Editorial: Progressives rediscover the value of federalism

Published on Friday, 25 August 2017 10:59 - Written by

New York magazine makes a valid point; President Trump has been extremely effective at reminding progressives about the value of federalism – the balance of power between states and the national government.

“Now that Donald Trump is running the federal government, it’s a principle that liberals and progressives are embracing with open arms, as Democratic-leaning states and localities mobilize to shield themselves from federal policies they consider retrograde or just plain damaging to their residents and interests,” the magazine writes. “Hand over undocumented immigrants to Trump’s deportation machine? Perish the thought. Let the chief executive faithlessly sabotage the health-insurance market in an otherwise liberal bastion? Over our dead bodies. Or how about Jeff Sessions’s intended crackdown on local marijuana laws? Get out of town.”

Under Obama, of course, Democrats used the federal government to steamroll the states into accepting their priorities - from the Affordable Care Act to immigration rules. But with Trump in power, that attitude is changing.

“Progressive federalism is not a phrase you hear often, but the Trump era may have prompted a liberal awakening to the benefits of local pushback against centralized executive fiat,” New York explains. “When the president announced his ill-begotten travel ban a week after he took office, it was up to states like Washington and Minnesota to score the first major victory against the executive order’s implementation. And so it’s been with other hotly contested legal battles - over sanctuary cities, clean air, the payment of certain subsidies under Obamacare.”

Others are coming to the same conclusion, that an autocratic executive branch is a dangerous thing.

Writing for Politico last spring, Hillary Clinton supporter Richard Florida said he was shocked when Clinton didn’t win. But without her in the White House, he said, Americans should work hard to restore power to state and local governments.

“It’s time to confront a simple but stunning fact: When it comes to urban policy and much else, the federal government is the wrong vehicle for getting things done and for getting them done right,” he writes. “Whether it is controlled by the left or the right, no single top-down, one-size-fits-all strategy can address the desires and needs of a country as geographically, culturally and economically divided as America. Big cities and metropolitan regions, far-flung exurbs, suburbs and rural areas are very different kinds of places, with vastly different desires and needs.”

What he’s describing is federalism. And what is federalism, exactly?

“The long answer starts with America’s constitutional convention of 1787, where the term ‘federalism’ was coined,” explains The Economist magazine. “Those favoring a powerful central government, including Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (who eventually became the chief authors of the Constitution), adopted the name ‘federalists.’ Those who wanted strong states and a weak central government became the ‘anti-federalists.’ The Federalist Papers, a series of arguments for the new constitution written by Hamilton and Madison, acknowledged the need for balance between state and federal power, but they mainly favored the center.”

In other words federalism is the proper balance of state and federal power. And we’re glad Democrats have rediscovered it.