As the Trump administration has floundered in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the nation’s governors have tried to step into the breach.
Gavin Newsom of California was the first to issue a statewide order to stay home. In Washington State, Jay Inslee’s aggressive measures have gotten credit as the rate of increase of the infection appears to be starting to slow. And Andrew Cuomo’s daily news conferences in New York have become a steady and popular source of sound information and empathy.
These governors and other local officials have offered a welcome alternative to the president’s erratic directives and briefings. And their forceful actions may seem to vindicate the wisdom of the founders, who reserved important functions to the states so that the national government would not grow too powerful. As Vice President Mike Pence put it on March 22, “One of the things that makes America different is that we have a system of federalism.”
But in the context of the pandemic, federalism has allowed President Trump to indulge his worst tendencies. States depend on the federal government to confront disease outbreaks like the coronavirus pandemic. In the early days of Covid-19, state and local officials weren’t in a position to foresee the scope of the threat or control the levers that could have suppressed it.
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