News & Politics

Melinda Gates Gives Trump a 'D-Minus' on Coronavirus. Does She Understand Federalism?

President Donald Trump talks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, in Washington, as he prepares to leave Washington for his annual August holiday at his New Jersey golf club. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Melinda Gates gave President Donald Trump a “D-minus” on his response to the coronavirus crisis, but she might as well have given the Founding Fathers this just-above-failing grade. Apparently, the wife of the second-richest man on the planet and the co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does not understand the basic constitutional principle of federalism.

In an interview with Politico, Gates gave the Trump administration a “D-minus” grade for its handling of the pandemic, “citing a lack of a coordinated, national response.” She said governors had implemented “50 different homegrown state solutions,” instead of a national response from Trump.

“You know, if we were doing the things that the exemplar countries are doing, like Germany, we would be testing,” Gates argued. “We would be testing, first, health care workers and then the most vulnerable, and you’d be doing contact tracing. And we would be able to start thinking about slowly, slowly reopening places in society in safe and healthy ways, but we have a lack of a coordinated effort. That’s just the truth, across the United States.”

She also faulted the U.S. for not taking a leading role in fighting the disease in other countries.

When it comes to the global scale of the pandemic, Melinda Gates speaks from a position of authority. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has dedicated $250 million to coronavirus relief efforts around the world, recently sending millions to combat the virus in Africa and South Asia. However, the foundation has also bankrolled the World Health Organization (WHO), which parroted China’s coronavirus lies early on and which repeatedly defended China as Beijing’s malfeasance became clear.

In fact, Bill Gates recently praised China’s response to the coronavirus, slamming America’s response as “poor.”

President Trump did give contradictory statements about the coronavirus — partially because experts did not understand it well and because China lied to the world about it. While he did not impose a federal lockdown, he did partner with the private sector and work with governors to respond to the virus.

In a statement Thursday evening, White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere insisted that President Donald Trump had taken an “unprecedented approach“ to working with governors across the U.S. to get states the resources they need.

“The ongoing response to this global pandemic has been about close coordination and partnerships with State and local governments,” Deere said. “The White House has been working with Governors and their teams since January on this whole-of-government response, including supply chains, testing, data-driven guidelines for social distancing, and now a responsible plan to open America again.”

The United States is a federal constitutional republic, with broad powers reserved by the states and by the people. Trump restricted foreign travel and he provided aid and guidance but he also allowed the states to develop the right responses to their own problems, fitting both the U.S. Constitution and the principle of subsidiarity — that problems are better handled on the level closest to the people. It does not make sense for New York City — the epicenter of the outbreak — and Kansas to have the same coronavirus response.

Naturally, Melinda Gates is far from the first person to attack Trump for following the principle of federalism. Bulwark contributor Molly Jong-Fast lamented that “the states are basically governing themselves because our president doesn’t know how to president at all.”

The contortions of Trump’s critics never cease to amaze me. When Trump issued travel restrictions to fight the virus, Democrats said this was an abuse of power and evidence of his “racism.” When Trump allowed the states to issue their own rules regarding the coronavirus, his critics slammed him for not doing enough, apparently forgetting the basic constitutional principle of federalism.

The Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus has not been perfect, but it is nowhere near a “D-minus.” Democratic governors have repeatedly praised the administration for keeping Trump’s promises of aid during the crisis. The very federalism that Melinda Gates and Molly Jong-Fast find so distasteful is a feature, not a bug, of American government.

Trump doesn’t get a “D-minus” for the coronavirus, but it seems Melinda Gates deserves a grade like that when it comes to basic civics.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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Astounding Ignorance: Bulwark Contributor Molly Jong-Fast Doesn’t Know What Federalism Is