Does President Donald Trump exercise too much power, or not enough? His critics cannot decide.
Early in the COVID-19 crisis, attacks focused on Trump supposedly using too much executive authority and leaving the country unprepared to deal with the virus. His detractors falsely claimed the president had slashed funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or dismantled the pandemic team. Both claims were disproven, but the attacks didn’t stop.
The pendulum now seems to have swung in the other direction, with critics demanding Trump engage in unprecedented and unconstitutional power-grabs.
Joe Scarborough, co-host of “MSNBC’s Morning Joe,” made such a suggestion Wednesday on Twitter.
“The President needs to issue a stay at home order today,” he said. “His further delays will cost more lives.”
The President needs to issue a stay at home order today. His further delays will cost more lives. https://t.co/7YDRPqG2mf
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) March 25, 2020
Scarborough is demanding action. There is only one problem: The president does not have the constitutional authority to issue a broad “stay at home” order for the entire nation.
Conservative commentator and retired Army Col. Kurt Schlichter pointed this out.
He asked Scarborough, “What is the enumerated power that allows the president to order Americans to stay at home?”
What is the enumerated power that allows the president to order Americans to stay at home? https://t.co/0YyH3xf1Fe
— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) March 25, 2020
The answer? There isn’t one.
A casual reading of the 10th Amendment would make it clear to Scarborough that all powers not specifically granted to the federal government are reserved for the states.
Last month, Scarborough complained that Trump is a “would-be dictator” who wants to throw him and other liberal media figures in jail. Now he is declaring that the president is irresponsible for not placing millions of Americans under completely unconstitutional house arrest.
Listening to these claims, you almost get the idea that the media are using the crisis as an excuse to do what they have been doing for the past four years — attack Trump.
Scarborough was not the only one on the left to criticize Trump for not exercising unconstitutional power. Daily Beast editor Molly Jong-Fast was also unhappy with power being reserved for the states in handling the crisis.
“So the states are basically governing themselves because our president doesn’t know how to president at all?” Jong-Fast tweeted March 16.
So the states are basically governing themselves because our president doesn’t know how to president at all?
— Molly Jong-Fast🏡 (@MollyJongFast) March 16, 2020
Yes, actually, that is kind of the point of our entire system of government.
The ignorance among the media elites about the nature of federalism is scary, but so is the willingness of people on both sides of the aisle to accept “stay at home” orders.
Up until this point, both liberals and conservatives have been fairly compliant with such orders on the state and local level.
Part of this may be due to media fear-mongering. After all, the media have received plenty of criticism for their inaccurate and alarmist coverage of the pandemic.
Schlichter raised the question that must inevitably be addressed, if not by the public then by the courts: To what extent are these orders constitutional?
In the case of the president, the answer is not at all. The administration can provide guidelines to promote public health in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus. The president cannot unilaterally order American citizens to be confined to their homes.
If Trump’s leftist media critics want that kind of system, they should check out China.
For state and local authorities, there is some power to act to preserve public health. However, even those powers have limits.
State and county governments have taken action, ordering restaurants and businesses closed and issuing emergency proclamations that their entire state populations must stay indoors. Some have even gone so far as to include criminal penalties for going to church.
These local orders are not without limitations. Many of the measures taken have been overly broad. State governors cannot order businesses to close down indefinitely, cannot force law-abiding citizens to remain in their homes, and cannot ban religious gatherings under the Constitution.
Trump was correct in saying we need to look at reopening the economy by Easter. If the lockdown goes much longer beyond that point, citizens and businesses will be unduly harmed on a level that will prompt the courts to intervene.
The president has said we cannot let the cure be worse than the disease itself. He may have been referring to economic fallout, but there is also a real danger of the cure being worse than the disease in the case of government spending and overreach.
Republicans have already caved on the spending question with the introduction of a massive bailout bill that will drastically exacerbate the debt problem. Even more concerning, it appears Democrats are just getting started using COVID-19 as a justification for massive spending plans. Some are even openly admitting they want to use the relief bills to push their previous policy agendas.
As we deal with the remainder of the crisis, it is crucial for conservatives to continue challenging these grabs of power. Otherwise, we might open the door for a whole new level of government control over the lives of Americans.
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