(Bloomberg Opinion) -- California this week declared its independence from the federal government’s feeble efforts to fight Covid-19 — and perhaps from a bit more. The consequences for the fight against the pandemic are almost certainly positive. The implications for the brewing civil war between Trumpism and America’s budding 21st-century majority, embodied by California’s multiracial liberal electorate, are less clear. Speaking on MSNBC, Governor Gavin Newsom said that he would use the bulk purchasing power of California “as a nation-state” to acquire the hospital supplies that the federal government has failed to provide. If all goes according to plan, Newsom said, California might even “export some of those supplies to states in need.”“Nation-state.” “Export.”Newsom is accomplishing a few things here, with what can only be a deliberate lack of subtlety. First and foremost, he is trying to relieve the shortage of personal protective equipment — a crisis the White House has proved incapable of remedying. Details are a little fuzzy, but Newsom, according to news reports, has organized multiple suppliers to deliver roughly 200 million masks monthly.Second, Newsom is kicking sand in the face of President Donald Trump after Newsom’s previous flattery — the coin of the White House realm — failed to produce results. If Trump can’t manage to deliver supplies, there’s no point in Newsom continuing the charade.Third, and this may be the most enduring effect, Newsom is sending a powerful message to both political parties. So far, the Republican Party’s war on democratic values, institutions and laws has been a largely one-sided affair, with the GOP assaulting and the Democratic Party defending. The lethal ruling this week by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Republican bloc, which required Wisconsin residents to vote in person during a pandemic that shut down polling stations, is a preview of the fall campaign. The GOP intends to restrict vote-by-mail and other legitimate enfranchisement to suppress turnout amid fear, uncertainty and disease.At some point this civil war by other means, with the goal of enshrining GOP minority rule, will provoke a Democratic counteroffensive. Newsom, leader of the nation’s largest state, is perhaps accelerating that response, shaking Democrats out of denial and putting Republicans on notice. California, an economic behemoth whose taxpayers account for 15% of individual contributions to the U.S. Treasury, is now toning up at muscle beach.What that means, of course, is left to the imagination. But not much is required to envision what might evolve.Newsom, a former lieutenant governor who won the top job in 2018, has used the “nation-state” phrase before. It’s a very odd thing to say. California, like its 49 smaller siblings, qualifies only as the second half. But it’s obviously no slip of the tongue. Democratic state Senator Scott Wiener, a leader in California’s cumbersome efforts to produce more housing, said soon after Newsom took office in 2019 that reorienting the state’s relationship to Washington is a necessity, not a choice.“The federal government is no longer a reliable partner in delivering health care, in supporting immigrants, supporting LGBT people, in protecting the environment, so we need to forge our own path,” Wiener said. “We can do everything in our power to protect our state, but we need a reliable federal partner. And right now we don’t have that.”The statement appears prescient in light of the Trump administration’s failure to protect against a pandemic. Newsom was the first governor to issue a stay-at-home order, on March 19. Though his state is chock-full of cosmopolitan centers, and rural threats loom as well, California is weathering the virus in far better shape than New York, which has many fewer people and many more deaths.Federalism has always had rough spots, but conflict is rising and resolutions are not. California is a sanctuary state while the Trump administration is fond of immigration dragnets. Marijuana is grown, marketed and used in abundance in the state while the White House conjures more restrictions. The Trump administration endorses extreme gun rights; California has other ideas. Most of all, Trump’s failure to act, or even take responsibility for acting, in the face of pandemic has required California, like other states, to look out for itself.One conflict, however, encompasses all others, and could galvanize Californians into new ways of thinking about their state and its relationship to Washington. The GOP war on democracy is inspired by a drive for racial and cultural supremacy that jeopardizes the democratic aspirations and human rights of California’s multiracial citizenry. From Fort Sumter to Little Rock to Montgomery, the blueprint for states opposing federal control has a recurring theme. But there is no reason that states can’t adopt a racist playbook for other ends. If California and other 21st-century polities withhold revenue, or otherwise distance themselves from Washington’s control, legal and political battles will escalate. Republicans will have a legitimate constitutional argument — but it will be a morally tainted and politically illegitimate one so long as they continue to subvert majority rule.The experience of states battling Covid-19 while the White House devotes its energy to winning the news cycle may be instructive. What is the difference, conceptually, between a state deploying its power to protect its population’s health and a state using it to protect its population’s democratic rights?John C. Calhoun, who used the theory of states’ rights to defend the institution of slavery, is not generally a philosophical lodestar for liberal Democrats such as Newsom. But if Republicans (or foreign friends) succeed in sabotaging democracy in November, Calhoun’s theory of nullification, which posited that states have the power to defy federal law, could be ripe for a comeback on the left coast. With the heirs of the Confederacy now reigning in Washington, turnabout might be very fair play.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg Opinion. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
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In the name of both good reporting and public health, we call upon you to ensure that the information you deliver is based on scientific facts, journalists write in an open letter Americans consistently rate the Fox News Channel as one of the most trusted TV channels. The average age of Fox News viewers is 65. It is well established that this population incurs the greatest risk from the Covid-19 pandemic. In other words, Fox News viewers are at special risk from the coronavirus.But viewers of Fox News, including the president of the United States, have been regularly subjected to misinformation relayed by the network – false statements downplaying the prevalence of Covid-19 and its harms; misleading recommendations of activities that people should undertake to protect themselves and others, including casual recommendations of untested drugs; false assessments of the value of measures urged upon the public by their elected political leadership and public health authorities.The misinformation that reaches the Fox News audience is a danger to public health. Indeed, it is not an overstatement to say that your misreporting endangers your own viewers – and not only them, for in a pandemic, individual behavior affects significant numbers of other people as well.Yet by commission as well as omission – direct, uncontested misinformation as well as failure to report the true dimensions of the crisis – Fox News has been derelict in its duty to provide clear and accurate information about Covid-19. As the virus spread across the world, Fox News hosts and guests minimized the dangers, accusing Democrats and the media of inflating the dangers (in Sean Hannity’s words) to “bludgeon Trump with this new hoax”. Such commentary encouraged Donald Trump to trivialize the threat and helped obstruct national, state and local efforts to limit the coronavirus.The network’s delinquency was effective. According to a YouGov/Economist poll conducted 15-17 March, Americans who pay the most attention to Fox News are much less likely than others to say they are worried about the coronavirus. A Pew Research poll found that 79% of Fox News viewers surveyed believed the media had exaggerated the risks of the virus. Sixty-three per cent of Fox viewers said they believed the virus posed a minor threat to the health of the country. As recently as Sunday, 22 March, the Fox News host Steve Hilton deplored accurate views of the pandemic, which he attributed to “our ruling class and their TV mouthpieces – whipping up fear over this virus”. Misinformation furthers the reach and the dangers of the pandemicFox News reporters have done some solid reporting. And the network has recently given some screen time to medical and public health professionals. But Fox News does not clearly distinguish between the authority that should accrue to trained experts, on the one hand, and the authority viewers grant to pundits and politicians for reasons of ideological loyalty. There is a tendency to accept (or reject) them all indiscriminately, for after all, they are talking heads who appear on Fox News, a trusted source of news. When the statements of knowledgeable experts are surrounded by false claims made by pundits and politicians, including the president – claims that are not rebutted by knowledgeable people in real time – the overall effect is to mislead a vulnerable public about risks and harms. Misinformation furthers the reach and the dangers of the pandemic. For example, the day after Tucker Carlson touted a flimsy French study on the use of two drugs to treat Covid-19, Trump touted “very, very encouraging early results” from those drugs, and promoted a third as a possible “game-changer”.The basic purpose of news organizations is to discover and tell the truth. This is especially necessary, and obvious, amid a public health crisis. Television bears a particular responsibility because even more millions than usual look there for reliable information.Inexcusably, Fox News has violated elementary canons of journalism. In so doing, it has contributed to the spread of a grave pandemic. Urgently, therefore, in the name of both good journalism and public health, we call upon you to help protect the lives of all Americans – including your elderly viewers – by ensuring that the information you deliver is based on scientific facts. * This open letter to Fox Corporation’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch, and Fox Corporation’s CEO, Lachlan Murdoch, was signed by dozens of journalists and teachers of journalism across the US; you can view the complete list of signatories here