Coronavirus, Trump & Governors — Welcome, Fairweather Federalists

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President Donald Trump addresses the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 6, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

It’s quite heartening to see a sudden deference to federalism among our political media:

Cillizza is right. Donald Trump isn’t empowered to re-open the economy any more than he was empowered to close it in the first place. And while it’s perfectly legitimate to criticize a president who claims to have total “authority,” it’s quite the trick to be outraged by a performative attack on the Tenth Amendment while also pressing the president to abuse his executive power in virtually the same way.

As Brit Hume notes, Trump “blusters and threatens all sorts of things, most of which never come to pass,” and, in reality, he’s been quite deferential to local control. For weeks, however, there’s been widespread media criticism of Trump for failing to force states to shut down and for failing to utilize the Defense Production Act to compel companies to act in the ways federal government deems necessary. So this newfound love of the Tenth Amendment is welcome.

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Of course, we could have used you guys when Barack Obama was telling voters he would govern by “pen and phone” after voters elected GOP majorities. Because he did. Through years of articulate and polite rhetoric, which impressed you greatly, Obama circumvented the legislative branch, entered international agreements without the approval of the Senate, and attacked due process, free expression, religious freedom, and the Tenth Amendment.

To my recollection there wasn’t much talk about the Tenth Amendment when Democrats passed Obamacare and compelled states to participate in a centralized health-care insurance scheme — stopping them from implementing their own ideas. There wasn’t much media talk of federalism when Obama sued Arizona passing laws intended to stem the tide of illegal immigrants and drug trafficking. There was not a ton of concern when Obama circumvented states and congress and used the EPA to implement carbon-emissions restrictions.

Where was this federalism when seven states, led by Texas, sued Obama for instituting, by fiat, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals? Obama had admitted that he wasn’t a “king,” and then acted like a king anyway. Even when Trump rolled back that unconstitutional program, you were still critical of his actions rather than applauding him.

Anyway, you’re here now, and that’s what’s really important.

Now we can look forward to you explaining the appropriate, and limited, use of executive power to your audience when President Biden starts re-instituting those same Obama-era attacks on states. Fortunately — and this will, no doubt, come as a great comfort to new fans of federalism — Trump keeps appointing judges that are inclined to respect the Constitution. We look forward to your support in that arena, as well.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun


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