That’s not true. Trump is the most powerful figure in the U.S. coronavirus response, and a large swath of the country supports him and will stand by him no matter what. His voice certainly plays a role in how seriously all Americans treat social distancing.
But experts say he alone can’t push Americans back to work and restart the economy. That’s for three reasons:
1. Governors are the ones ordering people to stay at home. All but eight states are under stay-at-home orders, and Trump said earlier that states should be given some flexibility in whether there should be a statewide shutdown. Even Republican governors, such as Greg Abbott in Texas, aren’t inclined to open up their economies. “If the goal is to get the economy going, the best thing we can do to get the economy going is to get covid-19 behind us,” he said.
Trump doesn’t have the authority to make these governors do anything differently. As University of California at Davis law professor Elizabeth Joh wrote for Politico Magazine last week, the Supreme Court has long established precedent that states have the right to control their economies in the name of public health: “A community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members,” she says the court wrote in 1905. “There is no ‘Go Back To Work Law,’” she tweeted Tuesday.
States are bolstered by the 10th Amendment of the Constitution, which grants them “police power” to protect the health and safety of their residents. That means states can “establish and enforce laws protecting the welfare, safety, and health of the public,” separate from the federal government, according to Cornell Law School.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who chairs the National Governors Association, on CNN last month resisted the idea of opening up his state’s economy anytime soon, saying: “We’re just trying to take the best advice we can from the scientists and all of the experts and making the decisions that we believe are necessary for our states. We don’t think that we’re going to be in any way ready to be out of this in five or six days or so.”
2. In many states, schools are closed. So are day-care centers and shops. Even if people want to get back to work, a lot wouldn’t be able to. Parents wouldn’t have child care, and governors in a number of states have ordered nonessential businesses closed, so workers in, say, a boutique wouldn’t be able to go back to work.
3. Trump’s request that people avoid groups of more than 10 was just that — a request. He made the social distancing request at the advice of health experts for a period that extends through April 30. This was never a rule or law, just guidelines.
Relaxing those guidelines will almost certainly lead to more people gathering in open spaces, perhaps in churches or bars and restaurants and beaches. If the president of the United States is okay with larger gatherings, why should they avoid them? But in a growing number of states, that will put them in direct conflict with local officials who urge them not to crowd.
Some are even policing it: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) required anyone coming into the state from New York or New Jersey to be quarantined for 14 days (to avoid the New York-to-Florida virus pipeline). New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) directed New York City to stop people from gathering in parks. Under the 10th Amendment, they can do that regardless of what Trump says.