February 18, 2020 10:00 AM
This week’s Courier Herald column:
America is a country that was founded on concepts of
personal freedoms and limits on government intervention. Our
Constitution enumerates specific powers given to the federal government. The remaining powers lie to the states, or to
The Constitution has set the guiding principles of our Government
for 232 years. Over time the American people have adapted it via amendments,
court rulings, and general customs and practices.
The trend over the past couple of decades has been one that
seems to have nationalized all of our politics.
Campaign consultants and the candidates who hire them feast on red meat
issues designed to appeal to a political base, regardless of the duties of the
It’s not uncommon to see county tax commissioners run on a
pro-life platform, or those running for city councils tout their support or
opposition to Obamacare. It’s easy to
blame the candidates, but who we elect are a reflection of we the people.
As an aggregate, it appears we have little time or patience
to delve into the proper roles of each level of government, and then discern
who at each level and for each office is best qualified to execute the duties
of that specific office. With a large
and growing segment of voters having only the capacity for one or two bumper
sticker slogans to guide them, fewer and fewer among us are winning arguments
that question if the proposed government action is coming from the proper level
of government, or if it is even a proper function of government at all.
Instead, we’ve basically nationalized all elections. We have two partisan teams. There is a disorganized but growing supply of
unaffiliated voters who have not yet figured out how to coalesce their own
power to reign in the march toward extremes in the major parties.
When the movement to nationalize all issues combines with
hyper-partisanship, gridlock ensues.
Even issues that have broad consensus on solutions can become mired in
political gridlock. Washington seems to
pull out “infrastructure week” on a monthly basis, but electoral votes these
days seem to come from stoking divides rather than consensus and compromise.
Gridlock can’t last forever.
Leaders will eventually solve the problems, be replaced by those who
will, or the system will implode when cynicism overrides loyalty to civics as
we know them.
We have a warning sign developing that our civic structure
is under stress, and it is approaching us under the usually benign slogan of “local
control”. Local control is a great
concept…until it isn’t.
The concept of “sanctuary” cities and counties are rooted in
the concept of local control. In
reality, they are a direct challenge to the laws set by federal and state
The concept has long been embraced by the political left as
a way to sidestep federal immigration laws. A growing movement from the political right
has adopted the same practices and rhetoric over gun rights.
There will be no attempt to solve either of those issues
here. The point of both is that a
growing national divide combined with a march toward partisan extremes has
created a gulf, where our nation’s ability to govern itself and enforce its own
laws hang in the balance.
It’s important to remember the first decade of this country’s
history, when we were governed not by the Constitution, but Articles of
Confederation. They were born out of
huge distrust for a powerful centralized government. They failed, because they were unable to
provide the mechanisms to tie the states into one nation.
This month we celebrated Presidents Day, a holiday that was originally
two honoring a President that led the Continental Army to independence, and
another that held the Nation together during a time of civil war. Through those polar opposites of national
unity, America has managed to stand united as one people.
There is nothing wrong with the belief that decisions must
be decided at the most local level possible.
If we are to have a nation, we must also understand that some decisions
must be made at state and national levels when those decisions have great
impact on us all.