With regard to school shutdowns and other official social-distancing measures, little would be different today underneath a Democratic administration or a different Republican president. What is the difference between President Trump’s bloviating, and Governor Mike DeWine’s imposing restrictions in Ohio, and a hypothetical President Clinton’s having an advisory conference call with governors? Under a Democratic administration, we’d still have local school districts assessing their local circumstances and fretting over their decisions, as they should.
And in fact, given our character as a nation, it is better that it is this way. When President Trump first imposed the travel restrictions on China — you know, the ones that he can’t stop bragging about — the initial partisan kick-reflex among Democrats and in certain sections of the media led people to immediately criticize the measure as xenophobic and ineffective. If Trump had then set about closing New York’s restaurants, many of the same critics would be asking: What happened to the authority of mayors and governors? And when did the United States become a dictatorship?
These measures are extraordinary, and they are meant for extraordinary times. But because they have been enacted in a bottom-up way, in response to demand from citizens, they have a legitimacy they’d lack if the executive branch, by fiat, had tried to convert, overnight, into an East Asian or European-style authoritarian body.