A favorite gif is one of a burning dumpster being carried down the street in a flood. This particular gif captures a situation where there is not only a dumpster fire, but also a flood and the two are synchronized in perfect harmony of a disaster. The new year in no way resulted in receding waters or a quenched dumpster fire. 2021 begins with two questions whose answers provide fodder in what appears to be a worsening US domestic relationship. What has the United States lost, and what is it losing? One’s answer to this question in this day and age appears to depend on the values of the answerer, rather than a series of shared values generating a mostly unified response. A time existed when the variation in answer to those questions would have been much narrower than in 2021. The truth of this pronouncement indicates a new phenomenon (not counting the Civil War) in the political world of the United States, a deep divide in the populace. The metaphor of a “thin line” existing that holds reality together is becoming more and more germane. Is there a way to strengthen the thin line while recognizing and accepting the deep divide in the populace based on politics? A possible solution exists that allows greater participation, greater control over one’s life, and reduction of extremism, all while preserving nationhood. There are many details and levels of proof available for evaluation of the humble recommendation to consider, but your humble correspondent has to work for a living and others are welcome to fill in details, raise questions, and debate the finer points. This is essentially an attempt to compel people regardless of their political beliefs to evaluate an alternative system with the best chance of success to preserve the thin red white and blue line of the “United” States.
Based on this actual and increasing divide, and frankly the promotion of this divide by much of the media and “Political Class,” Jesse Kelly raised and continues to raise the advantage or necessity of a “national divorce.” The arguments for a national divorce continue to strengthen based on real, confrontational, and emotional events. The more the country falls into two very distinct and increasingly mutually exclusive political camps, the more the divorce route becomes inevitable. Regardless of shorthand labels like Democrats and Republicans, the two camps are essentially the Left, supporters of a dominating State (“Statists”), and Individualists, whose desired environment is minimal State involvement. Frankly, the two camps are mutually exclusive, and cannot exist under the same roof. (“Centrists” cannot exist for long in this world, as explained below.)
The current situation is untenable for a myriad of reasons, the first and foremost of which applies regardless of camp. The most dangerous political element, in terms of violence and destruction and horrors of the past, is frustration. When the Statist camp finds its political goals stifled by courts that preserve individualism, frustration increases without realistic outlet, which justifies more extreme conduct. When Individualists find their lives interfered with to greater and greater levels by the State without escape, frustration increases without realistic outlet, which justifies more extreme conduct. The frustration arises when there is no safety valve, or when people, regardless of where they fall in these camps, believe that they have no control over the circumstances of their lives and no escape in a political context.
A lone potential solution exists to the current climate short of an actual divorce. However, before presenting the solution, the “irreconcilable differences” need some macro enumeration. The chasm between Statists and Individualists essentially comes down to the most important political value held by each camp. For Statists, the highest value is the State, valued over everything else including themselves as individuals. Eric Hoffer’s book “The True Believer” very aptly describes this phenomenon, regardless of politics or the political spectrum. In the case of the Statist camp, the State is their life focus, and if not the focus, the protector-savior. In this country, the Left carries the mantle of the Statist. As the Statists in the US are from the Left, the value of the State, however, is extremely situational. If the State exercises its power and dominance promoting Left ideals, it is Nirvana. The value of the State is so great when Left oriented, the Left ignores the abjectly horrible results of historical, powerful Left states. If the State is not promoting Left ideals, it is anathema until it becomes Left oriented again.
On the other side of the chasm are those that hold the individual as the sovereign unit in life. This Individualist camp is composed of those who generally want to be left alone to order their lives themselves without interference or compulsion by the State. The Individualists seek only the minimum amount of government necessary and view individual autonomy as vital not only to their own personal happiness, but to the success of the nation. The Individualists may have differences in terms of certain issues like law and order or willingness to use military intervention abroad, but by and large this camp is focused on individual liberty and a suspicion of the State and a cynicism towards its efficacy. (Although one recognizes the irony that the Left in its late-infancy in this country could have been described as suspicious of the State and promoters of individual liberty, but one also has to recognize the tectonic shift that occurred in the last 30 years in terms of the Left’s belief in Statism.)
The description of the second camp as the Individualist camp is intentional. The term “Right” is not generally appropriate in an American context because the Right is actually statistically insignificant in this country in terms of truly “Right” people. The understanding of the “Right” as being the opposite of the Left is really a European concept, and the real Right denotes concepts of privilege by birth, titles, and rights by “blood.” The Right in the US consists of an extremely small number of Statists who ludicrously believe the State should exercise power, but only in favor of their particular race or class. Thankfully there are very few of these people, and the insanity of their position really only places them in a position of attempting to exacerbate the existing chasm between Statists and Individualists. Also, creating two camps raises the question: Are there Centrists anymore? I am certain that there are some Centrists that exist, and likely more that believe they are Centrists. However, the problem with the “middle” is that it is not a fixed point, but a shifting point on a spectrum. This shifting point is especially true in the face of the dialectics of history pursued and worshiped by the Left. The center cannot hold when pushed by history. The center is often the source of Solzhenitsyn’s “rabbits,” ground up when the center fails to hold. However, the solution short of a divorce actually strengthens the possibility of a center that holds.
Assuming reasonable readers can accept that there is, at a minimum, a serious divide and that the two camps in this divided country roughly reflect Statists and
Individualists, there are at least a few structural aspects of the United States in 2021 that exacerbate not just the depth of the division, but the radicalism or extremism of the divide between the two camps. Again, the greatest promoter of actual violent results, regardless of camp, is frustration. The dominance of the federal government does nothing but create greater and greater frustration and greater and greater extremism. Ironically, the dominance of the large federal government adversely affects Statists virtually as much as Individualists, especially as the Statists in the United States come from the Left. Two hypothetical illustrations: First, the United States Supreme Court strikes down a California restriction on firearms as being unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. Second, Congress passes and Biden signs into law a national minimum wage of $15 per hour. Both of these federal actions apply to the entire nation, and both result in one camp or the other being frustrated because, other than the lengthy and often temporary process of winning national elections, there is no redress for either.
Also related to the structure is the size and reach of the federal government. Since the 1960s, largely as a result of the Warren and Burger Courts, the supremacy of the federal government has expanded exponentially. (I will not address the constitutionality of those decisions in this essay.) At the same time, the population of the United States now exceeds 330 million people. The result of this equation is more people in both camps are governed proportionally by fewer people. Lobbying, a byproduct of an intentional feature of the federal government system, is concentrated in the DC City-State, and the results of lobbying are more expansive when occurring at the federal level as the federal government holds the lion’s share of the power to grant special privileges or to implement punitive plans. Accountability of politicians is also reduced by the distance both geographically and informationally between the DC City-State and the rest of the country. There is a big difference when you can drive down the street to raise an issue with your representative versus not even knowing where your representative lives, let alone an executive level politician.
In addition, with the expansion of the power base of the federal government, an entrenched expansion of bureaucratic interests emerged. A large, entrenched, and shockingly powerful Mandarin class of vested bureaucrats now exists both in the DC City-State, and in significant federal enclaves throughout the country. For the Statists, this development is either positive or negative depending on the intent of the Mandarins. For the Individualists, these Mandarins are problematic when they become, as is historically the case, arbitrary and all-encompassing. The Statists on the Left quickly forget J. Edgar Hoover, and the Individualists fail to recognize the Federal Reserve system. One does not have to research far in the last four years to find examples of the dominance of the Mandarins at the federal level, now that we survived the end of net neutrality. The proposed remedy does not eliminate the issue of the Mandarin class, but does reduce and diversify it to allow both Statists and Individualists to evaluate the size and scope of a bureaucratic layer more directly and reasonably. Frustration, which everyone has experienced with the bureaucrat, has an outlet for greater change under the proposed solution.
Finally, the “far away” and powerful federal government promotes blame and anger towards individuals or groups with whom citizens have no contact. “This country is a mess because of Nancy Pelosi.” “This country is a mess because of Rand Paul.” Each of the statements are made by people who have never been to California or Kentucky and have no real connection to either. The speakers have no effective way of knowing either of these people with any detail, turning them into caricatures. At the same time, such far-flung individuals, actually or as a result of perception, cannot practically rid themselves of these distant rulers’ “unwanted” influence. This example is a gentle introduction to another dangerous element that seems increasingly prevalent: Alienation. Like frustration, alienation leads to extreme behavior. In the case of alienation, the behavior may not be external, but emerges as a sense of nonparticipation because “no matter what I do, it will not make a difference.” The reactions from both the Statists and Individualists to the 2016 and 2020 elections more than demonstrates that frustration and alienation are alive and well in contributing to this chasm. Nothing good can happen if the current structure of the United States and current divide continue to feed and foster frustration and alienation.
A solution worth thought and consideration exists. The irony is that the solution once existed in this country, and with one asinine exception, allowed this country to thrive. The solution is real, genuine Federalism. What is genuine Federalism? At its essence, genuine Federalism addresses issues at the most appropriate level of governance while recognizing the various states’ sovereignty and, more importantly, the regional variations in cultural, economic, and social norms and preferences. Genuine Federalism acknowledges that state governments carry the vast bulk of political decision-making, while reserving to the federal government only actual national issues. Real Federalism also permits Thomas Jefferson’s vision to emerge. Jefferson envisioned the states as mostly autonomous political realms where experimentation in policy and implementation occurred, the results of which are obvious, and capable of duplication as well as rejection. The 2021 United States is so overlaid with federal involvement that the ability to experiment and to observe untainted results is virtually suffocated. Examples exist, again, on both sides of the Statist versus Individualist divide. Kansas attempted to roll back government involvement at the state level in people’s lives in line with the belief that individualism promotes prosperity. However, the levels of federal taxation and regulation arguably squelched genuine results from this experiment because federal intervention is not tailored to the unique circumstances in Kansas. On the other side, Obamacare at first blush appears to fit within the Statist model. However, with the imposition of Obamacare, one payer healthcare financing lost steam. Under genuine Federalism, Statists could more easily elect people to implement a one payer system at a state level, the success of which would manifest itself in the results.
As the federal aspect of genuine Federalism is the smaller realm, it is easier to begin listing areas of federal governance. From a genuine Federalism perspective, the federal government’s responsibilities fall into a few, limited categories. First is national defense and foreign relations. The federal government is accurately and Constitutionally suited to address the relationship between the United States and all other nations. This includes the diplomatic corps, national defense, border control and citizenship status, foreign intelligence, and foreign counterintelligence. Second, the federal government is responsible for ensuring under the Commerce Clause that no state discriminates against the citizens of another state in terms of economic treatment. Wisconsin can lower its drinking age to 18 years old as long as a citizen of Illinois who is 18 years old can legally drink in Wisconsin. This intra-state consistency also applies to taxation, regulation, and legal status. Third, the federal government would still be tasked with jurisdiction over national financial markets like stock and commodity exchanges, preserving a single currency, investigating political corruption at all levels, and ensuring equal voting access and integrity at all levels, as well as few other specifically enumerated powers of the federal government. Using a rough estimation, the federal government would be responsible for approximately 10% of its current sphere of governance and influence. There may be other items that are arguably appropriate federally, but this list is fairly comprehensive.
The individual states would under genuine Federalism determine all of the rest of political decision-making. Statists and Individualists would be closer, more directly affected, and more directly influential in decisions affecting them if these smaller units were where most of the items in the political arena are determined. This also allows for Jefferson’s vision to take hold and succeed. Most importantly, genuine Federalism eases frustration and alienation because of one central, nonpolitical feature. Under a real Federalism system, citizens can more easily vote with their feet (or in this day and age, moving vans). Currently, if Statists or Individualists are angry, displeased, frustrated, alienated, or otherwise just plain pissed off by the laws that they either live under or lack of laws they wish to live under, their choice is either the more removed, grinding, and divisive process of changing political governance in D.C. or leave the country. With actual Federalism, US citizens could move, certainly more easily than to another country, to a state that more accurately reflects their values. There seems to be nothing more democratic than voting with one’s feet. Vast resources spent on lobbying the DC City-State could be spent on assisting people to move to the jurisdiction of their choice. Statists could raise money to move people who wish to move to a State with a more extensive government. Individualists could raise money for the opposite purpose. This relief valve from frustration and alienation is only heightened under a system where each state is free to experiment on policy without interference from un-tailored, heavy, and unwieldy federal interference. People move from state to state today, but the impact is mitigated by the weighted blanket of federal dominance, and clear choices are muted because you cannot escape the federal overlay interference.
A very straightforward and obvious example of the strength of genuine Federalism for both Statists and Individualists is the minimum wage. Imposing a national minimum wage is simply asinine. A $15 minimum wage in Manhattan objectively does not have the same impact as a $15 minimum wage in Laramie. Allowing each state to determine a minimum wage, if any, permits the experiment to happen. People have the option of moving their capital and resources to the location that makes the most sense to them with the results for the rest of the citizens to observe. This freedom of choice applies to financial and social issues equally. States can determine the status of abortion, discrimination, marriage, and a whole cadre of issues important to Statists and Individualists, with the ability to genuinely affect the policies either through having one’s vote count to a greater degree or the ability to vote with one’s feet. Genuine Federalism allows both Statists and Individualists greater control and access to their desired manners and means of ordering their lives, while minimizing frustration and alienation by allowing movement without the almost impossible task for most people of leaving the US.
In some ways, implementation of actual Federalism would be easy, but there are also complicated aspects. Genuine Federalism requires not only the reduction of the size and scope of the federal government, but a commensurate reduction in federal taxes. There would also need to most likely be an allocation of Social Security contributions and benefits proportionally among the States. These implementations are not an easy pill to swallow, but well worth it to avoid divorce and a groundswell of frustration and alienation. There are many details, many benefits, and many considerations involved with real Federalism, and if real Federalism finds its way on the main stage, more details can be added to the above outline both in terms of causes and effects.
Will actual Federalism create a healthier, more successful political environment for the US? The answer may depend on whether you sit in the Statist camp or the Individualist camp. The Statist camp is, by its very nature, expansionist and parasitic. The Statist camp may not survive in a system where people have greater choice to either live under its tenets or not (no Left regime survives long with open borders). However, if Statism works well, the real Federalist system gives the Statists an opportunity to prove their worth. Similarly, Individualists have the opportunity to demonstrate that they are willing and able to live with little to no government safety net involvement in their lives. Again, the proof will be in the pudding. Finally, these types of choices allow Centrists to survive because there is an opportunity to move to locations where the center point either does not move or moves less. Actual Federalism creates circumstances where frustration is mitigated, alienation is reduced, and the political choices become less about national domination, and more about regional experimentation. If the US is not already at the point of irreconcilable differences, real Federalism is an opportunity to bring down the emotion and allows natural schisms to play out through results. Otherwise, the entire nation will continue to bend back and forth like a piece of metal between federal election cycles, and like metal, with each bend it will become more and more brittle until it breaks.
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.