Editorial: States’ Rights, or Trump’s “Total Authority,” Which Is It, Base?

States’ rights, or the president’s total authority over the states? Such a confusing choice for a Trump supporter. Traditionally, Republicans have loudly trumpeted “smaller government” and the rights of states to govern themselves in many matters, such as how they will legislate public assistance. But now, since Monday’s exceptionally unhinged Coronavirus Task Force briefing when Donald Trump stated that as president of the United States, he had full authority over the states, some Republicans will have to choose between their stance on states’ rights and their loyalty to Donald Trump.
Trump has talked about opening the country back up “very soon, maybe even before May 1.” Many governors, however, along with the country’s top public health experts, feel that May 1 is premature. Out of the desire to protect their constituents, these governors have taken it upon themselves to form regional coalitions to work around Trump and make their own decisions about how and when it’s safe to reopen the states.
When a reporter asked Trump to comment on this, Trump said, “When somebody’s president of the United States, the authority is total…That’s the way it’s got to to be. It’s total. It’s total. And the governors know that,” said Trump, further proclaiming that states “can’t do anything without the approval of the president.”
Vice President Mike Pence, when asked about the president’s claim, appeared to agree with it, saying he “support[s] the president’s leadership.”
In Ohio, Republican state Senate candidate Melissa Ackison said she agrees with Trump that as president, he has authority over the state governors regarding when to “open up the country” and lift restrictions on the economy.
As one of approximately 100 protesters against Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s handling of the coronavirus shutdown, Ackison said, “In a time where full-on unconstitutional tyranny is on display, the president is doing exactly what the patriots elected him to do, and I knew it was only a matter of time before he would flex his muscle and authority to save Ohio from unprecedented overreach.
“Patriots who love and respect our liberties and the Constitution are sick and tired of the fear-mongering while the governor and (state Health Director) Dr. (Amy) Acton continue to hide the numbers from the public.”
Governor DeWine has been nationally lauded for his early and aggressive response to the coronavirus pandemic. Not waiting on the federal government for direction, DeWine was the first governor to close down all state schools. He also took a number of other dramatic early measures, including closing bars, restaurants, and other non-essential businesses.
It’s ironic that Ackison should use the word “tyranny” to refer to DeWine’s protective actions, but not to Trump’s presumption of total authority over DeWine. It’s backwards that Ackison should evoke the Constitution in this context, since, as a number of constitutional scholars have been quick to point out, the Constitution does not give the president authority over the governors in this matter.
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” says the 10th Amendment to the Constitution.
Incidentally, as they consider whether to vote for Melissa Ackison to represent them, Ohioans in District 26 would be wise to take note: It never turns out well to elect a politician who knows nothing about the Constitution.
On Tuesday, Trump was forced to walk back his declaration of total authority over the states, perhaps because someone pointed out that he had been wrong. He didn’t exactly retract his statement, though. Instead, he announced that he would give the states the authority to open up again. The following day, however, Trump had returned to his stance that he is indeed the one who “calls the shots” when it comes to the states.
Given that Trump thinks he does have this total authority, it should also be considered that as the Coronavirus pandemic ramped up in the U.S. and globally, state governors were pleading for help from the federal government for resources and equipment, including such items as personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators.
“Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — Try getting it yourselves. We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself, was Trumps response.
During another briefing, Trump said, “Federal government’s not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. We’re not a shipping clerk. Whatever the states can get, they should be getting…”
But as self-declared Supreme Leader, Trump wasn’t backing the states as they were forced to fend for themselves on the global market, the local markets, and even sometimes on eBay, bidding against each other for supplies and equipment.
The Trump administration not only downplayed many states’ dire shortages, but frequently outbid them in the marketplace and even reportedly seized some states’ shipments, keeping them for the national stockpile, which, according to the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, “was supposed to be our stockpile, not the states’.
Though Trump likes to declare himself the all-powerful leader who is protected by the Constitution to do anything he wants, he only assumes the portion of the king’s role that has to do with absolute authority. With authority, however, comes responsibility. Though Trump likes to take credit (even when it’s not his due) for things that go well, he has consistently refused to take responsibility for his failures. He has also consistently refused to take responsibility for the protection and well-being of his constituents.
It seems perfectly fine to his unwavering base that Donald Trump should have the last word concerning state government. At the same time, it seems perfectly essential to them that the federal government should keep its hands off state government — except in matters that are important to Trump’s base.
Most Republicans are in fact appalled at Donald Trump’s recent declaration of total authority over the states, but they have remained silent. Those such as Ohio’s Ackison, however, will sooner or later have to choose between states’ rights—the smaller federal government they claim to be passionate about—and their willingness to be governed by a small man.

Trump puts onus on states amid coronavirus pandemic |
Washington Post [2020-04-10]

Coronavirus: President Trump, Governors Clash Over Authority To Reopen U.S. | NBC Nightly News [2020-04-14]

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