The American King and the “Tiger King”

President Donald Trump has boasted about the big television ratings for his daily press briefings on the coronavirus, but he should keep in mind that “Tiger King” is the biggest hit right now on Netflix, and arguably for the same reasons. Both shows have a captive audience at the moment, and both are such bizarre spectacles that it’s hard to look away.
The press briefings always feature plenty of exaggerated self-congratulations — on Monday he said “Everything we did was right” — along with plenty of finger pointing at past administrations and Democratic governors and congressman to explain any problems, as well as insults to the “fake news” media and always a slew of statements that are easily proved false. Another highlight of Monday’s episode was Trump’s claim that he has “total authority as president” to rescind any state’s stay-at-home orders and business closings, which most constitutional scholars say is not true.
Trump couldn’t cite anything in the Constitution or federal law that gives him such authority, but offered to provide a brief at some point. When asked what his administration had done to prevent shortages of medical equipment or mitigate the spread of the virus in the month of February he angrily replied “We did a lot,” and although he couldn’t point to anything in particular he promised to provide a list at some point. In both cases we don’t expect the information will be coming anytime soon.
Several Democratic governors in populous states and a few Republicans in states more sparsely populated but hard-hit by the virus have indicated they don’t agree that Trump has the authority to rescind their public health measures, and will defy any attempt to open their states before their experts think it safe. Trump warned that any governor who defies him will pay a price in their next election, but in most cases the governors are far more popular than Trump, whose handling of the crisis is likely to be a severe liability in his reelection campaign, especially if there’s a spike in infections and fatalities after issuing an all-clear order.
Conservatism used to be a political philosophy that sought to conserve such time-tested traditions as limits on executive power and allowing a great deal of autonomy to the states according to the 10th Amendment, but these newfangled conservatives seem to believe only in complete fealty to Trump. Even if Trump somehow prevails in a packed Supreme Court, he won’t be able to order businesses to risk the health of their workers by reopening too soon, or to order private citizens to leave their homes and go on a shopping spree, and if he tries to that might be a step too far away from traditional conservatism for even some of the most die-hard fans.
We certainly hope so, as we want to see as many Americans as possible survive this plague, and we’d like to see some of those time-tested constitutional traditions survive as well.

— Bud Norman

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