For the first time in U.S. history, an administration is responding to a crisis with deregulation and decentralization

For the first time in U.S. history, an administration is responding to a crisis with deregulation and decentralization. By Christopher Duluth.

Washington’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic is upending one of the most durable patterns of American politics. Throughout history, national emergencies have led to a more powerful and centralized federal government and to the transfer of federal power from Congress to the executive branch. This time, the federal response rests largely on state and local government and private enterprise, with a wave of deregulation clearing the way. The Trump administration has seized no new powers, and Congress has stayed energetically in the game.

The historical pattern is powerful and might have seemed inevitable. In times of war, natural disaster and economic upheaval, action is king. The president and his officials and agencies can act with much greater dispatch than Congress can. They may be forgiven for crossing statutory or even constitutional boundaries—in a crisis, the test of legitimacy is perceived effectiveness. But emergency actions often set precedents for normal times. …

These tendencies were dramatically on display in the first two national emergencies of the 21st century, 9/11 and the 2008 financial collapse. …

It is not only crises that propel the administrative state. Lesser events of the 2000s — accounting scandals and a spike in energy prices — also led to new layers of freewheeling federal power. But major emergencies have unfailingly been major inflection points. …

Not this time, thanks to Mr Trump:

Until now. In responding to the coronavirus, the Trump administration has confined itself to longstanding statutory authorities that have been invoked routinely in responding to lesser emergencies. …

Mr. Trump has received criticism from all sides for these measured responses. It is said, on the one hand, that he should aggressively commandeer state police powers and industrial resources to mount a uniform national response—and, on the other (sometimes by the same critics), that the crisis will sooner or later unleash the authoritarian ambitions Mr. Trump has supposedly been harboring all along. …

The most striking aspect of the administration’s response has been its waiving or liberalizing of hundreds of regulatory requirements that would otherwise impede efforts to cope with the epidemic and ensuing shutdowns.

Glenn Reynolds:

What nonsense. Everyone knows that we have a living, breathing Constitution that adapts and changes to meet the needs of the time, defined as whatever the chattering class wants at the moment.