Coronavirus and its Relationship to Federalism
The Coronavirus Pandemic in Political Context
We are now into the ninth month since the Coronavirus broke out to Wuhan, China. While China has now lifted its lock down with no new cases of Corona, the number of cases in the United States continues to climb. The Federal Government has taken a number of different positions on the origins and severity of the virus which the World Health Organization is now calling a pandemic.
In our study of State and local government, the biggest issue is how the states address the needs of the people of the state. In the American system of government, there are two equal jurisdictions of government: Federal and State. These two jurisdictions were designed to be equal, but the Civil War from 1861-1865 determined that they were not really equal because if any state or group of states decided it wanted to leave (secede from) the United States, it could not do that without a war. When the Southern States formed a new country called the Confederate States of America, the Northern States said, OK, if you don’t come back into the union, we’ll have to force you. What followed was the bloodiest war ever fought in the United States.
Since that time, the balance of power really lies with the federal government, although the federal government would like states to pay for as much as it can to relief the financial burden on the federal system. That means there is a constant dispute about who is going to pay for what. This is where the Coronavirus crisis comes into the discussion. A good example is in New York where the Governor has said repeatedly to the President of the United States: We cannot afford for all these necessary items to fight the Coronavirus: Masks, Ventilators, Hospital space. You, the federal government, have more resources, including the armed forces and the ability to tax and raise revenue, than we do on the state level. And the President said was: We’re not a shipping agent, the states have to do more for themselves.
This ttug-of-war over resources and obligations has gone on for years in the United States and is contentious even in good times. In the event of a national crisis such as the Great Depression in the 1930s or the Second World War in the 1940s, one side, the federal government in Washington, D.C. took charge and handled the distribution of goods and services from command centers in the White House and in federal agencies and offices. The government issued directives and demands on the population to follow the lead of the government to meet the needs of the crisis. In World War II, food was rationed and strict guidelines were issued on what and on much people could buy and use. No one questioned the orders because they were needed to fight the war. The global pandemic has been compared to a war, even by the President. The issue becomes what is being done to confront this enemy. It has beome a major battlefield between the two jurisdictions–federal and state. Please keep this in mind as you answer the discussion questions.