Liberals demand federal coronavirus crackdown from president they want to impeach

We're all going to be spending a lot more time on the internet as long as the informal COVID-19 sequestration remains in place.  That means that our unoccupied attention will be subject to more inane opinions than normal, but hey, at least irascible Joe Biden gets a break from buffaloing inquisitive voters and threatening to give them the back of his liver-spotted hand.

As Netflix stock rises and Charmin Ultra Soft supplies run low, some public officials are using the forced downtime to excrete whatever thought forms in their woolgathering state.  Most are shtuss; some are inadvertently insightful.

Take liberal senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.  Like most youngish elected officials (the senator is a spry 46), Murphy is active on social media, particularly Twitter.  And like most Twitter habitués, he has a talent for sticking his cap-toed foot in his mouth.

Good Democrat janissary that he is, Murphy is spewing plenty of brickbat over President Trump's handling of the coronavirus.  But he's also made a trenchant observation about American life.  "Why have an executive branch if it isn't willing lead [sic] at a time like this?"  Murphy asked, betraying that his entire constitutional knowledge comes from cable-TV political dramas.  "All of these decisions to cancel events, close schools or postpone opening days have been made by state, local and private sector leaders," he observed before bleating, "Why is everyone else leading, except for our President?"

Murphy's broadside probably warms the cockles of his partisan fanbase, but, like most progressive constitutional rumination, it misses the point of that dusty piece of parchment he swore an oath to.  It also misses much stare decisis already established by the Supreme Court.

If Harry Truman couldn't nationalize the steel industry, President Trump can't unilaterally close every business in America or mandate telework.  He lacks the constitutional authority, especially without the mass mobilization of industry for war.

As a U.S. senator, Chris Murphy should appreciate such de jure constraint — even more so as an outspoken rabble-rouser in the oppositional party.  Murphy was an aggressive proponent of impeaching the president; now he wishes that the same threat to the republic be endowed with dictatorial powers.

Cognitive dissonance aside, Murphy hits on a unique aspect of America.  While other countries roiled by the coronavirus have taken federalized action to effectively shutter business and schools, it is state governments and localities, in conjunction with the private sector, that are closing down voluntarily.  "Something extremely American about the fact that while other countries have organized top-down solutions to the coronavirus, the US private sector is showing leadership by converging on social distancing while our executive branch dithers, dissembles, and blames the media," tweeted Derek Thompson of The Atlantic, with an obligatory knock on the administration.  He later called the lack of action indicative of a "failed state."

Muckraker Sam Stein of The Daily Beast also took notice: "I'm not the first person to make this observation but it truly is remarkable the degree to which local and state officials as well as private entities and businesses are making these massive public health policy decisions while the feds seem to be moving much more slowly."  Yes, it's really "remarkable" that a country founded on decentralized power still exercises its civil society muscles in trying times.

Even Pete Buttigieg, the erstwhile mayor of South Bend, Indiana and winner of the Iowa presidential caucus, put his Rhodes scholar Bildung to use in uncovering federalism in action: "we're seeing mayors, governors, and unsung state and local officials leading on the front lines."

The collective efforts at softening the blow of a quickly spreading disease have been impressive.  Even the deleterious financial effects on the economically vulnerable — wage workers, servers, event staff — are being mitigated thanks to the generosity of flush investors.  Multiple NBA team owners have footed the bill to cover the lost earnings of arena workers.

Streaming services and music venues are offering free entertainment for those feeling a bit stir-crazy.  For the young and bored, Disney Plus is releasing Frozen 2 three months ahead of schedule; for the older and more cultured, the Berlin Philharmonic is livestreaming performances free for thirty days.

There's a chance that this abundance of caution, this mass quarantining and deceleration of commercial activity, is unnecessary.  To use Donald Rumsfeld's formulation, there are too many unknown unknowns to this virus.  Better to be safe than sorry, even if the widespread anxiety of human gathering has eerie shades of Susan Sontag's seminal short story "The Way We Live Now."

To the media, the Trump administration either remains ten steps behind the mounting crisis or is stepping far outside legal bounds with its aggressive approach.  The American press will always be a hostile agent to an un-progressive president.  Fortunately, the rest of the country, from big business to the smallest municipal government to the solitary munificent individual, is coping with possible contagion without directives from on high.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

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