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The Pandemic's Toll on Federalism

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The federal system of the United States began to fray at the seams as California met the virus threat by adopting its own unique policies that saw lock downs
The federal system of the United States began to fray at the seams as California met the virus threat by adopting its own unique policies that saw lock downs
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The coronavirus pandemic has had a deadly toll on the world's population. However, the pandemic has also seen another, collateral, victim. Various forms of federations, where a central executive should provide an equal safety and health umbrella over all of the constituent parts of the federal entity, have seen the centers shirk their responsibilities and either failed to act for the nation as a whole or played favorites with certain member constituencies. Two of the most egregious failures of federal structures during the pandemic have been two countries led by megalomaniac far-right conspiracy-believing presidents, namely, the United States and Brazil.

It is no surprise that in the midst of the pandemic, U.S. president Donald Trump and Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro were partying at Trump's Mar-a-Lago billionaire's club in Palm Beach, Florida. What neither they nor the staffs realized is that Mar-a-Lago was on the verge of becoming a coronavirus hot zone. Several members of Bolsonaro's delegation, including his press secretary, were diagnosed as COVID-10 positive. The deadly virus also infected one of Trump's guests, the Republican mayor of Miami, Florida, Francis Suarez, had also tested positive. The U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Palm Beach resident and fashion executive Lana Marks, may have infected the staff of the U.S. embassy in Pretoria and a visiting U.S. naval vessel in South Africa after having had close contact with a coronavirus positive individual at Mar-a-Lago.

Bolsonaro and Trump spent most of their time together in Mar-a-Lago doubting the veracity of scientific and news reports on the contagiousness of the virus and its rapid global spread. It was this lackadaisical attitude that resulted in states in their respective federal republics deciding the leadership at the top of their respective nations was so wanting, they decided to take resolute actions on their own. States join a federation because they decide that the central government can provide for common needs like national security, foreign affairs, monetary policy, finances, and other functions, thus freeing the states to be concerned with more immediate issues like education, public health, social welfare, local government, and other areas.

Trump's casting off federal concerns for hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, both U.S. territories, in the wake of two devastating storms in 2017 should have been a wakeup call to the states that Trump's brand of libertarian cronyism would have a future negative impact on the states. Trump's ineptness became a nightmarish reality as the coronavirus swept from Asia initially into the states of Washington, California, and New York. Trump resorted to taunting the Democratic governors of the three states with childish names as they were left to deal with the virus without any clear signs of support from the Republican White House and U.S. Senate.

The federal system of the United States began to fray at the seams as California met the virus threat by adopting its own unique policies that saw lock downs first in the San Francisco Bay area followed by the entire state. Washington's governor had previously locked down his state and, soon, New York state followed suit.

Without any clear leadership from the Trump White House, the makings of a new regional political entity coordinating its quarantine and other health policies began to take shape in the northeastern United States. The governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, all Democrats, created their own ad hoc alliance to establish common policy on quarantines, travel, business closures, as well as shared resources in combating the coronavirus. It has been the case that in time of war and other catastrophic events, new nation-states have been born out of necessity. Thusly, New York governor Andrew Cuomo became the de facto leader of this new political alliance of states, which can be called "Midatlantica" for purposes of brevity. Cuomo, realizing that the White House was incapable of acting responsibly, said, "We are literally scouring the globe looking for medical supplies," a foreign policy action usually carried out by central governments. Previously, California, Oregon, and Washington had coordinated their responses to Trump policies, including environmental decisions, that the three Democratic state governors felt were harmful to their states.

On March 22, Trump lashed out at the complaining governors in a tweet: "JB Pritzker, Governor of Illinois, and a very small group of certain other Governors, together with Fake News CNN and Concast MSDNC [sic] (which is Comcast MS-NBC), shouldn't be blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings." The die was cast, the federal republic of the United States was on life support, thanks to the dithering incompetence of the Trump administration. As Americans began dying in large numbers, Trump, like Roman emperor Nero with his lye as Rome burned, tweeted.

As the coronavirus began making a further impact on the United States, Hawaii announced restrictions on travel to the formerly independent Polynesian kingdom by non-residents of the island chain. Arriving visitors were ordered to quarantine in their hotels for 14 days, which effectively stemmed the flow of tourist traffic to a trickle. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis a pro-Trump sycophant decided to delay taking concrete action to deal with the virus's spread. That resulted in the Florida Keys, known socio-economically as the "Conch Republic," to close off their islands to non-residents, except for certain limited reasons. As Florida hospitals began to feel the stress of COVID-19 patients in their emergency rooms and intensive care units, DeSantis decided it was the right time to present Florida Republican House Speaker Jose Oliva with a baseball bat with the currently insensitive inscription, "Slayer of the healthcare industrial complex."

On March 11, DeSantis requested the federal government to provide Florida with personal protection equipment for the state's medical workers. Trump provided all the material that was requested. Other states, including those of the emergent region of Midatlantica, Illinois, and the West Coast, received only a minute portion of requested supplies and equipment, another dagger into the heart of the U.S. federal system. The "Miami Herald" reported that DeSantis's televised comments on the pandemic as a "rambling, incoherent monologue that went on for too long." The same holds true for Trump's press briefings.

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