Love him or hate him, Sen. Jeff Flake said one thing last month that was certainly true — “this country is being ripped apart.” While civil war isn’t yet imminent, it’s hard not to feel like the divide between the left and the right is growing deeper with each passing controversy. We can significantly reduce this tension, and possibly prevent a civil war, by bringing the decision-making for a vast majority of issues back to the state level.
Without a change, America’s future is uncertain. As neighbors argue on Facebook, politicians are harassed in Washington. Politicians and the public alike are entrenched on their respective sides, praying that the next election will make things better. It won’t. Whether one believes the left has gone off the rails or the right, or both, either way the divide is growing. It continues to grow because each side believes it is right and the other side is wrong, and therefore, winning by any means necessary is justified. When asked where it leads, no one has a good answer. We all understand that civil war is not something that will make the country better, and dividing our nation pre-emptively into two or three regions is not practical or helpful. It is clear we need to talk to each other to find common ground. But many also find it more and more difficult as each day brings more outrage and controversy. In today’s climate, even moderate positions often seem a bridge too far.
Fortunately we have an answer already written into the way our nation is structured. As 50 individual states, we don’t need to all agree on every aspect of government and culture. If we significantly decentralize decision-making to the states, we can let states decide what is right for their population, allowing significant variation in policies. State governments already handle local policies for the death penalty, cannabis use, state taxes and many education policies, among other responsibilities. Why not increase state responsibility to include abortion, gun control, health care, full control of education, even entitlements and taxes?
For example, we could eliminate a federal income tax, allow states to handle all taxation of its residents in whatever manner they wish, and then have each state pay a fee to the federal government based on per capita state GDP. Very few current political issues, most of them connected to national security and foreign policy, must definitively be handled by the federal government. Certainly all social issues can be addressed by the states in a way that is appropriate to their electorate.
By decentralizing power in this way, we accomplish several things at once. First, states can cater policies toward their own unique needs. States with a large immigrant or Native American population, for example, may have different needs than more homogenous states. Urban states have different needs from largely rural ones. Many of our disagreements stem from the different needs of different states. Second, we can see what works. Now, what works in one state may be unique to certain qualities or demographics, but those states failing in one area will have 49 examples to consider when they revise their approach.
Third, we move power closer to the people. With a centralized federal government, all eyes fall on the president, Supreme Court, and 535 Congress representatives and senators. One hundred senators represent 330 million Americans. If significant decision-making is made by state legislators, that number becomes much smaller. Instead of petitioning one or two senators who represent millions of people, residents can petition their local state representative — who might live in their town and only represent several thousand. Governors would have more say. Political decision-making is more accessible because Americans would have more access to the people making decisions. The role of Congress would be more limited because it would be focused on fewer, truly national-level, issues. Relatedly, the Office of the President and the Supreme Court would become less powerful. The founders never intended POTUS or SCOTUS to be as important as they are today, and decentralization would rectify that.7 comments on this story
This plan won’t be easy, and would constitute dramatic change in certain areas, such as the tax policy outlined. Critics will say that the drama will play out at the state level instead. Surely there would be growing pains, but with analysts on both sides suggesting we might be headed toward a civil war in a few decades, it’s better than the alternative. Purple states can delegate some of these responsibilities to the county level if state-level opinion is still hotly divided. If nothing else, our national debates can be about fewer issues. We might still fight to the death over tariffs and wars, but maybe it won’t happen quite so often.