Dems Discover Love for Federalism in Trump Era
Our Founding Fathers set up an ingenious system of government. We should follow it.
Satirist Andrew Klavan has observed that President Donald Trump’s superpower is his ability to get his enemies to destroy themselves, as evidenced by the Democrat Party — for years hiding its radical socialist, culture-destroying agenda behind a façade of moderation — ripping off its mask to reveal its radicalism in a frothing, spewing gusher of hatred, incivility, and violence. Yet another Trump superpower, arguably even more consequential in the long run, has been his ability to get progressive Democrats to embrace federalism (at least when it serves their agenda).
Federalism refers to our system of government that divides powers vertically (between national, state, and local government) and horizontally (between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches) as a way of diffusing and checking government power.
Articles I, II, and III of the U.S. Constitution specify which powers are expressly granted to the federal government, and the 10th Amendment declares that all powers not specifically granted to the federal government are reserved to the states, or to the people (which is why it is technically incorrect to refer to “states’ rights” — people have rights, governments have powers).
For more than a century the Left relentlessly consolidated power in the federal government, forcing the people of every state to conform more and more to a single vision of government, rather than allowing the states to experiment with various policies and principles, each its own “laboratory of democracy.” This has created a zero-sum game; rather than each state doing what it sees fit, some states are forced to submit to the will of others.
This has been accomplished through laws passed by Congress, rulings of the Supreme Court that usurp the power of the states and people, and through the ever-expanding power of the executive bureaucracy. This is why the Supreme Court rulings on abortion and same-sex marriage, and laws like ObamaCare, have only served to turn the American people against each other.
Now, with Donald “literally Hitler” Trump holding the reins of the federal government, “progressives” have a newfound respect for federalism (if only temporarily). Suddenly they see the wisdom in states having power to push back against federal decrees.
Democrats were furious when the Supreme Court struck down Barack Obama’s attempt to withhold federal funding for states who refused to expand Medicare. Today, those same Democrats are overjoyed that the courts have blocked President Trump from denying federal funds to the “sanctuary” cities and states that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in the removal of illegal aliens.
Likewise, despite federal laws against marijuana cultivation and possession, 11 Democrat-controlled/leaning states have legalized recreational marijuana.
Chief Justice John Marshall declared, “An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy,” and we see that in the dire economic circumstances facing high-tax states like Illinois, New York, and California. High earners and business owners are fleeing those states for more favorable tax climates, which is economic federalism in action. People are literally voting with their feet, moving away from burdensome government to states that offer more freedom.
The beauty of federalism is it allows different states to try different policies to see what works best. A failure of a policy in one state doesn’t mean all states suffer. If the leftist loonies in California want to criminalize plastic straws, legalize defecation in the streets, and tax sugary drinks, car batteries, and even water, the country bumpkins in Georgia, Alabama, and Texas could not possibly care less. If California wants to quadruple its gas tax, so what? Red state folks will just roll their eyes and laugh at those crazy Left Coasters. But if the federal government forces those policies on red states, suddenly it’s not amusing — it’s a bitter feud.
Likewise, if red states expand school choice to include tax credits for tuition to religious schools, blue states should not care one way or another.
Or, as George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin explains, “Liberals and conservatives alike can benefit from stronger constraints on federal power. Each party can gain from protecting local diversity and experimentation, and from the insurance federalism provides in times when its opponent hold the reins of power in Washington. Left and right can agree on the need for substantial constitutional limits on federal power, even if they differ on exactly how tight those limits should be.”
Republicans found a desire to limit government power under Obama that they had abandoned under George W. Bush, and Democrats who cheered Obama’s vigorous use of executive power are now livid at Trump’s use of executive power to undo vast swaths of the Obama “legacy,” such that it is.
Our Founding Fathers knew power corrupts, and they devised an ingenious system pitting rival powers and factions against one another, in the process limiting abuse of that power. The system they devised also kept government power at the most local level possible, ensuring that government would be more responsive to the needs of the people.
If those in both parties can be more than “fair-weather federalists” and appreciate the enormous benefits of a federalist system, we may find a return to greater civility, where everything is no longer win/lose, but a matter of preferences. Can you imagine huge rallies where Ford owners screamed epithets at Honda owners, or Mac users assaulted PC users? That is what happens when government dictates choices.
Under federalism, though, we can enjoy the “public tranquility” that our Founders sought when establishing our federalist form of government.