For decades, conservatives have pointed to the 10th Amendment as the very essence of decentralized government. "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution," it declares, "nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." This is where the states' inherent "police powers" come from, which include the power to oversee public safety during a pandemic.
Until Trump, conservatives understood that. What they believe now seems less clear.
Bill Kristol has dubbed this "performative authoritarianism," which seems apt. Trump plays an authoritarian on television but seems uninterested in doing the hard work that "total authority" would involve. Actual executive action implies accountability. And Trump always wants someone else to blame.
So instead, he has pingponged back and forth from claiming that "I alone can fix it" to "It's up to the governors."
Instead, conservative media reacted in three ways: pivoting to anti-anti-Trumpism by focusing not on the president's comments but on the alleged obnoxiousness of the media's questioning, ignoring the remarks altogether or arguing that Trump's words shouldn't be taken either seriously or literally.
Over the last few years we have learned that democracy rests on norms that are more fragile than we had imagined. The demagogue raises himself up by tearing down the values that underlie liberal constitutionalism. Authoritarians seize power only after they have changed our expectations and habits. In other words, they transform us rather than themselves.
For decades, conservatives have pointed to the 10th Amendment as the very essence of decentralized government. Now, it's not clear what Trump's GOP supporters believe.