Trump against the states: how the president remakes the government in his image | US news


When Donald Trump regretted federal aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and California in his deadly fires in 2018, and blamed these places for these natural disasters, even the Republicans were shocked.

No one could remember a president publicly complaining about, or expressing bitterness towards the victims.

It was possible at the time to view Trump’s conduct as exceptional, to put it in writing in close political resentment or racism. But now, with the urgency of coronavirus hitting all states simultaneously, a more complete picture is displayed.

“Everything I want them to do, very simple, I want them to be thankful,” said Trump of the state governors.

And: “It’s a two-way street. They must treat us as well. “

And: “Frankly, they were, a lot of states, they were absolutely not prepared for that. So we had to go into federal inventory, but we are not an order clerk. They must have for themselves. “

Clashes between presidents and states are nothing new. But according to government theorists, public affairs experts and political analysts, Trump is rocking the federalist pact, by which the 50 states are both autonomous and linked in a national union, is unprecedented in modern times.

“You have redefined the role of state governors,” said David Super, professor at Georgetown Law. “The governors must crawl towards the president. Governor [Gavin] Newsom [of California], Governor Andrew Cuomo [of New York] got it, and they do. Governor [Gretchen] Whitmer has largely refused, and Michigan is going through hell as a result.

“These governors are more like provincial heads in this system, and if we are to restore federalism in this country, we will have to make very dramatic changes after the end.” If we don’t, federalism is dead. “

Andrew Cuomo, left, gestures during a brief press conference as he stands next to a rear admiral.John B. Austin as USNS Comfort, a 1,000-bed naval hospital ship , enters platform 90 on Monday March 30, 2020, in New York.

Andrew Cuomo gestures to a brief press conference as he stands next to Rear Admiral John B Mustin as the USNS Comfort enters Pier 90 in New York City on March 30. Photography: Kathy Willens / AP

Experts are concerned that the inter-state struggle over medical equipment that has broken out in the vacuum of federal leadership may make it more difficult for states to reach agreement later on how to reopen the economy. They warn that the state’s patchwork plans for absentee and postal voting in November could undermine the legitimacy of the presidential election.

In some cases, they wonder what it means, after the coronavirus crisis is over, to call the autonomous states, or to call them “united.”

If Trump tears up the parts of the federalist system he dislikes, said political analyst Lincoln Mitchell, other parts the Conservatives love, like the electoral college and the United States Senate, could become more difficult to defend .

This could be particularly true, said Mitchell, if the conservative majority of the United States Supreme Court reiterated its intervention last week when it refused to extend the vote in Wisconsin despite the pandemic. Likewise if the presumed democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, like Hillary Clinton before him, wins the popular vote but loses in the electoral college.

“It is not inconceivable that Joe Biden could win this election by seven points in the popular vote while losing the electoral college,” said Mitchell. “If this happens for the second consecutive time, it is a crisis of governance – not a crisis of democracy, because it is not really a democratic system – but a crisis of governance and a crisis of legitimacy. “

Super coined the term “casual federalism” to characterize the way the White House treats governors. He mentioned reports incidents in which the federal government has intercepted fans and other state-acquired equipment, which Trump appears to be distributing on the basis of political patronage.

“On the one hand, they tell states that they are alone,” said Super. “On the other hand, they seize the supplies that the states obtain by themselves.”

Martin O’Malley, former Maryland governor and presidential candidate, coined a different term: “Darwinian federalism”.

” His [Trump’s] the behavior does not conform to the president’s office, “O’Malley told the Guardian in an email. “The idea that governors must bow down and praise him for getting their citizens to receive federal disaster assistance is contrary to the very nature of a republic.”

White House adviser Jared Kushner listens to Donald Trump talking about the coronavirus in the White House press room.

White House adviser Jared Kushner listens to Donald Trump talking about the coronavirus in the White House press room. Photography: Alex Brandon / AP

But Keith Whittington, a professor of politics at Princeton University specializing in constitutional theory, said that Trump was right to say that states have traditionally been responsible for managing public health crises.

“It seems unusual compared to other countries that we rely so heavily on state and local authorities,” he said, “but that is the American tradition. “

A national public health crisis is a rare occurrence, said Whittington, adding that the statements by Trump and Jared Kushner were “really strange”.

During his only public appearance during the crisis, the presidential son-in-law said: “The concept of federal stock was, it is supposed to be our stock. These are not meant to be the state stocks they use next. “

Whittington replied, “National stocks are designed precisely to be available to those who need them in times of crisis. The attitude of this administration, and certainly the particular remarks of Jared Kushner on this subject, are rather surprising and ultimately not very useful. “

“From lip service to federalism”

The history of the United States is long. Elasticity is built into the system. Everyone sees something different for the future.

“I would be surprised if what we see now translates into a substantial permanent change in relations between the states and the federal government,” said Whittington.

David Super: “The old argument against the so-called great government is that states could do it. We are here to prove that they cannot.

David Super: “The old argument against the so-called great government is that states could do it. We prove here that they cannot. »Photograph: Carolyn Kaster / AP

Super said that a drain of state power, if it were that, would produce a more empowered federal government.

“The old argument against the so-called great government is that states could do it,” said Super. “We are here to prove that they cannot.

“We also prove that whatever people believe in the importance of states, they no longer believe and that federal politicians will lip service to federalism but show states no respect at the most important time.”

Mitchell’s other leaders, in Mitchell’s view, are not like Trump because they see practical value in shared economic prosperity and defense, and because they believe in the history that brings them all together: l history of America.

“They seem worried enough that the United States of America will survive in one form or another, when I don’t really have that feeling with Trump,” said Mitchell. “Donald Trump’s goal is to keep him and the six people he cares about, wealthy and out of prison. There is nothing really beyond that that motivates him in a bigger picture.

“It is not a good foundation on which to build a country that works, let alone a democracy that works. “


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