Why Federalism is Needed to Prevent a Polarized America

  • March 2, 2021
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Why Federalism is Needed to Prevent a Polarized America – Republican Article

It would be an understatement to call the United States a deeply divided country. This situation is untenable, evidenced by the harrowing episodes of civil unrest this past year. Its cause is quite simple: the nationalization of most social and political issues.

Whether its guns, abortions, gay marriage, religious liberty, or multiculturalism, conservatives and liberals have advocated and litigated for policies and legal interpretations that span from sea to shining sea. Forget the fundamental differences in values and priorities among 330 million Americans. In the eyes of many partisans, only their ideology is true. The solution to this division is a return to the original understanding of federalism enshrined in our Constitution. Individual states should have more autonomy in social policy. In that world, Americans can respect each other’s differences and advocate for change specific to the cultural and ideological contexts of their immediate communities.

Federalism can solve these divisions by asking Americans to stop butting heads over irreconcilable ideological differences on the national stage. A secular San Francisco tech bro is unlikely to convince a Midwestern Evangelical pastor that abortion is acceptable. Their values are fundamentally orthogonal.

Instead, California can vote one way on guns and abortions, and Nebraska can vote another. No longer will there be endless Senatorial filibusters or contentious Supreme Court rulings, where Americans with fundamental differences duke it out indefinitely. By returning contentious social issues to the states, people with more shared beliefs can decide for themselves which policies best suit them. Instead of imposing the values of one region of the country over another, Americans can agree to disagree on a wide range of divisive social issues. In the status quo, half the country is always angry at the other half. One half is imposing their subjective conception of justice, morality, and the common good on the other. This is in conjunction with the fact that many of these social issues are rooted in fundamental (and sometimes religious) values. It is no wonder why America is so divided today. 

I am under no illusion that the national conversation will completely lose its pugnacious character. America is a large country, and some controversial issues, such as taxes, spending, and national defence have to (for practical and constitutional reasons) be decided at the federal level. However, Americans tend to have shared goals in economics or defence. Everyone wants to be economically prosperous and safe. Debates simply tend to revolve around the best means to achieve those shared priorities. It is far harder to get angry at someone over a different interpretation of the facts and data. 

Indeed, even our acrimonious Congress (despite much fanfare) regularly compromise on many economic and national security issues. The same cannot be said about abortion or guns, in which Americans have divergent goals. Pro-lifers, often religious, find abortion morally offensive. Pro-choicers believe it is a woman’s fundamental right to choose. Their fundamental values are irreconcilable.

To restore a more classical understanding of federalism, the Supreme Court must follow the original public meaning of the constitutional text. Since the 1950s, the court has divined new rights with limited reference to the constitutional text. It has then imposed those invented rights on all Americans. As a result, issues where Americans once agreed to disagree have become topics of the national conversation. By returning to the constitution’s original meaning, most social issues – with the rare exception of those social issues overlapping with the constitution – will return to the states. 

Of course, there are limitations to the autonomy of states. The 14th Amendment of the Constitution makes clear that the Bill of Rights applies to the states and the federal government. No state can ever deny racial minorities equal protection or abridge the freedom of speech. However, most constitutional rights–except for the right to bear arms–are uncontroversial. 

America is divided on the basis of fundamental values. It is time for Americans to agree to disagree. Federalism offers a path to a less acrimonious nation.

Written by Republican Writer, Spencer Shia

Point of Information

There’s No Going Back – A Democratic Response

I have to say that I disagree with my Republican colleague’s solution here. I don’t think that going backwards will magically remove or abridge the gap between Americans. Not because the gaps are unbridgeable, but because federalism will not solve them.

In the US we are not divided over policies, we are divided over the “culture war”. Americans are united on a policy front. 80% of people want more covid relief, two-thirds of Americans favor raising taxes on the wealthy and raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Furthermore, over 60% support universal health coverage.

As we can see Americans are united behind certain policies. But Americans are divided over issues pertaining to the “culture war”. Returning to federalism can’t solve that, as you can’t legislate over culture. And when examining the “culture war”, it seems that the divides are not between states themselves, but rather urban vs. rural. Again, federalism cannot solve that because there are rural and urban elements to each state. Georgia is a prime example. What once was thought to be a solidly red state recently turned blue in the general and special election, largely thanks to increased turnout from its urban areas such as Atlanta and Augusta.

Returning to federalism will not solve all our issues. In reality, it might create some more. After the 2020 election, several republican state legislatures have proposed voter suppression measures disguised as “election integrity bills”. If these measures were passed and implemented every American would suffer, as not all Americans would have equal voting rights. This shows the shortcomings of federalism. It can’t solve the big issues. Covid and environmental legislation have shown us that a return to federalism also creates more problems, preventing the creation of a unified national strategy to solve paramount problems.

While a return to federalism seems nice, it will not bridge the divide between Americans. It will not solve the issues the country is facing. Federalism has the potential to make problems worse. With the “culture war” in the internet age, the issues are present at all times in all places. It is impossible for the divides to be contained at the state level.

Written by Democratic Writer, Ali Lahrech

More Federalism Won’t Solve the Issue – A Foreign Perspective

Unfortunately, I disagree with my colleague here. I don’t think that more federalism will help solve America’s divisions. This is partly because I don’t think it is possible. But also because issues like abortion and 2nd Amendment Rights don’t dominate the national conversation. Don’t get me wrong, they are certainly a part of it, but I think the conversation is shifting to other topics that are less based on policy and more based on emotional issues.

Also, this does nothing to address the partisanship that is currently in American politics. It just pushes it down to the state level.

It wouldn’t solve the current party divisions either. 6 Republican Senators were censured by their state parties for convicting Trump. These senators were carrying out their constitutional role of voting on conviction for Trump. This is certainly not an issue that could be moved to the states to reduce division.

Take the media and cancel culture. These are both issues that have come to the fore of American political discussion, and federalism won’t remove the debates around that. The media will continue to get strong national attention because it will still cover the federal government. Moreover, cancel culture is being driven by other actors. The toxic discussion around both will remain.

Also, what about policies that need a clear national response that is not in the Constitution? Think about climate change, for example. The USA has re-joined the Paris Agreement, where national, not state targets are set. If climate policy was a state matter, then I have no doubt that these targets, and any other ones, would fail to be met.

On a practical level, no one will agree on what sort of direction this should look like. Others will love this idea, and some will loathe it, but it will become part of the discourse that you’re trying to remove. Not to mention that this would be a huge shift in power, right in the middle of a health and economic crisis.

The management of the pandemic also shows why increased federalism on things like health policy wouldn’t be great. Some states lawfully required masks, some didn’t. Some had stronger lockdowns while others didn’t. A coherent national strategy would have no doubt reduced the level of death that America has endured. No matter if you thought the lockdown states got it right or not, a coherent, unified response would have stopped some of the governors from turning against one another. No matter if it is levied at the state or federal level, America’s biggest fore right now is still their fellow countryman.

The Senate can already remove the filibuster if it wants. It doesn’t need increased federalism to do so. Besides, increased federalism doesn’t necessarily mean the end of filibustering. No doubt that those will be performed on what Congress still has policy rights over. Neither increased federalism nor removal of the filibuster has to occur for the other to happen.

Written by Foreign Perspective Writer, Kieran Burt

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Ali Lahrech
Democratic Writer | Website

Hi, I’m Ali and I’m in my third year at the University of Toronto. I’m studying International Relations as my major and Spanish as my minor.

 

I was born and raised in Washington DC to Moroccan parents. This gave me a unique lens with which to observe the country I was raised in. While I am an American citizen, I often have a different perspective than my friends and peers whose families have been in the United States for much longer than mine. Growing up in around DC also gave the unique opportunity of being at the heart of American politics. Ever since President Barrack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 I was hooked.

 

I have always been left of the American center and most closely aligned myself with the Democratic party. While I vote for the Democratic party, like many Americans I’m starting to feel more and more disillusioned with them and the two-party system. The 2016 election is was the catalyst for my dissatisfaction with the American political parties. I had seen the Republican party move further and further right while the Democrats hadn’t really moved left. They had essentially implemented a policy of appeasement towards the Republicans. In summation I was disappointed that the Democrats had bent the knee to Republicans rather than proposing and implementing bold and forward-thinking policies that would help Americans.

 

This disappointment and disillusionment started to transform into optimism after the 2018 midterms. I saw that there was still hope for a bright future for America. The Democratic party had started to shift leftwards, albeit at a snail’s pace. After the 2018 midterms I became a man possessed by American politics. As I dove deeper and deeper into American politics, I realized that we don’t know enough about it. This fact is why I think it is key for all of us, no matter our perspectives, to have a conversation with each other and most importantly listen to one another; so, we better understand one another and where we’re coming from.

 

Therefore, I look forward to sharing my perspective with POI and reading others’ with great enthusiasm.

 

 

Kieran Burt
Conservative writer at | Website

Hello, my name is Kieran Burt and I am going into second year at Nottingham Trent University studying Politics and International Relations. I first developed an interest in politics through reading the Dictator’s Handbook by Alastair Smith and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, when I was 16, and have furthered my interest by studying politics at A level and now at university.

Spencer Shia
Republican Writer

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