Whether Joe Biden will be inaugurated in January, or Trump manages a legal miracle and secures the presidency, neither will represent a decisive choice of the American people.
The division and polarization that has dominated the United States in the last decades was on clear display in this election. Both candidates offered radically different agendas, and both secured roughly 50% support from the American people. Yet, if we look at the results from most states, there was a decisive choice made by the people of each state. In most Northeastern and West coast states, Joe Biden and his respective principles were the clear winners, while Donald Trump decisively won most of the South and Midwest.
Herein lies the cure for American polarization, a devolution of power from the federal level to the state level. Presidential and congressional elections have become such hotbeds of tension because they can hold great sway over the entirety of American society. Whoever is in office could affect abortion laws in Mississippi, fracking regulations in Pennsylvania, or gun laws in California. If the federal government were to delegate most economic and social decisions to the states, it would greatly deemphasize and depolarize federal elections. The presidential election would cease to matter to the average American because the president would be irrelevant to most of the decisions Americans face.
This devolution of the United States would neither be a radical or new solution. Until the 20th century, most decisions that affected the average American were made by state governments. It was only after successive progressive administrations and supreme courts did the federal government become an expanded vehicle of law-making.
Arguably, the United States could affect this devolution without passing a law or amending the constitution. The 10th amendment of the constitution establishes “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This amendment already permits a very devolved federal system for the United States. Liberals, conservatives, and moderates should use this already established principle to protect their own states’ decision-making abilities.
One obvious argument against this devolution is that it would allow states to make radical laws. This argument, however, is somewhat short-sighted in nature. There is always the possibility a government will pass a bad law, and while devolution might result in state’s passing laws that one finds objectionable, devolving power ensures that those laws would only be limited to one state. Allowing the federal government to be the vehicle for most rules and regulations risks those bad laws being forced on the entire country.
This devolution fits with the transitory nature of Americans (The average American moves around 11 times in a lifetime). Those who are in states that become either more conservative or liberal due to this devolution, can move to states that better reflect their personal values and principles. This movement among states would further reduce polarization within the states and have each state have a more monolithic and satisfied population.
The policies that the federal government would retain, namely national defense, has a far broader range of support from the American people and both parties. Both Republicans and Democrats favor a strong approach to China, support for Israel, and sanctions against Russia, among other issues.
Instead of a single house, the United States should become a neighborhood of houses that each serve as “laboratories of democracy” as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis described. Each state could test new social, economic, or political policies without endangering the stability of the United States as a whole.
This devolution would not entirely solve America’s divide. Divisive Issues like immigration would still have to be solved on the federal level, but by allowing individual states to decide their own policies, it would help defuse the national polarization that risks the stability of the United States and the world.
Stephen Sholl is a Junior Fellow with the Budapest Fellowship Program. He holds a MA in International Conflict and Security from the Brussels School of International Studies and a BA in History from Freed-Hardeman University.
Cover photo: Getty Images.