Trump And American Disunity

Blue skies, nothing but blue skies

If you were shocked to hear polling that indicated that a majority or plurality of Americans approved of how Trump was handling the pandemic, keep in mind that whenever there's a national calamity, Americans tend to rally round the flag. Sometimes that is short-lived though-- and in this case it was very short-lived. A new poll from Navigator shows most Americans have now regained their senses and see Trump as part of the problem, not part of the solution. When asked about Trump's erratic and self-serving handling of the pandemic, we see a 13-point swing in his net approval on this from 52% to 42% (+10) to 47% to 50% (-3). "Trump is wildly out of step with Americans with his new push to relax social distancing," concluded the pollster. "Only 5% say we should roll back precautions, even at the expense of economic losses, while 74% say we should wait however long it takes for public health experts to say it’s safe, including 70% of Republicans... Trump didn’t cause coronavirus, but his actions have made it worse-- and Americans are looking to others, from governors to health experts, to lead us out of this... Lives have been put at risk by Trump’s senseless delay on invoking his authority to produce more needed supplies like masks and ventilators."

One of my sisters is tucked away in self-imposed isolation at her home in Brooklyn, venturing out only rarely and only with her N-99 mask and latex gloves. The other-- who is married to a dyed-in-the-wool Trumpist-- has been incredibly hostile to the idea of precautions... until yesterday when her fearless leader announced he was considering some kind of a enforceable travel quarantine against New York and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, whatever that means. If Trump says it's real, in her mind, it's real.

Some of Trump's political allies-- the reactionary governors of Florida and Texas for example-- had already put up barriers against New Yorkers. And now the truly repulsive conservative governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, a pretend-Democrat, who has adamantly refused to issue shelter-in-place orders, announced Friday that "members of the National Guard, along with local law enforcement, would be going door-to-door in shore communities to look for people who have come here from New York. The troops will collect their contact information and work to enforce the 14-day quarantine. They will do their best to target homes where the state believes people may have come from New York, Raimondo said. People who violate quarantine orders would be subject to a fine at first, and prison time on subsequent offenses, Raimondo said." Her troops have been ordered to pull over cars with New York license plates... respectfully. Cuomo said he would sue her if she didn't roll back her diktat immediately. [Instead she just announced that the restriction apply to any non-Rhode Islander-- so she's giving the finger to the rest of the country. No comment.]

Raimondo is widely considered one of the most disgusting, puke-worthy governors of any state regardless of party. She told the media that "This is an emergency. What is constitutional in one scenario is different than in another. This is pinpointed, this is targeted, this is a state of emergency, this is limited in time, and it’s going to be enforced in a respectful way. And it’s a public health necessity." She said "Right now we have a pinpointed risk. That risk is called New York City."

He backed off today

Janet Mills, Maine's lame (Democratic) governor hasn't had the brains or spine to order Mainers to shelter in place either. Officials on the island of North Haven, Maine issued an order banning all visitors to the island-- even ones who own homes there.

Vox's Ian Millhiser noted the same thing and wondered how much this is going to weaken the union, "testing the very notion that the United States are united."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed an executive order on Thursday that would require travelers from some coronavirus hotspots to self-quarantine: It provides that “every person” who flies into Texas from “New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or the City of New Orleans, or in any other state or city as may be proclaimed hereafter, shall be subject to mandatory self-quarantine for a period of 14 days from the time of entry into Texas or the duration of the person’s presence in Texas, whichever is shorter.”

Other states have imposed similar orders. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) imposed an order on Tuesday that requires anyone flying from New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut to self-isolate for 14 days. Alaska and Hawaii also imposed self-quarantine orders on people traveling from other states.

These orders implicate one of the fundamental premises of the union among the 50 states: the right of American citizens to travel among them freely.

As the Supreme Court recognized more than 170 years ago, “we are one people with one common country. We are all citizens of the United States, and as members of the same community must have the right to pass and repass through every part of it without interruption, as freely as in our own states.” The right of all US citizens to travel freely among the states, the Court later explained in United States v. Guest (1966), “was conceived from the beginning to be a necessary concomitant of the stronger union the Constitution created.”

If states can decide that some US citizens are not welcome within their borders, it may cease to be a union at all. This right to travel is implicit in the notion that citizens are Americans, and not simply Texans or New Yorkers.

But should that principle hold during a pandemic? Does the Constitution forbid states from taking drastic actions to slow the spread of a potentially deadly disease within their own borders?

Gov. Abbott’s order, at the very least, is probably carefully drafted enough to survive constitutional scrutiny. That order applies to “every person” who flies into Texas from the designated areas, regardless of whether that person is a resident of Texas or some other state. Read in that light, it does not discriminate against non-Texans.

But orders like Gov. Abbott’s do raise troubling constitutional questions. And they cut against the concept of a union of states that has prevailed in this country, especially since the New Deal.

The modern notion that every US citizen has the same rights, no matter where they travel within the nation, is rooted in a notion of nationwide solidarity that depends on a strong and competent federal government. And the Trump administration is not holding up its end of that bargain.

...But even if such travel bans are legal, they are still indicative of a greater rot within our constitutional system. The premise of our Constitution is that the states gave up some of their sovereign authority to the federal government, in return for mutual benefits such as collective national defense and free trade among the states. The premise of the post-New Deal order is that the federal government must take on additional obligations, including providing a basic social safety net.

And the evolution of the right to travel played a significant role in establishing this new order. The right to travel is fundamentally tied to our conception of what it means to be a citizen of a nation. We’ve spent most of the last century fleshing out our understanding of what obligations our nation owes to its citizens.

...The United States was one collective community, not 50 insular communities.

But Trump is slashing the safety net that holds this national community together. He spent much of the first three years of his presidency dismantling the federal government’s permanent infrastructure, that his predecessors set up to deal with a pandemic-- including ordering the White House National Security Council’s (NSC) entire global health security arm shut down. He’s repeatedly proposed budgets making sharp cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

Trump abdicates his role as the custodian of a nationwide safety net. Indeed, he recently told a group of governors who needed ventilators to deal with the rise of coronavirus cases to “try getting it yourselves.”

Thursday night, after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) requested tens of thousands of ventilators to protect the lives of infected New Yorkers, Trump dismissed this request in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” Trump claimed. “You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators. And now, all of a sudden, they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”

Nor is Cuomo the only governor frustrated by the federal government’s inaction. After Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) sought much needed medical gear and equipment to protect the people in his state, the federal government provided only a fraction of what his state needed.

Moreover, as Pritzker wrote on Twitter, Trump’s inaction forces governors to compete with each other-- potentially even pushing them into a bidding war. “I have medical professionals and first responders begging for the things they need to keep them safe-- but so does” Cuomo. So does Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R). So does Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D).

Trump, meanwhile, was extraordinarily slow to use the Defense Production Act, a federal law that would allow the federal government to coordinate a national response among state and private industry. As Pritzker writes, “it’s the federal government’s job to make sure that a nurse being properly equipped in Illinois doesn’t come at the cost of a doctor being ready for work in California.”

If the Trump administration is unwilling or unable to uphold its end of the post-New Deal bargain, the implications are staggering. Trump’s inaction does not simply threaten to exacerbate a pandemic. It threatens the very concept of what it means to be the United States of America.

Could Putin have foreseen all this when he invested a measly few million dollars towards getting Trump elected in 2016? What an absolutely brilliant investment-- at least from a Russian perspective! Shrewdest foreign policy move in Russian history!

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