Two recent actions by the Trump administration and the reaction to them suggest that big changes are coming in how American government will work.
The U.S. Constitutional Founders rejected both full centralization — even under an elected parliament — and full autonomy for local units, creating instead a balance called federalism, with a few functions nationally and the great majority left to state, local and private governance.
American government worked this way until the early 20th century.
Of total government spending then, local governments expended a majority and all government spending was only six percent of the total economy. Today national government alone spends 60 percent and local government only 26 percent, totaling one-third of the economy — and regulates everything else.
This change resulted from the "scientific administration" revolution propounded by the most important thinker and politician since the Founders, Woodrow Wilson, who convinced U.S. intellectuals that the Constitution’s failure was separating power rather than consolidating it.
His belief that experts could regulate all of society’s problems from the center has become America’s governing philosophy.
Donald Trump’s challenge to this arrogant presumption that Washington elites can solve every problem took him into the White House.
What could be more local than police?
Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ first major policy speech before the National Association of (state) Attorneys General conceded that Washington, D.C.'s Department of Justice itself has been a major source of making police-work "more difficult," leaving local police "more reluctant to get out of their squad cars and do the hard but necessary work of up-close policing that builds trust and prevents violent crime."
Given the recent rise in violent crime, "We need to help police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness; and I’m afraid we have done some of that." We’re not seeing the kind of community-based policing that we have found so effective" with street policemen fearing they will be second-guessed by Federal officials trying to enforce political correctness.
"The Federal government must stop 'dictating' and rely on locals 'to lead the way.'"
Sessions did promise energetic enforcement of national laws, especially on immigration.
But the latter is precisely where the second great decentralization is taking place. The intriguing aspect of this decentralization is that it is progressive liberals who have rediscovered federalism, basing their sanctuary cities movement on the Constitution itself.
Conservatives correctly responded that the national government has the Constitutional obligation to regulate immigration. But there is no Constitutional duty for the states or local governments to do the federal government's job for them.
Of course, cities and states cannot actively subvert national immigration law but they have absolutely no Constitutional obligation to enforce that law unless it is also a part of their own statutory obligations.
The principle of keeping central government enforcers out of local policing goes back to the beginning, to the Insurrection Act of 1807, which is basically still the law today.
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Congress did extend national power over local policing for emergencies but this was repealed in its entirety the following year.
President Barack Obama again revived the power but was forced to limit its reach only to al-Qaida and its affiliates.
What could Washington, D.C. do if sanctuary New York City’s 50,000 police did not enforce national immigration laws anyway?
Eighty-five percent of policemen are local.
Even the Soviet Army refused to fire upon the local Moscow forces arrayed against them; and the U.S. Army is probably not more ruthless than they.
Consider all that many states have done over the years to undermine Federal court decisions against regulating abortion. What could the federal government do if Texas did not comply at all, refused federal funds and instructed its Congressmen to vote against all funding to states?
It is not too extreme to say that the biggest problem facing America today is using the enormous power of the national government to force everyone to follow the partisan ideological preferences of those who at any one time control the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court.
With the nation divided almost in half between Democrats and Republicans, one half simply forces the other to follow its own political preferences.
The only way to avoid eventual conflict between the two sides is to let them separate and do what the locals want without forcing it on everyone else.
One-size-fits-all dictated from the top is a recipe for lawlessness and disorder.
It is true that neither side will be fully happy without the other side doing what they would like them to be doing, but no Founder promised everyone would be happy — only that all could pursue happiness, so long as they let everyone else do the same.
That last part is the hardest. But conservatives should be in the lead trying to reestablish that decentralized federalism principle.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of "America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition and Constitution," and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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