From the Editor: Gov. Cooper Should Say When North Carolina Reopens. Not Trump.

Courier Graphic by Tania Lili

By Billy Ball

April 14, 2020

Note: “From the Editor” pieces are commentaries written by Cardinal & Pine Managing Editor Billy Ball. For more of these commentaries, click here.

It turns out that all it takes to make states’ rights devotees out of the liberals is Donald Trump.

If a knee jerk reaction had arms and legs and a mouth, it would be President Donald Trump, who declared himself, not the states, to be the ultimate authority on when Americans will resume their normal lives. 

“For the purpose of creating conflict and confusion,” Trump tweeted Monday, “some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors (sic) decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government. Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect….”

If only D.C. had a stay-at-home order that banished the president to his residence, far away from any lingering microphones. 

With states, including North Carolina, mulling how long they’ll maintain economy-killing social distancing policies, Trump wants us to believe the White House should make these choices. He did so in classic Trump form: stridently, unilaterally, and with minimum thought.  

On Monday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper told reporters he expects the federal government will ultimately defer to the states, as the feds have been for weeks, in setting state coronavirus policies. Other governors were less demure.

“We don’t have a king, we have a president,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday, warning of a “constitutional crisis” should the president attempt to open Cuomo’s coronavirus-battered state against his will.  

North Carolina has fared better than some in minimizing the toll of COVID-19, but it remains —as it should — under Cooper’s stay-at-home order until the end of April. Indeed, it seems likely the governor will extend the directive into May, no matter the fluctuations of a fickle president and the pressure from groups who bemoan the commercial costs of our strict social distancing guidelines but do so at the cost of human life.

“It is the states and their local governments who should make these life-and-death decisions because it is nearly impossible to imagine a president more ill-suited to the role than Trump,  based on his administration’s mercurial coronavirus response thus far. It is the states—not the D.C. politicos, drunk and engorged on campaign spew—who feel these losses most keenly.”

Medical researchers told state leaders last week that lifting the stay-at-home order as soon as the end of April could triple infections and double the chances of an overwhelmed health care system in North Carolina. It is, as the governor said Monday, a ruinous scenario.  

And, given Cooper’s thoughtful course to this point, it is unimaginable he would risk the lives of North Carolinians in such a heedless manner. 

North Carolina, and its governor, Roy Cooper, should set their own coronavirus course, regardless of Trump. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

It is the states and their local governments who should make these life-and-death decisions because it is nearly impossible to imagine a president more ill-suited to the role than Trump,  based on his administration’s mercurial coronavirus response thus far. It is the states—not the D.C. politicos, drunk and engorged on campaign spew—who feel these losses most keenly.  

Trump makes a plea not to the head but to the heart. Because we all want to return to our lives. Last night, my six-year-old cried herself to sleep because she misses her friends at school. All of us ache in ways we might not have ever imagined.

But all the bullish braggadocio in the world will not make coronavirus dissipate as quickly as it came. The cost of our economy is slight compared to the nightmarish scenario in which millions of Americans are taken by the virus.  

A president’s powers are limited by their support in Congress, in the Senate, in the courts, in the statehouse and of course by the people. Indeed, the final version of Barack Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, a beneficial act that still has its own potholes, is a testament to how often a president must compromise or defer—concepts that seem foreign to our president.

As the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported, more than 1,500 Americans died yesterday. In North Carolina, 22 people died. To this point, it’s killed 108 North Carolinians and more than 23,000 Americans, the most of any country in the world. Yet the virus, we believe, is peaking. 

And there is reason to believe that North Carolina’s sacrifices have not been in vain. The state’s reported infections and deaths, even if they are an undercount, are far better than the initial projections made by researchers at the Univ. of Washington.

Still, Cooper warned Monday that “complacency” could be deadly to North Carolinians. 

Call it complacency, call it confusion in D.C., but these new pronouncements from the president are dangerous too. 

What Trump doesn’t understand is human nature. He may envision a rip roaring fantasy of a resurgent, churning America, undeterred by the worldwide pandemic, a hemi-powered stallion galloping on the American plain. But like most of his visions, they exist in his head and even there they are fleeting, transient things, hardly even vapor trails. 

Trump once promised zero coronavirus casualties in the US. He once boasted that the country would be fully reopened by Easter. But the US now counts the most COVID-19 cases and deaths in the world. And the virus is only now peaking in the country, with many states facing coronavirus seclusion into the summer months. 

“The only thing that will reanimate our economy, that will embolden our citizens, is coronavirus’ waning or the delivery of a vaccine. The former is likely to occur sooner than the latter. Gov. Cooper and the people of North Carolina acknowledged this bitter reality weeks ago. So too should the President of the United States.”

Americans will make choices based on what is best for themselves and their families. And if large gatherings endanger those families, as the medical experts insist, people will stay away. As they should.

We ask of our leaders that they give us hope and stability, not delusions. We ask that they do their level best to keep their people safe. And in the absence of a president doing this, it falls to governors and to state legislatures and to city and town councils. 

Trump prides himself on demolishing precedent, but on this, the matter of checks and balances, Donald Trump will be as subservient as all the presidents that came before him.

The only thing that will reanimate our economy, that will embolden our citizens, is coronavirus’ waning or the delivery of a vaccine. The former is likely to occur sooner than the latter.

Gov. Cooper and the people of North Carolina acknowledged this bitter reality weeks ago. So too should the President of the United States.

“The safety and the vitality of the American people is the true supremacy clause.”

Trump misunderstands the Constitution, which does not grant him the authority he imagines. And he misunderstands the people. The restaurants, the schools, the parks, the playing fields, the halls of government—they all depend on people to animate them.

You can issue all the Tweets. Force reporters to stomach your campaign propaganda. You can even appoint Jared Kushner to every panel. (The president was reportedly considering his son-in-law for a re-opening committee until he shot that down Monday night).

But squishy ideas about federal and state authority matter precious little if Americans are not safe. 

The safety and the vitality of the American people is the true supremacy clause.

Author

  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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