I Read the News Today
(written 10:30 a.m. Friday, March 20, 2020)
1. Is it 1786?
If you have been watching the daily Presidential briefings about the coronavirus crisis you may have noticed that our Chief Executive seems to have no understanding of a basic concept undergirding our Republic: Federalism. For those who may not have been paying attention during 11th grade United States History, you may not remember that during the American Revolution and the years immediately after our government organization was based on a document called the Articles of Confederation. Remember, our ancestors had waged a war against the English Monarchy. A monarchy, by its very nature, is a government which is strongly centralized --- in this case, with one person (and the national Parliament) calling the shots. The American Revolution was a response against strong centralized government (which, of course, was taxing the colonists without allowing them to have representatives). Our 13 original colonies had developed separately, each with a Colonial Governor and most with a Colonial Legislature (starting with the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1619). They were, then, used to operating as Independent Contractors and did not want some strong, centralized power overseeing their Local Colonial business. As a result, when they first organized their United States of America, their vision was a Confederacy.
A Confederation, by definition (from the Oxford Dictionaries) is:
an organization which consists of a number of parties or groups united in an alliance or league:
It was often described as a “firm league of friendship.” Under the Articles of Confederation (agreed to by the former Colonies) there would be a “central” government that had one representative from each state, NO Executive (king/president/prime minister), and, most importantly, NO power to TAX! In other words, it was a toothless government. Each new State could print its own money, pass its own laws, charge tariffs on goods coming from other states, etc. Think about Europe before the creation of the European Union (or even, for those of us who are older, The Common Market) and that’s what our original “United States” looked like.
It was not until the Revolution was over and the new nation had to operate as an independent nation that problems began to arise. As you might expect, money proved to be a problem. With no centralized system, and with the former colonies in debt to several foreign nations (who had helped us win the war vs. GB) financial pressure arose. There was also an issue with former Revolutionary soldiers who were owed back pay and, when the newly formed States began taxing their citizens, unrest among the citizenry was the result. Generally, an event referred to as Shays’ Rebellion ( in which citizens in Central Massachusetts, led by Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays, attacked the federal armory in Springfield, in protest against Massachusetts’s taxes on individuals and trades in the State) is often cited as the event that led to the convening of the Constitutional Convention and the creation of our present Federal Republic. The need for a strong, centralized system to deal with foreign diplomacy as well as an army were crises that demanded an immediate remedy. And that’s where we zoom ahead to 2020.
While various governors have “stepped up” to oversee how citizens cope with the coronavirus crisis there is a need for federal direction which is more than simply mailing out checks to suddenly unemployed workers. The disbanding of our national Pandemic Response Team (and the President claiming he is not responsible) is only one factor that is contributing to the haphazard handling of this crisis. While announcing he would invoke the Defense Production Act, Trump has not availed himself of a variety of private corporations who have volunteered to re-tool their businesses to produce PPEs and ventilators, for example. Trump, only looking for his Daily Headline to make himself the “hero” of the moment (and trying to rally the flailing Stock Market), seems not to understand how the Federal Government is supposed to LEAD in a National Crisis. While the States have been admirably led by their Governors, for the most part, we are operating as if we live under the Articles of Confederation which actually makes sense, given that Trump has been attacking the U.S. Constitution since his campaign. We can only hope that, somehow, advisors to this President impress upon him the need for Federal Action.
2. More and More Corruption
In case you somehow missed the news: Republican Senators Richard Burr (N.C.) and Kelly Loeffler (GA) both sold off millions of dollars in stock they had (in companies that would clearly be hurt by the coronavirus crisis) after a closed door briefing --- which they both came out of claiming the Administration was doing a stellar job handling the impending disaster. Loeffler sold off 27 stocks in mid-February (in companies that would be adversely affected by the virus) and bought stock in two tech companies (that would be positively affected), essentially capitalizing (to the tune of millions of dollars) by knowing information that was not available to the American public. Likewise, Burr and his wife sold $600,000 and $1.7 million of stock (33 transactions!) in late January and mid-February, just before the Market crashed. Burr asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate his actions today --- requesting transparency. It’s possible, of course, that Burr and Loeffler (and GA Senator Sonny Perdue, too) all innocently sold millions of dollars in stock after they knew about the impending crisis ---- and I’ve got a bridge to sell you if you believe that.
We’ve got Senators MAKING MONEY in the midst of a PANDEMIC – a HEALTH crisis. And there’s probably more of this crass capitalizing on the pain and grief of the nation to come. We’ll see.