Donald Trump never issued the nationwide lockdown that the United States needed to minimize the damage of the novel coronavirus. In fact, Trump and the federal government moved incredibly slowly, despite months of advance warning that COVID-19 was coming and represented a serious threat to the economy, national security, and lives. That failure to act can now be measured in over 800,000 confirmed cases and 43,500 deaths. To date.
But for Attorney General William Barr, there is no situation that can’t be made worse by a misapplication of the department formerly known as justice. Since taking over as Trump’s go-to unraveler of law, Barr has not only managed to waste an incredible amount of time destroying U.S intelligence, eroding relationships with allies, and trying to back up Trump’s numerous conspiracy theories, he has also been eking out time to threaten Black communities, killing investigations into Trump, and destroying oversight authority. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that, in the midst of a crisis where nearly 2,000 Americans are dying on a daily basis, Barr is determined to get out his robe and scythe to hurry the process along by threatening governors over social distancing guidelines.
On Monday, more than a third of the world’s new cases of COVID-19 were in the United States. So were almost half of all the deaths. By any measure, the U.S. response—the Donald Trump response—to the novel coronavirus pandemic has been the single-greatest preventable disaster in American history. And it’s far from over. With Trump encouraging would-be terrorists to threaten governors and law enforcement, and Republican governors intent to open everything from barbershops to beaches, the question isn’t whether or not the United States will suffer a second wave. It’s just whether or not that wave will be a tsunami.
But it’s not possible to have an existential threat to the nation without Barr wanting a piece of the action. So on Tuesday, Barr joined right-wing radio loon Hugh Hewitt to explain how issuing a shelter-in-place order to slow the spread of a deadly contagion is really a drag. “These are very, very burdensome impingements on liberty,” said Barr. He seemed to admit that the actions being taken by governors were, in fact, aligned with guidelines that belatedly appeared from the federal government. However, said Barr, “we adopted them ... for the limited purpose of slowing down the spread, that is bending the curve. We didn’t adopt them as the comprehensive way of dealing with this disease.”
So, it was perfectly okay to issue a stay-at-home order in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. But it’s not a comprehensive way of dealing with the disease. On that point, everyone should be in agreement with Barr—because it’s only through extensive, nationwide testing and case tracing that the number of active cases can be reduced to the point where it’s safe to relax social distancing guidelines.
However, that doesn’t appear to be Barr’s take. Instead, Barr insisted that the curve had now been bent and it was time for governors to get rid of stay-at-home orders, which Barr compared to placing everyone “under house arrest.” Because in Barr’s mind, people under house arrest are apparently allowed to journey forth for take out, grocery shopping, and exercise.
What kind of legal theory says it’s okay to implement “house arrest” so long as it’s to “bend the curve” but not okay to have those same rules in an effort to prevent a resurgence of cases? A nonsense legal theory pulled straight from the nethers of Barr’s knickers. But that seems to be exactly where he is going. Barr has indicated that he will review all the state rules—by which he means all the blue state rules—and find the ones that he thinks “go too far.” When these targets are located, says Barr, he will try to “jawbone the governors into rolling them back.”
But if governors don’t want to listen to the sweet, sweet reason of open up because Barr said so, the next step is that Barr is absolutely declaring he will take the states to court and “side with the plaintiffs.” By which he means he will take the DOJ and put it at the service of people waving Confederate flags and AR-15s in state capitals. In fact, it’s amazing Barr isn’t arguing that the right to infect people with COVID-19 is protected by the Second Amendment. Yet.