Opinion: Actually, Mr. President, the governor’s mutiny is a good thing

Photo by Darren McGee. Courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office

My first column for this paper observed that this country seems to be too large for any individual to make a difference. Since then, every column of mine has been devoted to the coronavirus pandemic, which I grant may have gone differently if one individual, President Donald Trump, had acted differently.

In the wake of federal government inaction, various governors, including our own, have banded together to figure out how they can slowly and safely reopen our society.

The president reacted in his usual mature and considered way to the governors’ efforts. He claimed he had “total authority” over when to reopen the country, which is not what the constitution suggests. The next day, he tweeted “Tell the Democrat governors that ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ was one of my all time favorite movies.” 

So I suppose we can add Captain Bligh to the list of authoritarians Trump has expressed admiration for. A few hours later, he seemed to reverse course. “The governors are responsible,” he said. “They have to take charge.”

The president is doing his best not to govern coherently, but maybe this is no longer a coherent country. If Joe Biden becomes president, he will surely face “mutinies” from Republican governors, as Obama did, and their defiance will likely be popular in their states.

The power of the federal government has been increasing against the states for over a hundred years. A strong federal government was necessary to fight world wars and economic collapses, and eventually to enforce a semblance of racial equality on southern states whose governments desired no such thing.

I think it’s time to give up the ghost, though, on the argument that the federal government is mostly a force for good. In this century, it has repeatedly destabilized the Middle East and stymied global efforts to combat climate change.

We’re not going to be able to do away with the federal government completely, but it’s too far-removed from everyday Americans to properly represent us. I think it would be better for the Red States and the Blue States and maybe even the Purple States to each do their own thing, as much as possible, and we can all see what works best.

Mitch McConnell’s going to keep screwing up some senate. But why does it have to be one with power over New Yorkers? Kentucky can get rid of their immigrants and New York can accept even more, and we’ll see who benefits and who stagnates. South Florida will be uninhabitable in a couple decades: their drinking water will go salty even before they flood. Why should we throw good money after bad down there?

America is a very big house: let’s try a trial separation where we live in different wings.

Nick Rizzo is a Democratic District Leader representing the 50th Assembly District and a political consultant who lives in Greenpoint. Follow him on Twitter @NickRizzo.