I’ve been bowled over the last few weeks reading the growing number of articles in which mainstream columnists are finally coming to terms with a reality that I embraced more than a quarter century ago: the likely, if not inevitable, transformation of the American Union into a much looser federation or into a number of smaller nation-states.
Predictably over the last quarter century, I’ve even been labeled everything from a neo-Confederate and a racist to a secessionist and traitor for subscribing to such views.
Actually, far more prodigious intellects, notably, the late George F. Kennan, foresaw this inevitability years before I did.
I, for one, and despite my conservatism, respect the right of California and other left-leaning states to experiment with different domestic policies. I hope when all the chips are down that these enlightened blue-coast cosmopolitans will afford their counterparts in the red American hinterland the same courtesy. And lest we forget, that was the concept behind American federalism: that states possessed the attributes of nationhood but had chosen out of a desire for self-preservation against Britain and the other maritime powers of Europe to delegate a comparatively narrow range of powers to a general government that operated on behalf of the states.
Aside from all the constitutional arguments, there just comes a point when people outgrow relationships, whether these are business contracts, civic groups, friendships or marriages. And the simple fact of the matter is that America is simply too damned big and diverse to govern, at least, based on the cookie-cutter approach that Woodrow Wilson and the progressives devised for us roughly a century ago. We have reached the point where cultural evolution throughout through Europe and America has outstripped the ability of the central government to keep pace with it.
I really believe that. In fact, I think that this is one of the inherent flaws in federations: The constituent parts are often inherently fissiparous, with their own highly evolved cultures and political ideologies. These constituent parts don’t stop evolving when they enter into a federation: Their cultural and political evolution continues apace, sometimes to the point at which they feel compelled to question the utility of their relationship with the other members of the federation. Maybe it’s time for us to take into account that incontrovertible fact whenever we undertake the design and execution of another federation.
How close is America to a crackup? I’m not sure. Even so, I do believe that in many notable respects, we are drawing close to where the beleaguered Soviet Union found itself in about 1990. Either we find some way to renegotiate federal arrangements in the United States by devolving more power back to states and, most important of all, localities, or we face a situation where internal pressures build up to a degree that states and regions take it upon themselves to address these problems.
Deep-blue California’s nullifying tendencies vis-a-vis the policies of the Trump Administration are merely a taste of what is to come.
In fact, in an unusually comprehensive and informative column posted in the Intelligencer recently, one perceptive columnist, Sasha Issenberg, predicts that growing number of states may enter into interstate compacts to work through a number of intractable domestic problems. In the end, the United States may comprise up to three de facto federations: blue, red and neutral, each conducting their own unique domestic policies, while remaining parts of the United States.
Yet, even this columnist concedes that these de facto arrangements will only work for a time before the internal stresses build up and rend apart these federations, forcing each to move close to becoming bona fide countries.
For his part Kennan offered a sort of middle way, one to which I’m sympathetic: a union of about 15 or so constituent republics, to which the bulk of domestic powers would be entrusted, leaving the central government to run a common market and defense pact.
Whatever the case, we are very possibly approaching a constitutional impasse in which large states, particularly California, increasingly will assume more and more powers on their own, drawing us closer to a Soviet scenario. By that I mean that, despite our attempts to stay ahead of the problem by introducing institutional reforms, the country inevitably comes apart.