US federalism and COVID-19
OFF TANGENT - Aven Piramide (The Freeman) - March 26, 2020 - 12:00am

The minds of profound thinkers helped in the early organization of governments. Let me talk of two. There was French Judge and political philosopher popularly known as Montesquieu who was the leading light in the classification of governments. The constitutional law concept of separation of powers was mainly attributed to him. As we apply this principle in our constitution, the three main departments namely the executive, the legislature and the judiciary are invested with separate powers but they are co-equal and independent of each other. When Montesquieu visited the United States of America, he reduced to writings, his observation on the evolving American governance. There was also Bragdon who commented on the supposed misreading of Montesquieu. The American constitution was the biggest beneficiary of the various thoughts of the great thinkers of the past. Federalism is the favored kind of government.

The other day, while watching an international cable news channel, I discerned from the discussions of intellectuals, probably lesser lights compared to Montesquieu and Bragdon, a seemingly imperceptible flaw of the constitution of the United States of America. A former head of the Department of Homeland Security (HDS) (unfortunately, I failed to jot down his name) revealed that the US has the capability to deploy overnight its totality of forces throughout America to defend their country. Overnight was the word he used to emphasize his point. Meaning, within that very short period of hours, full complements of soldiers, engineers and medics, among others and their equipment can be assigned wherever needed in every part of American territory. According to him, the constitutional authority to give that kind of marching order, with the act being in defense of the federal government, is the president. He, in effect, said that if American President Donald Trump, orders the deployment of is HDS forces, the US has the capability to meet COVID-19.

 Then, appeared the president. Trump said that the state governors are “in command”. Meeting the COVID crisis is, apparently in the mind of the president, not a federal concern, maybe because the kind of defense needed is not military. The fight against the pandemic is within the authority of the individual states. The federal government is only supportive of the efforts of each state. In that presidential pronouncement, he left the burden on the shoulders of the Andrew Mark Cuomo, New York and Gavin Christopher Newsom, California. These are the states hardest hit by the Corona virus.

The American president has since been besieged by harsh criticisms. His reliance upon the governors in fighting the pandemic is, to the critics, an abdication of responsibility specially that various states have different levels of capabilities. All presidential bashers, most of them Democrats, probably feel that it is within the constitutional competence and jurisdiction of the president to call the HDS forces to meet the horrific threat of the Corona virus. If true, Trump is guilty of breach of his constitutional duty. But, defenders of the president point, presumably correctly, to the letter of their constitution that ties his hands. These contrasting thoughts indicate a possible flaw of the US Federal constitution.

I point this apparent impasse in the American scene, in light of the movement of fellow countrymen for the adoption of a federal form of government. Perhaps, when this COVID storm has finally blown over, and efforts to tinker with our constitution begin, brilliant people will take note of this disturbing American scenario.

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