Embrace federalism to enhance civility

By Scott Tibbs, June 3, 2019

I have said before that I believe the state of political discourse is not necessarily worse today than it has been in decades past. Nonetheless, it is very bad, and social media makes it worse. So what can we do to make it better? How can we reduce the national anger? Answer: Rediscover and embrace federalism.

Part of the problem we have is that the federal government controls so much, with every debate that goes on leading to policy for the entire nation. This is bound to create division, because the needs of an urban community will not match up with the needs of people in rural areas. Even different urban and rural areas will have different needs from each other. So why are we imposing a one-size-fits-all solution on everyone?

A better solution is to have all government as local as possible. Have the debates take place community by community, with decisions made by governing bodies you can go lobby personally. Have decisions made by people you can see in the supermarket or out on the street. It is easier to see your political opponents as people when they are in your community instead of in one city on the east coast.

Under a federalist system, we would not necessarily need to worry about policy we dislike at the state or local level. What California does will not dictate policy in Montana, and what Alabama does will not dictate policy in New Jersey. The framers of our Constitution were very wise in recognizing this, and set up a system that was designed to withstand these differences.

Some federal control is necessary. We cannot have wholesale violations of civil rights by the states, and the federal government is empowered to control interstate commerce and foreign policy. We need to have a national government, with some authority over policy. But a much more limited federal role will greatly reduce the heat and volume of the debates by not having the stakes be so high for the whole country.

Obviously, federalism will not solve all of our problems. Even if we embraced a truly federalist system, social media will still be there. That horse has already escaped the barn and it will never come back. But our national political discourse will be greatly helped by having problems solved community-by-community instead of in one giant federal debate, where the stakes are so high for everyone.

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