Since there has been absolutely nothing even resembling consistent federal guidance on the coronavirus, states have been acting on their own. In many locations, counties and even cities have been forced to create their own rules to turn the vague discussion of “social distancing” into practical decisions. Should schools be closed? What constitutes an essential business? Should stores enact special periods for seniors? What has come from Donald Trump is nothing but a lot of talk about how great his response has been.
But now Trump is preparing to move. He has made it clear that he’s unhappy with the way that Americans’ stubborn desire to keep on breathing is affecting the numbers on his precious Dow. He declared that he wants to “reopen” the nation and get rid of those pesky social distancing rules so much that he never got around to making actual rules. And he’s sent a letter to the nation’s governors letting them know that he’ll take away their pesky problems of trying to protect the people of their state, and provide direction—right down to the county level.
Trump’s letter is, like everything from Trump, mostly about Trump. In fact, it begins not by talking about the actual crisis, but by saying: “As you know I published my” coronavirus guidelines. Somewhere out there is a nation and thousands of people in critical condition, but neither of those things allow Trump to say I, me, and my sufficiently.
According to Trump, his prescient actions are “already paying dividends.” That’s clearly true, since the U.S. now has more active cases of COVID-19 than Italy and China combined. Despite this wonderful triumph, Trump says he just knows that everyone wants to join him in hustling America back to “normal economic, social, and religious lives.”
So Trump is, at last, ready to issue policy guidelines to state and local authorities. Policy guidelines that are all about not shutting things down, but opening them up. Trump plans to classify each individual county as low, medium, or high risk. He doesn’t explicitly say that he will then lean on governors to open the nation on a county-by-county basis. He doesn’t explicitly say that governors who fail to follow these guidelines should think twice about asking for federal assistance. He doesn’t explicitly say that he expects cooperation … or else.
Of course, he doesn’t have to. Michael Cohen might have informed the nation about how they needed to listen to what Trump doesn’t say as well as what he says, but no one could miss the message here.