It is good to see state governors increasingly looking for ways to reopen the economy, for, as we have repeatedly argued, the lockdown can be only a short-term response to the pandemic. People's lives and livelihoods depend on returning to economic and social activity as soon as it can be done safely. So, new state-level discussions and coordination are welcome news.
Ever since the coronavirus outbreak, decisions about whether to close schools and restrict business activities have been made by governors and local officials. This is how the nation's federal republican structure is set up. This is how it should be.
As this crisis emerged, federalism frustrated those clamoring for President Donald Trump to issue a nationwide lockdown. It may now be frustrating those pushing for a swift national reopening. In both cases, however, this is precisely the sort of situation in which local officials should be tasked with making decisions.
Until this week, Trump had successfully undermined critics who argued that he aspires to be some sort of dictator.
If ever Trump were going to make a power grab, it would have been in February or March in response to our national emergency.
Yet, in terms of policies, Trump has been humble, rightly deferential to governors of both parties, and reluctant even to assert all the powers at his disposal as executive. Some Democrats have even complained about his failure to invoke the Defense Production Act for broader purposes than he already has so as to make more businesses manufacture medical supplies.
But Trump's changed his rhetoric this week. He wants things restored to normal, but the facts and the governors' authority stand in his way, and he is suggesting he has the power to do whatever he wants, even to override state officials exercising their sovereign police powers.
"For the purpose of creating conflict and confusion, some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government," Trump tweeted on Monday.
"Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect. It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons."
Pushed on this point during the daily press briefing, Trump shot back: "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 unclear whether Trump actually wants to test that idea or he's just jousting with the press, as usual. In the same tweet, he also wrote, "With that being said, the Administration and I are working closely with the Governors, and this will continue. A decision by me, in conjunction with the Governors and input from others, will be made shortly!"
Trump isn't likely to attempt to take governors to court to force them to reopen businesses against their will. And he wouldn't win if he did. So, it is best to allow states to open, as they feel their state is ready.
We do expect to see the federal government involved in coordinating a carefully balanced reopening of the economy so as to avoid a second wave of cases that could force another destructive shutdown.
It's perfectly appropriate for federal health officials to issue guidance and suggested metrics for reopening to guard against the possibility of the virus spreading from one place to another. But these decisions rest ultimately with governors and local officials who exercise police powers under their state constitutions.
The debate over reopening will require many small decisions that consider the economic and social costs of continued restrictions and weigh them against the potential danger of a new outbreak.
For those decisions to be made by those most familiar with unique local characteristics and most accountable to the people is not only smarter and more efficient, but also more in keeping with the nation's time-tested principle of federalism.