It shouldn’t be something that needs to be said, but the primary, fundamental goal of every government on earth ought to be the preservation of the lives of their citizens. Not all governments, either throughout history or in the modern world, have adopted that mission, of course. That’s why the Declaration of Independence famously declared that all of us were endowed with “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Though the early United States hardly excelled at ensuring those rights for all citizens, it’s always been a goal for the nation to strive toward.

Lately some politicians and commentators – mainly on the right – seem to be abandoning that ideal, expressing a willingness to re-open the economy immediately, regardless of the consequences. It’s startling to see conservatives who vigorously fight to restrict abortion rights suddenly be willing to throw Grandma and Grandpa under the bus just so some of us can go out to restaurants and the movies again. That’s not just hypocritical for a political movement that claims to value every single human life, but it blatantly flies in the face of centuries of American values.

America is a federal capitalist constitutional republic, and our values need to reflect that, or we risk losing the liberties that we hold so dear. So, every elected official in the country needs to place the lives of all their constituents over our collective economic well-being. We’ve seen what happens throughout human history when governments have done the reverse, and it’s never ended well. Forced collective farms, gulags and slavery (whether here in this country or any time in human history) are all examples of a blatant disregard for human life that ought to be unacceptable to any American. If we rush to reopen the entire country too soon, we’re forcing our fellow Americans to make unacceptable sacrifices that may well include their lives, and that’s completely unconscionable.

Fortunately, in this country the federal government doesn’t actually have the power to open or close businesses. During this emergency, those decisions have come from governors or local elected officials. They’re the ones who made the decision to begin the state of emergency, and they’ll be the ones who decide why it ends. That’s why it was so odd to see presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden roll out his plan to reopen the country this past week: The president of the United States really doesn’t get much of a say in this at all. No matter what Donald Trump says on Twitter, it’s pretty clear that ordering businesses opened or closed is not an enumerated power of the federal government, so it’s left in the hands of the states or the people, as per the 10th Amendment. Biden doesn’t seem to recognize that any more than Trump does, as nowhere in his plan does the former vice president mention collaborating with the states or working with the governors.

Now, Republican governors may certainly be more inclined to listen to Donald Trump on when to reopen everything than Democratic governors are, but he can’t make that decision for any of them, nor should he. About all that Donald Trump, or any president, actually has the power to do in this area is offer his advice. Ideally, a president will offer good and worthwhile advice that any local or statewide elected official can use as guidance, but that’s all it is – it’s not a decree.

If the White House decides that the whole country should completely reopen on the same day, every governor in the country should feel free to ignore that suggestion. Rather than banking the lives of their citizens on ideas from Washington, they need to take into account the advice of their own experts and the situation on the ground in their state.

Hopefully, this crisis has shown Americans that while it certainly matters who we elect as our commander in chief, it’s not the be-all and end-all of politics. In our system, your governor or local elected official will often have more impact on your life on a day-to-day basis than the president. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to those races, and why we should value that kind of experience more in our presidential candidates. Let’s hope that, as governors and local officials decide when to allow businesses to reopen, they do it because it’s the best thing for the health of the public, rather than being the best thing for their own careers.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins.
He can be contacted at: [email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

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