by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Our president doesn’t have dictatorial powers, even in a national emergency. The president doesn’t have authority to shut down your local gin joint. Your state governor does have this power, in extraordinary circumstances. That so many governors have done so, often responding to popular demand for shutdowns, demonstrates America’s genuine practice of federalism — a system that is allowing us to respond to this crisis even faster than the states of Europe that have a more monarchical or centralized system of authority for a crisis.
One of the reasons federalism can act faster is that it allows decentralization. It is less politically risky to impose measures in one state than on an entire nation. You can respond where the hotspots are, rather than imposing costs evenly across an undifferentiated mass of the nation where the overall average risk may be low.
With regard to school shutdowns and other official social-distancing measures, little would be different today underneath a Democratic administration or a different Republican president. What is the difference between President Trump’s bloviating, and Governor Mike DeWine’s imposing restrictions in Ohio, and a hypothetical President Clinton’s having an advisory conference call with governors? Under a Democratic administration, we’d still have local school districts assessing their local circumstances and fretting over their decisions, as they should.