By Jordyn Carrido
Throughout this Chinese Virus tragedy there have been continuous complaints by Chapman University students and others that our federal government is failing and that the Trump administration is not doing enough to combat COVID-19. These critics act as if states are entirely dependent upon the federal government. In reality, the reason the federal government is not making nationwide regulations – or sweeping one-size-fits-all policies to take care of everyone – is because it is not supposed to. That is not the role of a federal government, nor is it permitted by our Constitution.
Having a federalist system means that power is divided between the federal (or centralized) government in Washington D.C. and each individual state. Both state and federal governments have roles enumerated in the Constitution specific to each entity. The different, centralized types of government now common in Europe are called “unitary governments,” wherein ultimate government authority is in a national or “consolidated” government. If this sounds familiar, it is because we fought an entire war to get rid of it in this country. The Revolutionary War was fought because colonists hated the fact that the British king and legislature got to pass laws on the colonists without any sort of check or balance from any other entity. Colonists wanted to make sure that their specific needs were taken into account (see, no taxation without representation). Sweeping, authoritarian policies that were effective in metropolitan London, were not effective nor accepted in the colonies, leading to the rebellion, the war, and the independence of the colonies from British rule.
Since the founders had come to an understanding that a top-down, unitary government simply was not going to work for them, they decided to go the other way on the power scale. Applying the same concept that different geographic areas have different needs, the founders created states so that the government of Delaware could do what is best for its respective citizens, Virginia could do what’s best for Virginians, and so on and so forth. Thus, the 13 colonies became the first 13 States of America.
For a time, each state operated as its own de facto sovereign government, under the Articles of Confederation. The government these articles established was a voluntary association of independent states, formed out of the original Continental Congress, that retained almost all of their own power, which caused a lot of dysfunction because each state had its own laws and there was no strong centralized government to keep them all in line or to force them to work together for the benefit of the collective. After Madison and the other founders finished the final draft of the Constitution, the weak government that existed under the Articles of Confederation was replaced in favor of the federal system we still live under today. In this system, each state has its own unique constitution and laws. At the same time, states are held together and held accountable by our federal government in Washington D.C.
Our country is too big and too diverse to be able to follow the rule of one government that does not take into account the inherent differences between states like Nebraska and California. It simply will not work. That is why it is so ludicrous for people to say that the federal government is not making this state or that state do one thing or another. It is not supposed to. It is because republican governments, being based upon the balancing of different interest groups to ensure no one group can dictate to the others, is tied into how a federalised expression of republicanism cannot dictate how to respond to the virus without undermining its very legitimacy. The federal government should be concerning itself only with issues bigger than what the states may be able to handle, like controlling ports of entry as well as leading the charge to develop a vaccine. Local officials know best what their local communities need. And, it is much easier for local citizens to hold their local officials accountable for their good or bad decisions than it is to hold Washington D.C. bureaucrats accountable.
Especially in this time of international crisis, the steps that an epicenter like New York (27,000 people per square mile) needs to take to mitigate risk and save lives are vastly different than what a state like North Dakota (11 people per square mile) needs to do to care for their citizens. So please, stop asking the president and the federal government to decide what is best for the states. The federal government is not supposed to, and if it did, then it would set a dangerous precedent that challenges the foundations upon which this country was built. If you want President Trump to order citizens to stay at home, to close businesses he deems “unnecessary,” and to take over the supply chain; then what you want is a dictator. Instead, ask your governors and state-level officials to step up and take care of their citizens as our Constitution compels them to. They are more likely to do it right anyway.
Jordyn Carrido is a senior at Chapman University. She is graduating in the fall semester with a B.S. in Business Administration.