Is the solution to polarization and widespread discontent with presidential politics letting states and municipalities decide policy for themselves?
In law school, I have two best friends – one a libertarian, and one a liberal. Me, I’m a conservative. All three of us love discussing politics, and though we always try to keep things civil, occasionally our discussions get heated. This usually happens when one or more of us has an ideological disagreement with the other, based on what we believe.
More and more, on social media and in our common life, heated arguments about politics have become the norm. Many of us hold our beliefs about politics so closely that we are often unwilling to give any ground. In most cases, no one is converted, and everyone goes home unhappy.
As a country, our partisan disagreements have reached a fever pitch since the last presidential election. Presidential elections receive breathless, two-year-long, round-the-clock media coverage because Americans care about the outcome. The President is the leader of a massive executive branch, which now makes the majority of our law through regulation. He has the power to change a tremendous amount of policy with a simple stroke of the pen.
Meanwhile, Congress spends months crafting long statutes to make sweeping, well-sounding reforms, occasionally throwing funds at various entitlement programs and passing enough widely-liked laws to gain reelection.
All the while, the nine unelected lawyers of the Supreme Court stand watch over this massive system, serving as the final word on whether any law should govern our land. Over the years, the Court’s interpretations of the law have placed more governing authority in the hands of the national government and less in the hands of the people.
The laws and policies that affect all of us are decided by whatever ideological group controls the Supreme Court, Congress, and especially the Presidency. But because our political system is controlled by two major parties with almost entirely opposite ideologies, at least one half (and often both halves) of the country are dissatisfied with this arrangement.
The party that does not control the federal government attempts to gain control, so they can wield it to mold American society to accord with what their ideology says is right. The party in power frequently asks for one thing and receives another from their representatives, so they replace them with ones who say they will be more “ideologically pure.”
How can we begin to solve this problem?
I suggest that federalism provides a path.
Federalism is the idea that our national government is limited in authority to the powers expressly given it under the Constitution. Our states and local governments, meanwhile, have the authority to make laws regarding the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens.
This arrangement is enshrined in the text of the Constitution and our common national heritage. It recognizes that policies that work for one state – Texas, for example – may not be best for another, like California. It allows states to tailor their laws to serve their particular citizens, rather than allowing the national government to subject everyone to a one-size-fits-all policy.
Most helpfully, it makes government more accountable to every American citizen. In state and local elections, fewer people vote than in a national election. Thus, every vote counts more, and the representatives in those elections will be more accountable to and sensitive to the needs of their voters.
This idea does not lack supporters, even in our current political environment. Calls for a “Texit” and “Calexit” have grown louder recently in response to the size of national government. Some advocate for an Article V Convention of States to limit federal power. Even certain progressive politicians, in the face of President Trump, have begun to long for a return to federalism. All of these indicators suggest that the time for a new federalist movement is now.
As a member of the rising Federalist Party, I’m fully committed to this principle of limited government. As a governing philosophy rather than an ideology, federalism allows the people of each state to secure life and liberty in the way that best suits them. If you’re tired of our endless national political tug-of-war, I hope you will join me in advocating for federalism as a way forward.
Connor Mighell is a third-year law student at The University of Alabama School of Law, and a graduate of Baylor University with a degree in Political Philosophy. His work has been featured at SBNation and in The Dallas Morning News. He may be found on Twitter at @cmigbear.