The crack-up

Overlooked amidst the noise, but still significant: New Jersey and New York visitors to Florida must now go through a fourteen-day quarantine before entering the state. This decision was made by the governor of Florida, who has been criticized for his refusal to close the beaches. Yesterday’s order felt like a compensatory move — a restriction on free travel that is probably going to require a state border control to enforce.

Closing the barn door once the horse is long gone seems like a very Trumpy thing to do, and Ron DeSantis is indeed among the Trumpiest of governors. So it’s noteworthy that DeSantis’s suspension of Schengen Americana came after the federal government opted not to put limitations on domestic travel. DeSantis did not take his cue from the White House. He acted on his own.

As the crisis worsens, governors and mayors have grabbed for the yoke. They’ve finally decided to drop the charade and treat the President like the bystander he is. This adjustment was a long time coming, and it took a worldwide lockdown to make it crystal clear. Now that it is, it’s hard to see how the White House will ever reclaim any of the authority or credibility it has thrown away. Every time Trump takes the podium and gives another one of his rambling press conferences, he delights his fans but digs himself, and the office of the Presidency, a deeper hole.

Much has been made of his regrettable suggestion that we reopen businesses, return to work, and throw the weakest among us into the volcano for the sake of the stock market. That is just the sort of attitude we’ve come to expect of him, and the outrage he’s engendered among those of us who aren’t greedy psychopaths is well-earned. But the open secret is that Trump isn’t going to re-launch anything — and that’s because Trump didn’t close anything. The governors of the states made those decisions. In the absence of intelligent national leadership, each state is going its own way.

Federal inaction may yet be the end of me. Governor Cuomo has made it clear that New York (and by extension New Jersey) needs tens of thousands of ventilators. The White House is either unable or unwilling to make a forceful move on behalf of Americans who need help. This, to me, is not just another expression of Trumpian cruelty. It’s also a tacit admission that the President has no idea how to put an idea into practice, and he’s exiled from his immediate circle anybody who does. He doesn’t know how to use the powers of his office. Governors have stepped into the leadership vacuum because they’ve been given no choice: either act with as much autonomy as possible, or suffer the brutal consequences of federal incompetence.

Americans tend to rally around the chief during times of crisis. In the middle of a disaster, it takes a special sort of leader to squander public goodwill. Unfortunately, we’ve got that sort of leader right now, and the public is adjusting accordingly. One of the astonishing things about the past few weeks is how quickly Cuomo, Newsom, Inslee, et. al. have been accepted by millions as de facto chief executives, and the President has been relegated to the role of a cranky, parsimonious uncle, without expertise or compassion, or statesmaship, nothing to recommend him other than control over a big fat wallet. Sentiment changes and the public is fickle, and it’s not hard to imagine Andrew Cuomo’s face dripping with egg in a week. For now, he appears to be acting — and in a crisis, action is everything.

Some version of America is going to struggle through this crisis. The country that emerges might not be the United States we recognize. Regardless of the outcome of the November elections, the virus has weakened the office of the Presidency, and made it clear to states and cities that when the sirens go off, they’ve got to take care of themselves. Revisionist history teaches us that there’s never a proper accounting of anything; I expect those with an interest in the maintenance of the regime to do whatever they can to make us forget about the weeks of inaction, and all the misinformation that came from the White House in February and early March. Somehow, I don’t think it’s going to be as easy as they expect it will be. The dust is going to settle on a looser confederacy.