Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Trump’s COVID actions a good example of federalism

Morgan Liddick
On Your Right

Joe Biden’s claims that he would have dealt with COVID-19 far better than President Donald Trump — claims that suggest he has forgotten both the president’s early efforts and his own denunciation of them as “xenophobic” and “hysterical” — tell us a lot about the government he and his minders want. It’s not a good look.

We should appreciate that Trump’s actions on COVID, especially leaving public health responses to individual states, are good examples of federalism, the design of our republic. Democrats’ clamor for a national response from the federal government is an indication that they neither understand nor care about the reasons for the structure of our government. But we should. It matters, deeply.

Our founders had many models, most of which were centralized or unitary states such as the England of their time. Their only contemporaneous republican model was the Dutch. So they improvised. There was much argument during the convention about the degree to which the government should be “national” (i.e., centralized) and given power to compel its members to obey it, as opposed to “federal,” with political power distributed widely among federal, state and local authorities. James Madison framed the problem of division of powers neatly near the convention’s beginning when he stated “… he had brought with him into the convention a strong bias in favor of an enumeration and definition of the powers necessary to be exercised by the national legislature …” but he doubted such limitations were practical. We now know they were, and that defining and limiting federal powers created the strong, free and prosperous nation we have enjoyed until now.

American federalism has many advantages. It allows states to learn from one another what works best or not at all. Prudent fiscal management, limited government and a welcoming attitude to business will create a prosperous state like Texas. Mandating that elderly people with COVID-19 be returned to their nursing homes to infect vulnerable populations therein will create slaughter, New York style. Taxing citizens until the pips squeak will cause a flight to less rapacious climes. Federalism allows adaptation to local environments, quicker response to crises, greater accountability of officials and, above all, makes it difficult to amass enough power to rule as a “tyrant,” easily among the founders’ greatest concerns.

These arguments were made eloquently in the Federalist Papers, particularly in No. 45, which is well worth rereading today. In it, Madison argues that “The state governments may be regarded as constituent and essential parts of the federal government; whilst the latter is nowise essential to the operation or organization of the former,” establishing the primacy of the states in his Constitutional view. Alas …

The progressive, or left-of-left wing of American politics, has for more than a century been working to make our federal government more “national,” that is, more centralized and powerful. Their excuses for this have been mostly of two flavors: “efficient response to a crisis” and “fairness.” We see both today in progressive arguments about COVID-19, including Biden’s promise to shut the country down again, regardless of disparate impact on the various states. He’ll do it because, well, everything just should be shut down until there’s a vaccine and the public is “safe.” It’s the science-of-the-month in service to politics, and it ignores the fact that New York and California are not Wyoming and South Dakota or even Colorado. Because that’s fair. Everyone should be equal — equally miserable and dependent on government — so that progressives, who are clearly smarter and better looking, may tell us all how to live our lives. For our own good.

That’s an argument Biden daren’t make out loud. But it’s the argument of a historical movement that exalts “expertise” and removes the power to make decisions from the public, from local and state governments, passing it to remote and unconcerned bureaucrats who don’t respect or even like “the people” very much. Consider Jonathan Gruber, one of the intellectuals behind Obamacare, who was very open about his belief that his bill passed only because the American people were too “stupid” to understand it. Yes, that was his word. You’re stupid.

Soon, the diligent efforts of progressives may give them their heart’s desire: a supreme central government that they control and an army of unelected Grubers who hold your future, and that of the country, in its hands. Like him, quite a lot of them don’t think much of America or of you.

Remember that when you vote. And act accordingly.

Morgan Liddick’s column “On Your Right” publishes Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Liddick spent 27 years working for the U.S. Foreign Service, primarily living abroad. He also spent 12 years teaching U.S. history and Western civilization at community colleges in Colorado and Texas. He lived in Summit County as recently as 2015. Contact him at

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