Government in a Time of Uncertainty

As of today we have surpassed 20,000 deaths in the US from the coronavirus pandemic. Many people are asking why didn’t the President and National government do more. The answer to this question is simple. We don’t have a “National” government, we have a “Federal” government. For more than two hundred years we have debated this question; National versus Federal and while we have with the Civil War, The Great Depression and World War II moved closer to a National government we still maintain, in many matters, the sovereignty of the states. We are, after all, the United States of America not just “America” although many foreigners see us as such.

The Federal government does not license doctors or hospitals or lawyers or drivers of motor vehicles or food vendors or, well you get the picture; those activities are all licensed by the states and each state has different requirements based on its individual budget, demography and geography and such. Thus, if a hospital does not have sufficient supplies on hand to handle an emergency it is a state issue not a federal issue. Handling this emergency is more in the hands of the governors than the President but, in the past few decades, we have become conditioned to turning to the Federal government in times of major crisis. This began with Franklin Roosevelt and his social programs during the great depression, or so we are told, but in 1803 Congress passed a specific act allowing merchants in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to delay tariff payments because of a fire which destroyed almost the entire city. Then Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and declared martial law within the states in rebellion. And even before Roosevelt was elected President Hoover had established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to help banks finance loans during the early days of the great depression. So “National” activity in times of emergency or crisis was pretty much an Ad Hoc activity.

Yesterday the Attorney General noted that the prohibitions to gather being exercised by some local governmental entities may be unconstitutional. He is correct. There are direct violations of the First Amendment in refusing people the ability to congregate in a parking lot without leaving their vehicles. I can point to two right off the bat. Freedom of Religion and Freedom to Assemble. And here’s where we come to the purpose of this article. If you allow, in times of crisis, the ability of the government to arbitrarily violate the Constitution you have negated that which we hold dearest. But if you force the government to violate those protections by refusing to accept personal responsibility and discharge your duties as a member of the community then you endanger not only yourselves but others and, in truth, the entire covenant upon which the republic is based.

Thus, if authorities say it is better to remain inside and not associate with others and you ignore those guidelines then you rend the entire fabric of the society and it is you who is responsible for the stripping away of personal freedoms not the government, which is acting in the interest of the greater good. The republic is based on the idea that each individual will act in the interests of the common good even if it is depreciatory to his individual comfort. It is the social compact that underlies the guarantees of rights and freedoms of this society. Yes you have the right to peaceable assembly and to worship as you want but you also have the duty, as a citizen, to the society that provides you these rights. Perhaps we need more civics classes for our citizens. One: the majority of action for facing this crisis falls upon the states to provide relief. Two: by ignoring the requests of those lawful entities to stay off the streets the individual does harm to the republic and will set precedents for greater government intrusion into personal freedom.

I invite your comments.

One thought

  1. Well said. I am reminded of the old argument if the proper way to say was these Un ited States or the United States, the latter formulation suggesting a unified nation. I always preferred the former as an indication of our federalism, but it became too associated with State ‘s Rights”in a deny civil rights sense.

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