President Biden’s best inaugural address would briefly give thanks and review the pandemic’s acceleration. By then, we could have 400,000 dead. Next, on the podium, Biden should publicly sign three or so measures taking federal charge of the battle against coronavirus.

Biden could show he means business by ordering manufacture of equipment, federal supervision to deliver shots and mandating states to test and meet federal reporting standards.

The point is to look and act presidential, in contrast to his predecessor. Biden could sign with a big hand and felt-tip pen, as if to say, “We’re in charge now, beginning a hundred days of getting things done.” If Trump avoids the inauguration (let’s hope), his empty chair could be a sort of last photo-op.

Underlying the question of who should supervise coronavirus shots — the federal government or the states — is a standing problem, one foreshadowed by the Constitution’s militia clauses. To avoid defense costs and prevent misuse of armed forces, state militias would do the bulk of defense. Great idea on paper.

But the states, intent on low taxes, chronically underfunded their militias, now the National Guard, which is effective because it has become federally supervised and funded. How about doing the same to fight the virus?

Recent political polarization has reopened the split that has long plagued the Republic: minimal government in states’ hands, or active government concentrated at the federal level? Republicans embrace the Constitution framers’ minimalist intent, which prevails through most U.S. history and in much of the country today: We don’t need much federal governance because states do it.

States are “laboratories of democracy,” argue some political scientists. They do not lock the country into one-size-fits-all solutions. Try a new policy in one state. If it works, others can copy. If it fails, little harm is done.

Yes, but applied to inherently national problems, divergent state policies leave no one in charge, such as America’s near-helplessness in the face of coronavirus. The world’s richest country is the worst-hit. Science is ignored. The president scorns testing and mask-wearing while staging super-spreader events. Individuals largely do as they wish. The world is amazed at America destroying its pre-eminence.

We need not remain ungoverned. Firmer models are at hand. During the 19th century — under the impact of industrialization, financial trusts, depressions and immigration — labor and progressive movements grew, eventually finding a home in the Democratic Party. Progressives see markets as unreliable, careening between mania and panic.

To control this, the country requires federal limits and regulation, claim liberals. Increased federal spending and transfer payments lift up the lower rungs of society, they argue. Food and drug standards cannot be left in state hands. Over time, Washington grows, although never reaching European (or even Canadian) levels. This split has made the U.S. a roughly 50-50 nation.

Current and former members of the conservative Federalist Society, now six Supreme Court justices, favor minimalism. The Federalist Society was founded in 1982 to counter the generally liberal, expansionist and interventionist judicial philosophy that had prevailed since Franklin Roosevelt overcame the Supreme Court’s strongly conservative tilt in the 1930s. Federalists generally dislike power in Washington and seek to return it to the states, the framers’ original intention. Republican presidents give Federalists federal judgeships. Robert Bork, whom the Senate rejected in 1987, was a prominent Federalist.

Republican judges and justices have recently struck down state-level public-health laws because they infringe upon freedom of religion. One unnoticed effect of the decision against New York limiting the size of religious services is its reaffirmation of the Supreme Court’s power to intrude into and overturn state laws. This could stand as a precedent (along with Brown 1954) for correcting wrongs, inconsistencies and unfairness in state usages. Probably the opposite of what Federalist justices intended.

Liberal reformism and conservatism tend to come in waves, each lasting about a generation. When one reaches a high point, citizens become fed up with its heated, self-righteous rhetoric and problems of implementation. Then many switch to its opposite. One gives rise to the other, producing an endless to and fro.

Thus the Progressives who straddled 1900 gave way to the conservatives of the 1920s. The Depression gave rise to FDR’s New Deal, which Republicans hated and rejected in the 1950s. In turn, the reform wave of JFK and LBJ generated a Republican backlash. Remember Goldwater in 1964 proposing privatizing Social Security? Backlash and counter-backlash seem baked into the American system.

Trump’s hatred of the federal government brought about the latest turnaround. His colorful but unserious rhetoric delivered little besides a tax cut for the wealthy and very conservative Supreme Court justices. He delivered no infrastructure projects, health insurance, Mexico wall or recovery of manufacturing. Worst of all, he decapitated federal efforts to combat the pandemic. As COVID deaths climb toward 1 million, Biden would garner enthusiastic support to revive the federal government.