Donald Trump is making headlines every other day of his extraordinary failures to contain the coronavirus situation in the USA. Just yesterday he said. his "authority is total" in matter of any administrative decision. May that be, but his authoritarian leadership really hasn't done any good for the people of US.
With apparent disregard for the US Constitution, which confers sweeping powers to state-level authorities, Trump cried "mutiny" after Democratic governors objected to his pronouncement. One such governor, New York's Andrew Cuomo, whose state has borne the brunt of the Covid-19 outbreak in the US, said the President was "clearly spoiling for a fight on this issue." The President later backed down, in part at least, reports CNN.
But as Trump is playing with the constitution as per his will, another decentralized country has done a remarkable job by taking advantage of this same constitutional approach. That is why, the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel said, "Federalism is not there so people can push away responsibility, It is there so that every takes responsibility in their area."
It's not like people of Germany were not cynical about Merkel's initiatives at first. Many asked whether Merkel who self-quarantined herself just after nations very first batches of coronavirus cases - is she prepared to take this challenge?
But, so far at least, the German system has held its own, and Merkel has maintained her grip in her natural fashion. Especially her speech made last week, where she completely empathised with the grief of her people.
"How many loved ones will we lose, how high will the price be," asked Merkel, in one of her most emotional addresses, on March 18. In an appeal for everyone to work together, she added: "It is in our own hands to influence the outcome of this crisis. I am convinced that we will manage to act responsibly to save lives."
United at front
Merkel's words helped the state's senators to get unified behind the Chancellor in this critical hour.
As the governor of the powerful state of Baden-Wuerttemburg also the member of Merkel's opposition party said, "We can see in the United States that some governors are taking matters into their own hands when there is someone at the helm who at first denied all of these threats. Something like that is completely out of the question here, that is why we are well equipped for this crisis."
It is too early to make final assessments, but Germany's response is looked upon with envy around the world. While the country has a large number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, the death toll remains remarkably low and the health system remains robust.
After a meeting with state leaders Wednesday, Merkel announced that the country was ready to start carefully scaling back its lockdown. Many shops will be allowed to reopen next week, and schools will gradually reopen beginning early next month, though other restrictions will remain in place.
"She's a diplomatic leader," says Jan Techau, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, noting her ability to generate consensus among the country's strong state governors.
"She can actually take a step back, become almost invisible and become the power-broker in the system. This has been her approach for the last 15 years, and it is especially useful in these kinds of moments when you have a crisis where you have to bring these people together where so much is at stake."
Governers join hands
Germany is just as much decentralized from federal government like the US. The chancellor cannot force the governors of the nation's 16 states to enforce social distancing measures, temporarily close restaurants and cafes, or shut down schools and universities.
But they have gone along with, and helped shape, the common approach which Merkel said would constantly be re-evaluated to ensure people's freedoms are not unnecessarily impeded.
"We know that our policies can only be effective if we closely coordinated them between federal government and the states," Merkel said in the early stages of the response to the pandemic. The success of Germany's approach to combating coronavirus would not have materialised if politicians on both state and federal levels had not set aside their differences.
Just like the United States, Germany is in the run up to a landmark election. In 2021, possibly even earlier, the country will elect Merkel's successor. Germany's health minister and two of the most powerful state governors are viewed as favorites to win the job. But all of them have agreed to focus on the coronavirus crisis and halt any sort of political showboating.
Merkel has been rewarded for the Germany's strong and efficient response. Her approval ratings have increased dramatically and she is currently the most popular politician in the country.
But Merkel hasn't been bragging. Techau, of the German Marshall Fund, believes success in a decentralized, federal system comes down to exactly that: Less talk, more leadership.
"There must be somebody who is the national face of the crisis response. That's what a chancellor that's what a president are there for. And you have to play that role. And you best play it by acknowledging that you are not the master, who's in charge of everything, but who, you know, needs to personify the unified responds with the country."