Why Progressives Should Embrace Federalism By Mik Bushinski
Federalism has long been touted by conservatives as a way to limit the federal government and mostly reviled by progressives as a tool for oppression. The election of President Trump; however, has the potential to show progressives the merits of federalism. If progressives discover the value of federalism, it could prove to be a footing for limiting Trump’s agenda, empowering minorities, and strengthening the nation’s constitutional system at the same time.
The Constitution set up a system of federalism as a vertical check on government power. Federalism, often used synonymously with states' rights, is a system that leaves significant power to the states and outside the reach of the federal government. Succinctly stated in the tenth and final amendment to the Bill of Rights, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Unfortunately, federalism has rarely received the credit it deserves for its potential to limit federal power, and in doing so, enhance minority power and rights.
The most common objection to federalism is the history of resistance to racial equality at the state and local levels. Major advancements in racial equality have been passed federally. This objection has not subsided. Attorney General Sessions’ decision to pull back on civil rights suits against law enforcement agencies the Obama administration criticized for systematic racism has upset progressives immensely.
These objections to federalism show that the opportunity exists for discrimination against minorities at the state or local level. But the states should be seen as competitive democracies where citizens can choose which state's system they would like to live, work, or do business under.
The North Carolina “Bathroom Bill” illustrates this perfectly. The state legislature passed a bill many saw as discriminating against transgender people. Numerous businesses, organizations, and individuals pulled operations from the state, including the NCAA and Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr). The same type of response can be expected to discrimination or marginalization in other areas. Just as citizens chose where to reside based on state taxes, weather, and culture, a strong system of federalism will give citizens the opportunity to decide based on any number of government policies.
Many situations exist in the United States today where national minorities, like African-Americans or Latinos, are majorities at the local level. This presents the opportunity for national minorities to rule as majorities at the state or local level. Federalism limits the scope of the federal government and allows for national minorities, but local majorities, to have control over a greater part of the government affecting their lives.
Progressives take serious issue with many of Trump's policies, ideas, and rhetoric. Federalism was designed for such a situation. Trump and the Republican Congress have certain powers, but the rest are reserved to the states. Sadly, much of the federalism's protections have been eroded over the years. But now looks like a perfect time for progressives to realize and fight for the federalism set up in the Constitution. On top of strengthening the constitutional framework, it will limit Trump and allow for local policies in steadfast opposition to Trump's agenda. It seems time for progressives to begin embracing federalism and all of its potential.
Mik Bushinski is a graduating senior in government and economics at Utica College who will be attending law school at Yale University.