The downside of North Carolina's one-size-fits-all coronavirus approach

Published May 7, 2020

By Ray Nothstine

I’ve mostly given up on the daily Trump coronavirus press conferences from the White House when it comes to news. Most of the decision making and power regarding restrictions and reopenings rest in the hands of governors.

Here in North Carolina, I was originally cautiously optimistic that Gov. Roy Cooper might allow for some local control in areas less impacted by the coronavirus. Part of managing a public health crisis when so many people need to get back to work is trusting the citizens of our state to responsibly implement safety measures.

We’ve already seen some pushback to Cooper’s one-size-fits-all reopen plan from Gaston County.  The chairman of the board of commissioners there wants to implement reopening plans related to the federal guidelines but Cooper’s administration quickly fired back against that plan. Undoubtedly, some county commissioners might even be under a little pressure and are hearing from angry constituents. Dallas Woodhouse covered that in-depth in a recent Civitas article.

We’ve already seen a few instances of citizens opening up their businesses in the state in opposition to the governor’s order. They were quickly rebuffed by law enforcement. Some will grow more impatient or even desperate to provide for their family as 31 states have implemented reopen plans more defined than North Carolina.

Of course, the politics of all this will get messier as more and more states open up for business and North Carolina remains closed. The government is not equipped to handle the economic crisis millions are facing. It’s arrogance to even think that it can systematically provide for or address the needs of the people.

One of the big positives from allowing for more local control is deescalating some of the partisanship. Certainly, there is an urban-rural divide, where some counties have few or no positive tests for Covid-19. Overall, many in those locations aren’t in occupations where they can work from home indefinitely if they are working at all.  And then many more educated and affluent in urban areas are equipped to work from home as long as its deemed necessary. Some even say we can’t go back from lockdowns until there is a proven treatment or vaccine. A feeling of safety above anything else is the main concern for many if all other needs are easily met.

I interviewed Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC) recently over video, mainly about the coronavirus policy controversies and the government response. I won’t give away the interview right now (it should be up on our social media platforms soon) but he brought up the principle of subsidiarity. That’s not something you hear from a U.S. Congressman every day. The basic principle of subsidiarity is that political decisions are handled best by the government that is closest to you, which is local. It makes sense, right? Those that govern closest to you are not only more approachable but they are much more likely to be aware of the needs of the community they directly represent. Yes, I know Republicans and Democrats both routinely use these principles for their own hypocritical advantages, reminding us again how broken our political system has become.

Yet, Gov. Cooper’s main argument in his press conference against more local control is that more localized control would encourage traveling and traffic across a county or regional lines. To me though that seems like a pretty weak argument in a free society built upon the foundations of self-government.

We are a state and nation accustomed to freedom and ultimately we need to trust people to do right during a public health crisis. We can’t eradicate the virus in the very near future but we can mitigate it through voluntary action and not coercion or strong-arm tactics. Our actions should always have a moral component and bring us back to this basic question: What is our capacity for self-government?

Ultimately, we are not servants but the master of our government. Free citizens entrusted with power not only should champion liberty, but we also must champion responsibility and virtue too. North Carolinians should always err on the side of more freedom when it comes to protecting the rights and the livelihood of the citizenry.