We are getting closer and closer to becoming a loose collection of individual states with a federal government that supposedly deals only with defense and international trade. The pandemic gave us glimpses of what this version of America will be like with every state having to compete for PPE’s in a pandemic, with states afraid to rile up citizens or an irrational president by requiring a simple precaution like wearing a mask. These are decisions that would have solved simple logistical problems that could have shortened the pandemic.
In a States Rights scenario, states will be up for grabs and Democrats and Republicans will have to compete to win the most states in order to win the Presidency. Which party holds the Presidency would become increasingly beside the point, except that there is a simultaneous push to make the Executive omni-powerful, which we saw under a Trump administration that turned the Justice Department into a puppet offering unconditional support to the president. It should strike others besides me that giving state governors and legislatures power and making the federal chief executive all powerful are two goals that are at odds with each other, unless there is only one political party.
Democrats have not wooed state governments. They have followed old traditions and backed a strong federal government with three branches and checks and balances. They claim to be following our US Constitution. The problem is that Republicans also claim to be following a different section of the US Constitution that lists the rights of the federal government and the rights of the states. They say they are ‘originalists’ and want the powers of these two entities sorted out as the founders intended.
However, even the founders could not agree about whether to make the federal government stronger and have the United States of America as the dominant face to present to the world, or whether to have a more decentralized government and give states powers to make decisions on their own and have identities of their own. This state’s rights model would turn states into entities similar to nations in Europe and our Federal government would be something like the Council of the EU.
George Washington and Alexander Hamilton favored a strong central government. Thomas Jefferson and other southerners favored state’s rights as more important. This was all argued out in the Federalist papers. The modern Federalist Society pushes the state’s rights interpretation as more true to the constitution, thus ignoring 245 years of subsequent laws and traditions.
There were only thirteen states when our new nation fought these battles about how to govern America. There were only about 2.5 million citizens. Of course we now have 50 states and 350 million citizens. Wouldn’t going forward in an America that is a loose collection of so many states and such a large population bring chaos? Isn’t that a greater dilemma to consider than channeling the hearts of our founders, which, as we know, were no less flawed than any human hearts?
From a Google Image Search – Gallup poll
Despite reservations, we are seeing a change in the relationship between the federal government and the states. Republicans went into states, perhaps using the issues of abortion and worker’s grievances to tip the scales in states where Christian churches had a firmer hold. They stoked anger on radio talk shows and from church pulpits. They formed power groups with corporatists, especially in fossil fuel industries and with Evangelicals. They used ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council to tailor laws to support Republican talking points. They rigged the vote with savvy use of computer data and gerrymandering. They got the pre-clearance section of the Voter Rights Act overturned by the Supreme Court. They continue to pass voting laws in states that make it more difficult for Democrats to ever win an election. They basically control the executive and legislative branches in thirty states. Democrats have control in only 18 states.
Is sneaking around behind the scenes to engineer voting and policy something that we condone in American politics? While we might admire the strategic cohesion of Republican machinations we recognize that such shifty politics is undemocratic because it relies on propaganda and even trades in threats to people’s immortal souls to achieve an end that is divisive and undemocratic. One party has planned and executed its plan to steal power and destroy the other, to turn America into a nation ruled by a single party. Can democracy last in a single party system? Not if the Republicans are that party.
So watch carefully as the Supreme Court makes its decisions this summer. If they make a decision about abortion that clearly overturns Roe v Wade will that tear our nation apart? If Congress falls back into Republican hands in 2022 will that tear our nation apart? If it happens that abortion can be decided by the states will that open the door to allowing states to have their own rules on other issues like guns?
Will states set up borders like the ones between Canada and America and Mexico and America to enforce their own laws? Will people need passports to travel from state to state? What will happen to interstate trade? Will there be inspections at state borders? Will trucks be turned away and have to find a different route? Will citizens naturalized in one state still be illegal in another?
How far will we take the small government lie as the presidency gains more and more power? What will happen to us if the world sees us fighting among our own states? Will we fight a second Civil War over women’s right to control their own bodies, over voting rights, over masks, over the power of the presidency, over fossil fuels and sustainability-all issues that separate states but also residents within states. Will we just live without abortion rights until we learn all over again that they are a necessary albeit sad reality of modern life.
You might like to check out this article by Ronald Brownstein from The Atlantic on the subject. My heart is breaking over our divided nation, our nation flirting with authoritarianism. Unless President Biden can pass voting rights legislation and kill the filibuster, many writers say, we are in for continued strife and possibly worse. Did the Democrats wait too long to act? Are they being too conciliatory or too meek?