD HORNE: Well, I think that one of the problems that Mr. Trump now faces is that he’s alienated powerful sectors within the U.S. ruling elite. You mentioned MSNBC and CNN. You could add to that litany The New York Times and The Washington Post a powerful organs of communication. Then he’s alienated the liberal hawks and the neocons by his rather flippant attempt to withdraw U.S. troops out of Syria, which outraged the Israeli lobby, which caused Bolton, the national security adviser, to be summoned to Israel to be given a dressing down, which in turn caused problems with Turkey once he flew there. And then the neocons, whose milk and meat is basically military intervention abroad, they are outraged because they think that that particular approach is going to be circumscribed by Mr. Trump. I don’t think that they should worry too much about that. But in any case, his list of enemies is deepening.

Now, with regard to these rumblings in Congress, I’m not sure how seriously we can take that, because Mr. Trump’s tweet storms to gin up a primary challenge to any Republican congressperson so audacious and so bold as to cross swords with Mr. Trump.

PAUL JAY: I think he really is completely out of control, and I think that’s wonderful. If one analyzes this from the point of view of the interests of the majority of people, I always thought the greatest danger of the Trump administration was the agenda to go after Iran, whether it was a bombing campaign or a far more extreme sanctions, and this triumvirate of Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu, and Trump, and then certainly John Bolton as Trump’s adviser has been one of the biggest hawks on Iran for decades. Bolton’s one of the signatories to the Project for New American Century, and worked with Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Cheney and that whole gang. But look at where we’re at right now. Netanyahu is about to be, or is, under indictment. I don’t know if it happened today or not. His position in Israel is extremely weak. MBS in Saudi Arabia is a global disgrace. Trump is in a state of alienating the very people he needed on board to go after Iran.

And that’s Mr. Chuck Schumer. Because if he really wanted to go after Iran, he needed the Democrats. And if he played it right, Chuck Schumer would have been right by his side. Because when when Trump threw a missile into Syria, Schumer was saying, finally, Trump’s acting presidential. But he’s blowing that. This whole Iran strategy might be up in the air, or you could have the potential reverse. And that’s where you get back to the state of emergency. Do they manufacture some absolute crazy crap now about Iran to try to distract and defuse all that, even though at this point even MSNBC and CNN might see through it?

GERALD HORNE: Well, with regards to Iran, it’s unclear what’s happening right now. You are correct with regard to Mr. Schumer. Recall that he even had the gall to oppose the nuclear deal that John Kerry and Barack Obama helped to negotiate rather painstakingly. However, there are rumblings that there might be some offline talks now taking place between the U.S. authorities and the Iranian authorities. I’m not sure how much credence to put into that, although we know that as we speak Secretary of State Michael Pompeo is in Baghdad. He just left Jordan. And that’s not inconsistent with an idea that the Baghdadi regime, which is quite close to the Iranians, might be brokering some sort of meeting with their Iranian friends and Mr. Pompeo.

And in any case, we know that Mr. Trump’s attempt to break in half the Iranian nuclear deal is not necessarily going very well. The Europeans are not altogether on board. And in fact, I think that’s one of the problems that Mr. Trump faces. That is to say that the number of U.S. allies, the number is shrinking. Recall that Mr. Macron, when Mr. Trump was recently in France, just before he arrived, he talked about helping to organize a pan-European military force, which presents a mortal and grave threat to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Keep in mind that in January 2017 when Mr. Trump, in one of his first acts in office, helped to break in half the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Well, that did not kill the deal. All it really led to was a TPP now led by Japan. And that is going to certainly circumscribe the efforts of U.S. agricultural exporters to export to Japan and across the Pacific and actually help their Canadian peers and counterparts. We’re just not winning Mr. Trump many friends in the Midwest of the United States of America. So his erratic policy is creating one antagonist after another. And where this all ends is anyone’s guess.

PAUL JAY: It seems to me that Schumer and Pelosi is are calling his bluff. If you want to call a state of emergency, go ahead. And where that leads to is a great unknown.

GERALD HORNE: Well, I’m not sure we should tempt fate by asking Mr. Trump to declare a state of emergency, given his erratic behavior and his rather addled psychological temperament. I’m afraid to say that those of us who have been historic victims of bigotry in North America might be the ultimate sacrificial lambs if that takes place.

PAUL JAY: And we’ll see whether the Democrats Schumer and Pelosi actually stick this out. In the past they have usually caved in one way or another.

GERALD HORNE: It wouldn’t surprise me at all. I mean, let’s face it, Mr. Trump’s base is not crumbling. Fox News is a mighty megaphone helping to keep that base active and vociferous. At the same time, there is a lot of rumbling within the Democratic Party, particularly amongst those on the left the Democratic Party who feel that Pelosi and Schumer are not necessarily representative of the Democratic Party base that’s emerging, as symbolized, for example, by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez. And so, as the right seems to be relatively united, I’m not sure if I can say the same thing about their antagonists and opponents.

PAUL JAY: Bernie Sanders had a response to Donald Trump that framed the issue in a way differently than Schumer and Pelosi, and it raised some kind of more substantive issues. To finish off, let’s look at what Sanders said to Trump.

BERNIE SANDERS: Mr. President, we don’t need to create artificial crises. We have enough real crises. You want to talk about crises? At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, tens of millions of workers are earning starvation wages and are unable to adequately provide for their families. That’s a crisis. And maybe here is the biggest crisis of all. The scientific community has made it very clear in telling us that climate change is real, and is causing devastating harm to our country and the entire planet. And they have told us in no uncertain terms that if we do not transform our energy system away from fossil fuel, our nation and our planet, and the planet we will be leaving our kids and grandchildren, may well become unhealthy and even uninhabitable in the not so distant future.

PAUL JAY: And maybe that’s the greatest crime of the Trump administration, and to some extent collaborators with the corporate Democrats, other than Sanders, who is raising this issue. The leading Democrats are not even discussing the seriousness of the crisis of climate change. And the soap opera, which is not without significance, this soap opera over state of emergency and the wall and so on. But the existential threat, that’s far more the real crisis. It’s not even being discussed in the corporate media.

GERALD HORNE: Well, I think Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez once again has a point when she expressed disappointment with what Nancy Pelosi has done with regard to climate change and relevant congressional committees. The Sunrise Movement joined by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez actually got a demonstration, you may recall, some weeks ago.

PAUL JAY: We covered that.

GERALD HORNE: At Congresswoman Pelosi’s office. But in any case, once again it seems to me that it’s unclear where this crisis is heading. The New York Times has a point when it suggested that the Trump doctrine, such as it is, is basically creating one crisis after another. Although I think that he may have painted himself into a corner with this current shut down the government crisis.

PAUL JAY: All right, thanks for joining us, Gerald.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you.

PAUL JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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Dr. Gerald Horne holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. His research has addressed issues of racism in a variety of relations involving labor, politics, civil rights, international relations and war. Dr. Horne has also written extensively about the film industry. His latest book is The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. Dr. Horne received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and his J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and his B.A. from Princeton University.