Is Trump’s Authority “Total” When It Comes to Reopening the Economy?

Trump Press Conference

Short answer: No.

Although he would obviously like it to be.

The Washington Post talked to some constitutional scholars.  Here is a taste of Meagan Flynn’s and Allyson Chiu’s piece:

When President Trump was asked during Monday’s news briefing what authority he has to reopen the country, he didn’t hesitate to answer. “I have the ultimate authority,” the president responded, cutting off the reporter who was speaking.

Trump later clarified his position further, telling reporters, “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total and that’s the way it’s got to be. … It’s total. The governors know that.”

The local leaders, Trump said, “can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States.”

Trump’s eyebrow-raising assertions about the reach of his office during national emergencies, which were also echoed by Vice President Pence at the briefing, came on the same day governors on both coasts announced their own plans to begin working toward reopening their states amid the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic.

While the president appears convinced he is the only one empowered to make the critical determination, his extraordinary assertions of authority over the states astounded legal scholars, leaving them wondering, as they have before about Trump’s broad claims, where on earth he got them.

“You won’t find that written in the Federalist Papers anywhere,” Robert Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Washington Post.

Not only does the power Trump asserted have no basis in reality, experts said, but it’s also completely antithetical to the Constitution, the concept of federalism and separation of powers — whether during a time of emergency or not.

“This isn’t ancient Rome where there’s a special law that says in the event of an emergency all the regular rules are thrown out the window and one person, whom they called the dictator, gets to make the rules for the duration of the emergency or for a period of time,” Chesney said. “We don’t have a system like that.”

On Twitter, Steve Vladeck, another professor at the University of Texas School of Law, rebutted Trump’s “authority is total” remark.

“Nope,” Vladeck wrote. “That would be the literal definition of a *totalitarian* government.”

Read the rest here.

Andrew Cuomo: No governor should watch Trump’s press conferences. They are “infuriating,” “offensive,” and “frankly ignorant of the facts.”

He is not “King Trump.” Watch:

We are now in a strange moment in our political history.  A Republican president with a constituency that values the 10th Amendment is claiming to have absolute power over the states.

Here is an revealing take on all of this from historian Seth Cotlar:

 

The Author’s Corner with Jeffrey Zvengrowski

Jefferson DavisJeffrey Zvengrowski is Assistant Editor of the Papers of  George Washington and Assistant Research Professor at the University of Virginia. This interview is based on his new book, Jefferson Davis, Napoleonic France, and the Nature of Confederate Ideology, 1815-1870 (LSU Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Jefferson Davis?

JZ: Even before beginning history graduate studies at the University of Virginia, I was intrigued by aspects of the American Civil War and particularly the Confederacy that I do not think any group or “school” of historians have adequately explained. If nearly all Confederates fervently stood for states’ rights, agriculturalism, and pro-slavery Protestantism, then why did the Confederacy feature such an intrusively powerful central government dedicated to industrialization? Only a handful of slaves ever entered Confederate service as soldiers, to be sure, but why did the Confederacy eventually decide to enlist slaves and promise them manumission? Why did the Confederate cabinet feature a Catholic (Stephen Mallory) and a Jew (Judah P. Benjamin)? And why did many Confederates so intensely hate Confederate president Jefferson Davis as well as Confederates who supported him?

I began reading through Davis’s documentary record to answer such questions in graduate school, and I expected to find that he and likeminded Confederates shared the same beliefs as their Confederate disparagers but were much more pragmatic than the Confederacy’s ideological hardliners. To my surprise, though, the Davis primary sources indicated to me that he and his supporters subscribed to an ideology very different from that of their vitriolic Confederate critics. I wrote my dissertation, “They Stood Like the Old Guard of Napoleon: Jefferson Davis and the Pro-Bonaparte Democrats, 1815–1870” (2015), to explain the nature of that ideology; and to offer solutions for what I take to be outstanding problems in Civil War historiography.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Jefferson Davis?

JZ: I argue in my book that Davis and likeminded Confederates hailed from a venerable faction in the Democratic Party that championed equality among whites and white supremacy while insisting that states’ rights did not preclude the federal government from vigorously exercising delegated powers to help all regions industrialize. Believing that French Bonapartists espoused similar “democratic” values and similarly loathed abolitionist Britain for championing inequality among whites together with racial equality, pro-Davis Confederates were willing to jettison slavery under continuing terms of white rule if doing so would help induce Napoleon III’s France to overtly support the Confederacy against pro-British elements in the Americas.

JF: Why do we need to read Jefferson Davis?

JZ: In addition to answering what are, in my view, unsettled historical questions about the Confederacy, I believe that my book offers a fairly original and therefore refreshing interpretation of the entire Civil War era; one which meshes quite well with world history too. It’s no coincidence that the most war-torn periods in nineteenth-century United States history (the War of 1812 and the Civil War) coincided with the rise and fall of the two Bonaparte emperors (Napoleon I and Napoleon III). We somehow appear to assume that the “War Hawks” who turned the U.S. into a de facto and nearly de jure ally of Napoleon I during the War of 1812 failed to sire any ideological heirs. The pro-Bonaparte faction, however, survived through the interregnum between Bonaparte emperors and returned to prominence under Secretary of War Davis shortly after Napoleon III rose to power in France. That faction’s final descent into irrelevance and subsequent dissolution, moreover, corresponded with the Second French Empire’s unexpected destruction in 1870, shortly before which Napoleon III had hosted Davis as an honored guest in Paris.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JZ: I was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. In the course of obtaining my BA in history at the University of Calgary, I wavered between pursuing graduate studies in history or attending law school. I opted for graduate school in 2006 because I hoped to make a living doing something I enjoy (studying history), and I am immensely fortunate that I have been able to so. I believe that I explained my specific interest in American history when answering the first question.

JF: What is your next project?

JZ: I am the co-editor for the Papers of George Washington of volume 28 in the Revolutionary War Series, which will be published in 2020 and features transcriptions with annotated footnotes of George Washington’s correspondence from late August to late October 1780. Much of that correspondence pertains to Benedict Arnold’s defection to the British.

In years to come, I would like to write a history of what might be called the first Cold War of the United States, which struggled with the British Empire for dominance in the Americas over the nineteenth century. We seem to have forgotten the important ideological dimension of that struggle, during which the United States generally advocated white supremacy and equality among whites while the British Empire espoused racial equality – at least in the Americas – and inequality among whites. The diminishment of that struggle’s severity by the end of the nineteenth century, I think, coincided with the British Empire becoming more receptive to white supremacy even as the U.S. became more amenable to white inequality.

JF: Thanks, Jeffrey!

Did Robert E. Lee *Really* Put State Over Country?

Robert E. Lee

Caleb McDaniel of Rice University takes on the John Kelly’s Civil War comments from a different angle. Most historians writing for the public have focused on Kelly’s suggestion that the Civil War was caused by “the lack of an ability to compromise.”  McDaniel addresses Kelly’s claim that Robert E. Lee “was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important country.”

As McDaniel writes in his recent piece at The Atlantic:

Kelly’s comments reflect a widespread misunderstanding of the power of nationalism in the antebellum era and the ways that loyalty to nation, rather than to state, had served slaveholders’ interests before the war. The notion that state loyalty was “always” stronger is a popular, if simplistic, interpretation of the conflict’s roots—one that’s been reinforced by Hollywood films, monuments to the Confederacy, and documentaries like Ken Burns’s Civil War.

He adds:

The truth is that Lee and his fellow slaveholders were ardent nationalists in the decades leading up to the Civil War, as the Princeton historian Matthew Karp described in his recent book This Vast Southern Empire. And no wonder: For most of its history, the nation had usually protected and served the interests of slaveholders. 

Read the entire piece here.