Can America Cope?

David, Helen and Gary Gerstle discuss the impact of the pandemic on the fundamentals of American politics. What have we discovered about the strengths and weaknesses of the federal system? Are the states capable of learning from each other? What part will the Supreme Court play? And can the Democrats really persist with Biden? Plus we ask who has the 'police power' and what it means to use it.

Talking Points: 

In the US, the experience of this crisis differs significantly from state to state.

  • For the first 100 years of US history, the power to address epidemics was exclusively in the hands of the states.
  • In the second half of the 20th century, the federal government acquired more power, including the power to deal with epidemics.
  • The National Public Health Service Act of 1944 vested the US government with the right to impose a national quarantine. (This power has never been utilized.)
  • But in the last 30 years, Republicans have been attacking federal power as illegitimate. 
  • In this moment of crisis, governors have been thrown back on their own resources. This has led to chaos and inefficiency. 

Political polarization is playing a role in how states respond to the crisis.

  • The states that have been most resistant to implementing shelter in place measures all have Republican governors.
  • There is also the question of where people are getting their news.
  • Outcomes are going to vary by state.

Capability is another big question.

  • Individual states can’t handle this alone, but the systematic hollowing out of the central state means that the government doesn’t have the capacity that it used to.

What are the politics of this?

  • Will it help or hurt Trump’s chances of reelection?
  • A federal response will require bipartisan cooperation.
  • One area of potential bipartisan consensus is China and the revitalization of domestic manufacturing. 
  • Biden is now the presumptive Democratic nominee. 

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