Many Americans are staying home, concerned about the coronavirus and waiting to see what the government’s next move will be. We look to the federal government for guidance and leadership and many, particularly the media, have been calling for more action.
While it is understandable to look for more government measures in such a time of crisis, as Americans we need to remember the importance of all the checks and balances to power in our government as well as the important original source of power in the US: the states.
Hungary provides a concerning example of government overreach at this time. In an article titled “Coronavirus kills its first democracy,” The Washington Post reports:
On Monday, Hungary’s parliament passed a controversial bill that gave Orban [the nation’s illiberal nationalist prime minister] sweeping emergency powers for an indefinite period of time. Parliament is closed, future elections were called off, existing laws can be suspended and the prime minister is now entitled to rule by decree. Opposition lawmakers had tried to set a time limit on the legislation but failed. Orban’s commanding two-thirds parliamentary majority made his new powers a fait accompli.
These measures are a part of the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Orban defends this law, saying “Everyone has to leave their comfort zone. This law gives the government the power and means to defend Hungary.”
But not only does this law give Orban sweeping unilateral powers, it silences and quarantines Hungarians under threat of imprisonment. This tweet sums of the law well:
In an Oped in The Guardian, Hungarian political analyst Péter Krekó warns that
Orbán is a role model for other illiberal leaders. If this experiment proves successful, many others will be encouraged to follow his path. If Hungary is not put in a political quarantine, a new wave of illiberalism will sweep through Europe, especially in the east.
Let me be clear: in no way do I think that the United States is facing any such threat. But we must both help to call out governments that are taking advantage of the pandemic situation to grab power and ensure that our own government does not create large government programs without sunset clauses.
Instead, we should welcome individual orders by state governors. It’s important that the federal government provide a strong front and leadership in this time of crisis but we ought to remember that our nation is one of delegated powers. Within the Constitution, the states ceded some of their powers to the federal government. This has helped to ensure unity within our nation but especially as the virus hits different communities to varying degrees, we should welcome individualized leadership from governors that is tailored to the specific regions.
For example, my state governor, Florida Governor DeSantis, originally issued a stay-at-home order only to three counties in South Florida. The large cities in South Florida are quickly developing into another coronavirus epicenter. But Florida is a large and spread-out state. While the southern portion struggles to address the virus, up in the panhandle, where I am, residents face a much lower risk as the cities are smaller and more spaced out. Unfortunately, DeSantis, under much criticism and political pressure, has now caved and widened the stay-at-home order to the entire state starting Friday.
As the whole world struggles to combat the growing impact of the coronavirus, we must remember that this too shall pass. We must ensure that any measures taken during this time of crisis will not have unnecessary and long-reaching effects. Hungary’s democracy may be crumbling but there is no reason ours should as well.