The Culture War and Federalism

Federalism is one of the few political mechanisms that benefits everyone. All sides of the political divide should be wary of allowing it to become a casualty in the ever-escalating culture war.

The system of federalism created by the Constitution of the United States formed a union of sovereign states. While modern Americans do not generally think of themselves in terms of state identity and citizenship as much as their ancestors did, our laws still maintain a Republic of individual states.  Because of this, each state has been allowed to craft much of their own laws, establish and maintain their own customs, and enrich and grow their own unique cultures. There is likely nowhere else in the world where such different political realities and cultural norms could be experienced while remaining within the same country.

Contrary to what many of the more abrasive elements of the left and right might declare, the almost radically different state-to-state realities is a good thing. Political, cultural, and religious pluralism is what creates the free market of ideas.  We are fortunate to live under a government system that not only encourages as much local autonomy and freedom as possible but stubbornly protects it. Despite these apparent strengths of diversity under a federalist system, fewer and fewer American citizens seem to see things this way.

For at least the last three decades, American society has experienced a growing schism between conservative and progressive outlooks. This schism has grown to the point where each side looks upon each other with so much hostility that ideological and cultural difference has become viewed as existentially threatening.  Increasingly, the authority of political office and the mechanisms of government law and policy are being used as weapons to silence and marginalize political, ideological, and cultural opponents.  Rather than viewing the government as an impassionate umpire that maintains pluralism by ensuring liberty and justice for all, it is now wielded as an active player in the contest. The happy warriors of the opposing sides are so wrapped up in this conflict, they are blind to the damage being done.

Cultural conflict is nothing new and it is futile to expect a nation of so many millions of people to not have strong disagreement among the factions that naturally spring from such a varied community of citizens.  But we should be able to maintain a near universal respect for the system of governance which has allowed such a country to exist and thrive.  Federalism allows California to be a bastion of progressivism even under President Trump.  Federalism allowed Texas and other southern states to remain solid zones of conservativism even under President Obama. Federalism ensures no one person or group can completely alter the destiny of our country. Federalism is something we should agree is beneficial to all.

If this culture war must continue, so be it.  But perhaps, more of us could proceed with an understanding that the foundations of our federalist system should be “out of play”.  Let states maintain their sovereignty, let the co-equal branches of government maintain their balance, let the difficult decisions be hashed out in Congress by the people’s representatives, and let the free market of ideas function fully and properly.  If anyone thinks their ideology or cultural beliefs have anything to fear from the function of free governance in a limited, constitutional republic…perhaps they should consider why they are uncertain of the strength of their own beliefs.