Today President Trump's authoritarianism reached a peak when he said at the White House coronavirus briefing that his authority is total. This was in reference to his supposed ability to order states to relax their stay-at-home and physical distancing orders.
“The president of the United States calls the shots,” he said at his evening news briefing. “They can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States.”
Asked what provisions of the Constitution gave him the power to override the states if they wanted to remain closed, he said, “Numerous provisions,” without naming any. “When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total.”
Well, I'm eager to learn how all the conservatives who champion states rights will react to this extremely dubious interpretation of the constitution, which gives a lot of power to states, including when it comes to public health.
Twenty years ago Charlton Heston warned of government overreach when he said at a NRA (National Rifle Association) speech:
"So, as we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed, and especially for you, Mr. Gore: 'From my cold, dead hands.'"
Mr. President, that's exactly how I feel about your absurd attempt to determine how Oregon should respond to the coronavirus crisis. Our governor, Kate Brown, has issued an executive Stay Home, Save Lives order. It's working well, and it needs to remain in place until, according to Brown, Oregon has ten days without a COVID-19 death.
There's no way that I, along with most other Oregonians, would patronize a business that chooses to ignore the governor's order if it is more restrictive than whatever plan for reopening our state's economy Trump comes up with. So Trump needs to understand that most Americans trust our local leaders a heck of a lot more than the would-be dictator who currently inhabits the White House.
It's beyond absurd that while Trump has been saying for weeks that it is up to each state to determine how it will deal with the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to stay-at-home orders in most states, Trump now is claiming that he has the sole authority to rescind or alter those orders even though he had nothing to do with putting them in place.
My wife and I live in a rural area about five miles from the Salem city limits. That isn't far geographically, but it is a light year politically from the mostly liberal capital city of Oregon.
We regularly are treated to the sound of loud gunshots as some of our mostly conservative neighbors do some target practicing. They aren't shy about saying that they want to be ready when either social breakdown occurs as a result of the coronavirus crisis and urban hordes descend upon us country folk, or when the black helicopters arrive from the United Nations or a Democratic president to take away their guns.
But it turns out that the biggest threat to our freedom is coming from a Republican president who wrongly believes that the president can do whatever they want.
Imagine what would happen if somehow, against all odds, Trump was to succeed in getting the Supreme Court to agree that, as Trump argued today, the president's authority is total. Meaning, there are no curbs on it. None. Zilch. Nada. This would mean that a President Biden could do whatever he wanted to combat global warming, reduce gun deaths, or deal with any other emergency that was declared from the Oval Office.
I can guarantee that Fox News would have a total freak-out, along with other right-wing organizations and leaders. So that's why I'm intensely interested in how conservatives are going to respond to Trump's assertion that there are no limits on what a president can do.
Sure, Trump has been acting as if this was the case -- ignoring subpoenas from Congress, bashing reporters who dare to ask probing questions, and in so many other ways trashing the norms of how a president should behave in a constitutional democracy. Today, though, Trump explicitly stated that he can do whatever he wants.
And when a reporter asked Vice President Pence if he agreed that this was the case, Pence stood in front of the microphone and said the powers of the presidency are “unquestionably plenary”. In other words, absolute.
This should scare all Americans, liberal, conservative, everybody. A bit of good news is that a story in the Washington Examiner, a conservative newspaper, took issue with Trump's bizarre interpretation of the Constitution.
Contrary to what President Trump seems to think, he does not have the authority to dictate when and how individual states reopen as the threat posed by the coronavirus diminishes. Nor should he want it.
This assertion — that only Trump can decide the question of reopening — is obviously wrong, as anyone remotely familiar with the U.S. Constitution and the principles of federalism understands. Only the individual governors can decide when their states will begin to reopen, and only they can determine what that process will look like.
...Whatever plan Trump does roll out must be specific, and it must be respectful of the states. He cannot rule by fiat, and a pandemic does not change that.