Money and surviving the coronavirus pandemic are very important "second things." President Trump needs to continue focusing the nation not only on these very important second things but also on American "first things," including our Constitution and federalism.
In his daily press briefing with his Coronavirus Task Force last Saturday, President Trump reiterated that his "sole consideration is that we want to save lives."
In the same press briefing, President Trump said, "We have a thing called the Constitution" as he explained, "We’re working with the governors."
Likewise, in an April 2, 2020, letter to Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., President Trump referred to the coronavirus as "the invisible enemy," writing: "We have given New York many things, including hospitals, medical centers, medical supplies, record numbers of ventilators, and more. . . . As you are aware, the federal government is merely a back-up for state governments. Unfortunately, your state needed far more of a back-up than most states."
By focusing on both the technical tools that we need to defend against the coronavirus, and on the primary role of the states, President Trump is highlighting two related American first things: a national government of limited, enumerated powers; and the American form of "The Rule of Subsidiarity" known as federalism.
Both of these American first things are formalized in the final article of our Bill of Rights, the Tenth Amendment, which provides: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the People."
Another former U.S. senator from New York, the Hon. James L. Buckley, explained the "Rule of Subsidiarity" this way: "political authority should be assigned to the lowest level that is capable of exercising it." In other words, governmental decisions should be made where those decisions are felt most by the decision-makers.
In 1942, British author C.S. Lewis coined the term, "The Principle of First and Second Things": "You can’t get second things by putting them first," wrote Lewis, "You can get second things only by putting first things first."
According to this principle, if a society only focuses on its very important second things, like money and survival, in the end that society does not achieve those second things and in the process loses its first things.
A contemporary C.S. Lewis expert explained this "Principle of First and Second Things" more bluntly, using the most basic of all second things" to make the point, "The society that believes in nothing worth surviving for — beyond mere survival — will not survive."
Plato said essentially the same thing in 360 B.C. in his treatise on "The Laws": "[Just laws] serve the right end, that of effecting the happiness of those who enjoy them. They, in fact, secure them all good things. But there are two different kinds of good things, the merely human and the divine; the former are consequential on the latter. Hence a city which accepts the greater goods acquires the lesser along with them, but one which refuses them misses both. . . . Of divine goods, the first and chiefest is . . . wisdom, and next after it sobriety of spirit; a third, resulting from the blending of both of these with valor is righteousness, and valor itself is fourth."
Plato’s 4th century words translate into this 21st century admonition: We as a nation need to rely upon virtues such as wisdom, sobriety of spirit, valor, and righteousness, to preserve our American way of live, including the material standard of living to which we have become accustomed.
C.S. Lewis would add that we need to focus on our first things, including our Constitution and Bill of Rights, as we endure the very import second things sacrifices of the coronavirus pandemic.
In this context, I have a practical suggestion: All federal government officials, including our president and congressional leaders, should use the final provision of our Bill of Rights as a rule of construction: whenever there is any doubt as to the power of the federal government to do what needs to be done to survive the coronavirus pandemic, government officials should ere on the side of governmental powers being "reserved to the States respectively, or to the People."
Our Supreme Court explained this about the final article of our Bill of Rights: "The question is not what power the Federal Government ought to have but what powers in fact have been given by the people." New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144, 157 (1992).
As long as our commander in chief continues to focus us on both first and second things, "We the People" will survive the money and survival-related challenges associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
We will defeat any and all enemies — including the coronavirus.
Joseph E. Schmitz served as a foreign policy and national security adviser to Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. The opinions expressed in this article are his personal opinions. Schmitz served as Inspector General of the Department of Defense from 2002-2005 and is now Chief Legal Officer of Pacem Solutions International. He graduated with distinction from the U.S. Naval Academy, earned his J.D. degree from Stanford Law School, and is author of "The Inspector General Handbook: Fraud, Waste, Abuse, and Other Constitutional ‘Enemies, Foreign and Domestic.’" Read more reports from Joseph E. Schmitz — Click Here Now.
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