As you huddle in lockdown from the COVID-19 pandemic, you may still be under the impression that you live in a representative democracy; one where a balance of institutions and traditions ensures that the nation maintains its long-term stability and too much power doesn’t accumulate in the hands of any individual. If this description has you nodding then 1) you really haven’t been paying a lot of attention for some time now, and 2) Donald Trump definitely does not agree with you.
Trump has long held the idea that his occupation of the White House makes God Almighty a subordinate post. Since he replaced his twice-weekly adoration rallies with a daily coronavirus-themed tongue bath, his self-aggrandizement has gotten only grander. In just the last three days, Trump has declared he has absolute power to instruct governors on how to run their states—or else—and to tell Congress how, and even when, they can operate. Or else. Now Generalissimo Trump is going to issue a plan to make states, cities, and businesses reopen their doors. And you can bet this plan comes with a big fat “or else” attached.
During his Wednesday briefing, Trump announced that he would kindly “authorize” governors to engage in a “powerful … a very powerful” reopening plan. That governors don’t require any authority from Trump, and that Trump never even issued any kind of order that would create a nationwide lockdown seems to have been totally ignored in this missive.
There’s little doubt that Trump could have imposed some form of national lockdown earlier. After all, Richard Nixon responded to a period of high inflation by simply declaring that he had the authority to freeze all prices and wages across the country. In the midst of a genuine national health emergency, Trump could easily have found the means to order schools closed, to limit the actions of businesses, to restrict travel, and to close government facilities. He could have. He just didn’t.
Instead, Trump was still fixated on the idea that the whole pandemic was going to disappear “like magic” and was insisting on telling everyone that things were completely contained, under control, just fine, right up until the death toll was ticking along like a Geiger counter in Chernobyl. By the time Trump issues limp, ineffective “guidelines” for social distancing on March 16, multiple governors, mayors, and local officials were way ahead of him. Since then, many additional states have acted, but they’ve done so on their own, in their own ways. There is no rule Trump could lift to reopen the nation, because he never imposed any rules in the first place.
But on Wednesday Trump declared that his next corona rally would include details on his plan to pry that America right back open, whether it wants it or not. This includes the appointment of an entire team of Sharks for the Reopening of Amity’s Beaches, which is composed of Ivanka, Jared, and corporate executives who have contributed over half a million to Trump’s reelection fund. Exactly how Trump plans to put a crowbar into reluctant states hasn’t yet been revealed, but he has made it clear that any disobedience to his “total authority” is considered “mutiny.”
Trump was not subtle in his threats against the states. "If we're not happy,” said Trump, employing the royal we, “we'll take very strong action against a state or a governor if we're not happy with the job a governor is doing. We'll let them know about it. And as you know, we have very strong action we can take, including a close-down." So Trump is threatening any state that doesn’t reopen with a “close-down.” What this means is clear as mud. But there’s no doubt that Trump’s team can find a way to hurt people. It’s their specialty.
Meanwhile, as The Washington Post reports, Japan has expanded its lockdown despite a relatively slow growth in cases, the U.K. has made it clear there is no going back to normal this side of a vaccine, and Singapore—one of the “success” stories of controlling COVID-19—is struggling to hold onto that success and looking at still more testing, still more regulations.
And on the testing front, Trump made one thing clear: he’s not doing it. If governors want any testing, they’re going to have to do it, and pay for it, themselves.
Just reopen. Or else.