Despite President Donald Trump’s declaration of constitutional powers he doesn’t hold, it’s not up to him to determine when states will lift sheltering mandates and start to return to normal. It’s a good thing he doesn’t call the shots.

While the president dithered responding to the novel coronavirus, the governors of key stricken states, led by California’s Gavin Newsom, rose to the challenge and bent the curve. They established public credibility that Trump lacks.

Now, while Trump waves silly hope of a quick economic recovery, Newsom announced Tuesday that his state would reopen slowly. “There’s no light switch here,” he said. “I would argue it’s more like a dimmer.” In making the decision, “Science, public health, must be the guide.”

Thank goodness.

It was a refreshing contrast to Trump, who seems constantly pulled between political considerations and public health, and sets artificial deadlines only to rescind them. While Trump has failed to deliver on promises of critical resources, Newsom has rolled up his sleeves, mastered the details, secured essential hospital beds and rounded up masks and ventilators for California and other states.

From early on, the president minimized the threat (“One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear”) and failed to understand the logistical challenges on the ground (“Anyone who wants a test can get a test”). And, when it came to sheltering and physical distancing, he followed the states’ responses.

Now he suddenly wants to lead and expects the governors to follow. “The president of the United States calls the shots,” he declared. “They can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States.”

Actually, he doesn’t call the shots on this issue. And they don’t need his approval.

“There is no authority for a president to order states to ‘open up’ if the state believes that such an order would be inimical to public health,” Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who testified against impeachment, told the New York Times. “The president had no authority to order a national lockdown and certainly does not have authority to now order the lifting of such orders issued by governors.”

The president does have the bully pulpit to rally the nation, and federal government resources to lend a hand and build partnership with the governors. But, rather than erecting bridges and serving as a healing and unifying leader during a crisis, Trump has criticized the governors and been a fountain of public misinformation.

We’ll never know how many lives might have been saved if the president had shown consistent leadership — if, after limiting travel from China in January, he had kept focused on the COVID-19 threat rather than trying to minimize it.

Let’s be clear where we are today: There are nearly 600,000 U.S. coronavirus cases. That’s surely an undercount because of the paltry availability of testing, yet it’s more than triple any other nation. Nearly 25,000 people have died here from the virus, accounting for roughly one of every five of the world’s fatalities.

To this day, Trump continues to weigh the fight against the coronavirus against the impact on the economy. He sees them as conflicting goals he must balance. That’s just wrong. The best way to fix the economy is to win the battle with COVID-19.

The worst thing for the nation would be to loosen sheltering requirements too soon, paving the way for another wave of coronavirus cases. It’s important to remember that widespread testing is still not available, despite the president’s claim, nor are large-scale contact tracing, proven drugs for treatment or, most importantly, a vaccine.

That’s why the decision about when and how to start easing back toward normal life should be driven by medical experts, not economists. And the final decision should be made by leaders who will listen to those experts.

Editorial by The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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