“I would love to have the country opened up and raring to go by Easter,” Donald Trump said during a Fox News townhall today. Who wouldn’t? An immediate surge of coverage soon followed, contending that Trump had promised to “open the economy” by Easter, which is less than three weeks away. One CNBC reporter went as far as to claim that, “Trump sets deadline for US economy to reopen.” Trump-obsessed pundits acted as if the president had just instructed Americans to sacrifice their grandparents to the gods of Wall Street.
“I would love to have the country opened” is a statement of optimism, not a decree or a policy or a “deadline.” And there’s nothing wrong with some optimism. Of course, while the president might be hopeful about an economy “raring to go by Easter,’ it’s doubtful that most businesses will be ready or that the coronavirus crisis will have passed. Maybe in some places? We’ll see.
Above all else, Trump can’t open up the economy because he was never empowered to shut it down. Governors and local government officials ask non-essential businesses to shutter, not the president. Trump can’t reopen all business through fiat. Governors have the power in these situations. This is as it should be, and as it was early in the crisis when journalists were struggling to understand how federalism works, and it’s why Trump wasn’t acting like a dictator. Why is it so difficult to understand?