Quid Pro Quo Federalism

This isn't how it is supposed to work.

President Donald J. Trump listens to a reporter's question during the coronavirus (COVID-19) update briefing Sunday, March 22, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)
President Donald J. Trump listens to a reporter’s question during the coronavirus (COVID-19) update briefing Sunday, March 22, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

From yesterday’s Aló Presidente:

There is an awful lot wrong in just this brief clip, and it is representative of a highly flawed approach to federalism that this president adheres to.

First, he is playing politics by pretending like the aid needed at the moment is somehow divisible between long-term mismanagement and Covid-19. As if when a state needs hurricane aid the federal government should be chastising states for their fiscal policy over the last quarter-century. This is all a rhetorical trick to allow the Republicans in the federal government (Trump, McConnell, and Nikki Haley* specifically) to put off needed aid and pretend like states should simply have planned better.

Second, the notion that there is an us v. them relationship between the federal government and the states (and that the states are trying to take what belongs to the federal government) is a gross misinterpretation of the systems. The federal government represents the collective population of the states. This is all us. This should all be we. A foundational reason for having the United States is that a central government was needed to address shared problems.

I am reminded of a memory from 4th grade wherein my teacher instructed us that it is the United States, not the Untied States. Trump appears to think it the latter. (It is funny the things that stick with you decades later).

Third, the notion that he, as president, could leverage aid to states in a crisis to make them capitulate to his personal policy preferences is a reflection of his transactional and, quite frankly, authoritarian character. It also has the stink of personalistic politics, like he owns federal aid in some way and it is at his pleasure it is distributed, but only to those who will bend to his will. This is not the kind of leadership we should expect, or deserve, from a President of the United States. A lot of Republican voters in these states need to open their eyes and realize that he is willing to do all he can to stop aid from coming to them, by dint of the fact that Trump doesn’t like their state’s policies.

I would note that Congress does have the authority to predicated aid on state actions, but such a move is the result of legislation not executive whim.

Of course, Trump’s predilection to treat government resources as his own for distribution is well known and oft-repeated. It was, after all, the basis of his impeachment. What we see in this current moment is more mafia Don than president of a country in crisis.

As a side note, I don’t think he even really understands what a sanctuary city is, or how it plays into federalism. In simple terms, it is about whether state and local officials are going to be engaged in federal law enforcement and affects things like how long a local authority will hold suspected immigration violators for ICE, among other factors. Some of it is clearly philosophical in nature as it pertains to immigration policy, but a lot of it is really about balancing the needs of local law enforcement and federal law enforcement. They are not the same (e.g., local law enforcement may rely on the cooperation of the undocumented when investigating crime, such as providing statements as witnesses, while the effects on local enforcement are not ICE’s concern).


*I realize Haley is not in the federal government at the moment, although I think it is clear she aspires to be again at some point. Her recent tweets on this matter fit my point, however, and provide cover to this kind of thing from Trump and McConnell (his “let them declare bankruptcy” nonsense, for example).

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Donald Trump, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    The pandemic has just made explicit the system that’s implicitly in place for several decades now: Republican states block any attempt for societal reform and then siphon money off of Democratic states to protect themselves from the consequences.

    One trend I’m hoping will accelerate is Democratic states forming regional agreements to work around the federal government.

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  2. Stormy Dragon says:

    The other irony here is that Trump’s reelection likely hinges on a revived economy that depends on Blue States recovering far more than Red States. His obsession with punishing Blue States is acting against his own interests, but his narcissism prevents him from seeing this.

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  3. Jon says:

    So by this logic it would be appropriate for a Democratic President to tell, say, Florida that in order for it to get relief it would have to scrap its Stand Your Ground law(s)?

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  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    No Tiny doesn’t understand Federalism. It would be news if Tiny didn’t take advantage of any opportunity to grift, otherwise…

    Drifting off topic.

    *I realize Haley is not in the federal government at the moment, although I think it is clear she aspires to be again at some point. Her recent tweets on this matter fit my point, however, and provide cover to this kind of thing from Trump and McConnell (his “let them declare bankruptcy” nonsense, for example).

    Haley got hoisted on her own petard a couple of weeks ago, when she tweeted support for the idea of states declaring bankruptcy and casting blame on the states for not being prepared. She was then showered with copies of her tweets begging for Federal assistance after a hurricane.

    If Haley were a smart pol, after leaving the UN, she should have done the hard work of building support among Rethug office seekers by assisting them with fund raising etc. Instead she chose to suck up to Tiny, for what? Does she believe that he will dump Pence and she could be the golden girl? Like everyone else who gets close to Tiny, their reputation turns to doo-doo.

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  5. JohnMcC says:

    I am reminded of the concept of federalism popular in the Hoover administration.

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  6. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    A lot of Republican voters in these states need to open their eyes and realize that he is willing to do all he can to stop aid from coming to them, by dint of the fact that Trump doesn’t like their state’s policies.

    Sadly, I suppose that it’s possible that because the people that you wish would open their eyes are Republican, they will actually agree with Trump’s position on Sanctuary Cities–which was the GOP position before Trump took his escalator ride, after all–and “realize” that although they may not like it, the situation of denying aid to their state is the fault of their Democratic governor and legislature and blame them rather than Trump for the loss.

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  7. reid says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: That’s my take on how it will play out, too.

    It’s really quite stunning how much stupidity, corruption, nepotism, etc., all wrapped in a bright red bow of hypocrisy, that Republicans are willing to accept. Nearly all of them.

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  8. Teve says:

    Stormy Dragon says:
    Wednesday, April 29, 2020 at 11:15
    The pandemic has just made explicit the system that’s implicitly in place for several decades now: Republican states block any attempt for societal reform and then siphon money off of Democratic states to protect themselves from the consequences.

    I don’t see why that situation should obtain forever.

  9. Kathy says:

    The day after the 2016 election, my reaction was “America commits suicide.”

    I wasn’t quite right, but another four years of this enabled moron, and the US will cease to exist in its present form. It might last past a second Trump term, but not much longer than that.

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  10. Stormy Dragon says:

    As if when a state needs hurricane aid the federal government should be chastising states for their fiscal policy over the last quarter-century.

    Well, when a Hurricane hits a southern (i.e. Republican) state, sure. But when, say, Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast/midatlantic, there was all kinds of pushback on the aid. Same on wildfire aid to California.

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  11. BArry says:

    @Sleeping Dog: “If Haley were a smart pol, after leaving the UN, she should have done the hard work of building support among Rethug office seekers by assisting them with fund raising etc. Instead she chose to suck up to Tiny, for what? Does she believe that he will dump Pence and she could be the golden girl? Like everyone else who gets close to Tiny, their reputation turns to doo-doo.”

    She’s delusional. In the end, she’s a non-white women, and The Base won’t tolerate that. She realized that being a decent, sane Republican wouldn’t work, and decided to join the mainstream.

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  12. DrDaveT says:

    There is an awful lot wrong in just this brief clip, and it is representative of a highly flawed approach to federalism that this president adheres to.

    It’s not a flawed approach to federalism. It’s a firm and practiced grasp of mobsterism. This is exactly how organized crime dons apportion favors.

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  13. mattbernius says:

    @BArry:

    In the end, she’s a non-white women, and The Base won’t tolerate that.

    They’ll tolerate is so long as she’s in lockstep and stays far away from the race issue. If she does that, then she remains the future face of the party.

    If she strays from that path, then she becomes the next Mia Love.

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  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @mattbernius: No matter what she does, she will never be anything but the future face of the party.

  15. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @BArry: Take my word for it, Tricky Nikki’s most conspicuous success has been climbing the career ladder. Her performance as governor was nothing to write home about.

  16. Barry says:

    @mattbernius: I think that they’ll tolerate her being one of the faces in the row *behind* the white men.