Trump, States’ Rights & The Coronavirus
The Coronavirus is a Direct Attack on States’ Rights
The U.S. health care system is actually comprised of 50-states (plus DC), 3,169 counties and many local health care systems, all separate and unequal.
States’ rights are why 14 states – disproportionately located in the neediest region of the country, the South, with its anti-federal government ideology – are still rejecting the Medicaid portion of the Affordable Care Act, leaving millions of poor people without health insurance.
Every state, county and local health care system is different, with few national standards. So during this coronavirus pandemic, how it plays out in every state, county and locality will depend on: the prevalence of the virus; who has it; how many have it; where they’re located; are tests available locally; how quickly can they get the test results back; and how quickly can we identify those who tested positive with others they’ve been in contact.
Each health care system will also depend on its funding; the capacity and capability of the over-all local system; the number and quality of its workers; the availability of equipment; the density and age of the surrounding population; its poverty and racial composition, as many racial minorities and poor people will reflect different health care needs and require different priorities; and more.
Since the rebellion against King George and the American Revolution, there has always been some degree of resistance to a centralized or federal government – and anti-government generally is a close second cousin. The defense of slavery, using the Tenth Amendment, baked in the ideology of states’ rights. More recently, President Ronald Reagan emphasized this anti-government ideology in his 1981 Inaugural Address when he said, “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.” Former Speaker Tip O’Neill underlined it with his, “All politics is local.”
So, this anti-government and anti-democratic-political spirit has worked against the Constitution’s Preamble and its initial and continuing assignment, mandate and mission – i.e., to build a more perfect Union. It’s impossible to build a more perfect Union using a states’ rights ideology – each state being sovereign and primarily looking out for itself. President Trump is using the ideology of states’ rights domestically – e.g., each governor is primarily responsible for fighting the coronavirus; but then he turns the states’ rights ideology inside out and applies it to the international community as “America First.”
It’s a slap in the face to the United Nations and all other national, regional and international bodies whose missions are to save the planet, end world poverty, achieve international peace, work for international justice, regulate world finance and commerce, or take steps to create a more healthy world – e.g., the mission of the World Health Organization (WHO).
A central issue in this country from its beginning has been the relationship between the federal government and the states. It’s a question that has been with us since before the writing of our Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787 – the Articles of Confederation (1777) left state sovereignty too much in place – through the Supreme Court’s first major decision in 1793 (Chisholm v. Georgia), during the antebellum period of 1800 through 1860, clearly during the Civil War (1861-1865) and following the post-Civil War periods. It remains an active issue today – witness Donald Trump, states’ rights and the coronavirus!
Slavery was sustained by the twin ideologies of capitalism and states’ rights – that is, the sacredness of private property, protected by the states. Out of that capitalist ideology come the worship of the private sector and the disparaging of the public sector – i.e., private ice is colder than public ice. Donald Trump’s television show, The Apprentice, was a capitalist model – contestants competing against one another in a game of “survival of the fittest,” with the winner being the lone survivor.
President Trump has said he “loves pitting people against each other,” remarking that, “his whole life is based on that.” “It brings out the best and worst in people; and if the worst comes out, you don’t want them working for you.”
It turns out President Trump is both the ultimate states’ righter and the devoted and proclaimed evangelical savior of the capitalist ideology! State governors are screaming at him they don’t have the financial resources to handle what’s coming at them, begging Trump for help, but he refuses to grant them what they need; instead, telling them the primaryresponsibility for solving the coronavirus lies in a competition between them for needed scarce tests, masks, ventilators and medical supplies – i.e., states’ rights. (The ideology underlies his petty politics of rewarding his political “friends” who praise him and punishing his gubernatorial enemies who are not appreciative of what he’s doing for them.)
Trump says our country wasn’t built to be idle and businesses are “raring to go” (meaning capitalism). His deception has been so great that the American people have continued with a “business as usual” response. On Easter Trump wanted to see “packed churches all over our country,” confounding the best advice from the world’s top health professionals and their recommendation of “physical distancing.” Unfortunately, if that happens, the President won’t be leading Americans to church on Easter Sunday; he’ll be leading his supporters directly to the coronavirus.
Vice President Pence argues that Trump’s formula for dealing with the coronavirus is local execution, state management and federal support. With his business orientation Trump absurdly proposes that the federal government re-start the economy and re-open businesses one county at a time. The U.S. has 3,169 counties.
Such an approach would only make a little sense if we had contact tracing for every county and state and knew: who has the virus; where is it located; how many have it; and with whom have they had contact? But that would require tests and testing, and we don’t have those because the Trump administration engaged in months of denial and delay regarding the gravity of the pandemic and hasn’t been able to produce or coordinate enough tests, send them to where they’re needed, conduct the tests, do an analysis and or get the result back in a timely fashion. In a recent poll, 90 percent of mayors said they don’t have the tests. We’re flying blind.
During this coronavirus pandemic the Federal Government’s role should have been to comprehensively see where the greatest emergencies were, and coordinate getting the tests, masks, gowns, ventilators and whatever else was needed to the places of greatest need!
Trump delayed signing the Defense Production Act (DPA) and refuses to effectively use it, citing all the companies that have volunteered to help. This disjointed effort by the private sector, foundations, charity and volunteers is admirable, but it won’t adequately address a national and international coronavirus pandemic. The production of private companies, the efforts of state and local governments, donations by foundations, acts of charity and the labors of voluntarism must be orchestrated into a symphony of health coordination by the Federal Government and President Donald Trump is either refusing or is incapable of doing.
Under the DPA Trump can require companies to fulfill the needs of the hospitals for tests, masks, gowns and ventilators and prohibit hoarding and price gouging. Without federal coordination Governors are complaining they’re competing against one another for necessary life protecting and lifesaving items. Kansas Governor Laura Kelly said masks normally costing $.80 are selling for $4.00. Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker said he’s bidding against FEMA for ventilators. Such competition is driving up costs when fiscal restraint should be primary.
The Obama administration left behind a book with a plan informing the next president about what to do if a virus struck. Trump did away with the book along with the White House’s National Security Council positions responsible for preparing for such a virus. Our intelligence agencies wrote briefing papers in January 2020 about the coming coronavirus – Trump didn’t read them. White House aides also tried to inform and warn him – he ignored them. Trump only shared a positive vision with Americans, suppressed all bad news, lied and misinformed the American people about the facts. He had to be corrected, and we had to be informed and warned, by Dr. Anthony Faueci about the coming pandemic. America’s becoming number one with those testing positive for the coronavirus is the result.
Trump’s an extremist with his states’ rights, but he’s in the linage of the modern row of states’ righters – Goldwater (e.g., anti-civil rights), Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan (e.g., Philadelphia, Mississippi), H.W.-Bush, Clinton (e.g., the era of big government is over), W-Bush (the good people of South Carolina will figure out what to do with the Confederate Flag), and Obama (e.g., the Affordable Care Act) – who have all abandoned the more perfect Union legacy of Lincoln, FDR and LBJ. Even Eisenhower can claim a piece of the “more perfect Union” label with his Interstate Highway System.
Trump claims he’s a nationalist and “a war time president,” but he’s fighting the coronavirus war as a states’ rights commander; and when this crisis is over, Trump, the Republicans, Joe Biden, if he’s elected president, and most Democrats will go back to fighting for things that should be “universal” – health care, affordable housing, public education and voting rights – as states’ righters.
So if you can’t figure out why Trump is failing the coronavirus test – and why we can’t incarnate the Constitution’s mandate to build “A More Perfect (democratic) Union” absent the coronavirus – look beyond Trump’s personal incompetence to the Republican Party’s current and to the linage of the Democratic Party’s historical loyalty to the ideology of capitalism and states’ rights as it manifested itself in slavery.