Decentralized America

Trump’s election to the American presidency despite all conventional expectations disrupted the past patterns and practices of national political governance. Trump’s inconsistent but populist policies have upended the mono-partisan American politics of the late 20th and early 21st century. The two differently labeled wings (Republican, Democrat) of the same statist warfare-welfare political party are now splintered and broken. Since neither wing was able to prevent Trump’s ascendancy, neither is fully capable of holding him in check.

In a recent fit of presidential pique President Trump threatened to remove federal ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) agents from California. This due to the mayor of Oakland’s warning of pending ICE raids targeting illegal immigrants in the SF Bay Area. Angry that the intended targets were tipped off, Trump claimed that removal of ICE agents from Golden State ports of entry would result in an immediate invasion by foreign criminals. If Trump wants to pull ICE out of Cali and put federal checkpoints up on I-5, I-10, I-20 and I-40, who’s to stop him?

Libertarians may have a different take on this idea. Small separatist movements have long existed in several American states, mainly California, Texas and Vermont, though other states have also seen that idea gain traction. Recently the rise of state level legalization of marijuana for medical or personal use, along with practices by some large Democrat run cities about ICE enforcement actions and firearm restrictions, have led to open defiance of federal laws about these matters.

Imagine if President Trump delivered on his threat to remove US customs/immigration check points from California. We might then see highways and airports outside of California borders dotted with federal agents inspecting travelers and vehicles from the newly semi-independent California Bear Republic. “Please open your luggage for inspection. Have your passport or other proof of American citizenship available for inspection! California plate vehicles over here!”

If this drastic action were to withstand legal challenge, it could well lead to other states opting out of locally unpopular federal rules and regulations. This might lead to a decentralized Balkanization of the American federal republic. A republic of federated states no longer legally dominated by national federal laws and regulations. One can imagine both Vermont and Texas deciding to tailor immigration, drug and other laws to their own local preferences. Add Florida, Hawaii and Alaska to the list, for obvious geographical reasons, and you have real concrete steps towards meaningful decentralization envisioned by libertarians.

But the impact of internal ICE checkpoints surrounding federally non-compliant immigration and drug policy states (among other local heresies) would have a dramatic effect on the federal-versus-state relationships. Popular resentment and hatred of federal border checkpoints would be immediate. The hallowed American tradition of smuggling would soar.  At the same time state level policies on immigration and drug laws chosen by local governments and their citizens would provide a dramatic laboratory for the effects of new laws and practices.

None of this would automatically bring about libertarian Utopia. But it would crack the façade of untouchable federal diktat by the fewer than 600 politicians sitting in Washington DC telling everyone how to live. The unhealthy concentration of federal officeholders is highly vulnerable to financial bribery direct or indirect, which requires enormous amounts of special interest money to get elected in the first place. Add to that the hundreds of federally appointed judges and thousands of unelected appointed bureaucrats, and you have a concentration of State power in one small city not seen since Moscow in Stalin’s era or Paris during Louis XIV’s reign.

Does any serious person believe that laws governing permanent residency/work, personal drug use, online gaming or use of firearms should be the same for citizens of Massachusetts, Texas and California? Why? Change can be good, and the real world effects of differences could be judged.

There is a liberal bias towards federal domination of the states. This comes as a result of the historical experience of legal rights being expanded by federal laws/jurists as the more restrictive state laws were overturned. This is mainly a byproduct of smaller, rural states being more conservative law-and-order places, as well as the legacy of legally enforced racism. Using the excuse provided by now vanished state level laws, modern political liberals have looked only to the feds when demanding changes. But this is mere historical legacy. Now liberals are experiencing the opposite effect: federal political leadership now is often more restrictive or conservative than what liberal politicians would like in their own states and cities. It is no longer only conservatives who advocate “state’s rights.”

Decentralized politics can work both ways, for and against more individual liberty. In some cases it is the federal level law and regulation which maintains libertarian federal constitutional protections, as with the 1st, 2nd and 5th Amendments. So bedrock constitutional protection of individual rights should not and need not be subject to local jurisdiction veto. But only a tiny fraction of federal law actually protects individual liberty or promotes safety and prosperity for American citizens.

Trump inspired decentralization could be a good idea for the libertarian future. The original 13 American states were not a monolithic polity where all resources were directed by President George Washington and federal officeholders. Our current nation is not monolithic in culture, economic development or political direction. Californians should regard themselves as a proud, separate people, even when they choose to be governed by neo-commies like Jerry Brown & Co. No one is forced to live there. Ditto for Texas, Hawaii, Montana, Vermont or Louisiana. Kansans don’t think like New Yorkers. Mainers have different lifestyles and opinions than New Mexicans.

We should be open minded. Trump’s irritable tweets may well hold the best future path for a decentralized American republic. Each state or territory seeking its own path to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Local self-control may not always be perfect, but it is surely better than rule by the self-sustaining and permanently entrenched DC Beltway oligarchy.

As a wonderful bonus, you can bet that the citizens of Texas, California, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, et. al. do not want to be in the dangerous and financially ruinous business of choosing which despot becomes ruler of Syria, Afghanistan or the Congo. For that reason alone – improving prospects for world peace —  we should consider Trump’s California ICE removal threat seriously. And positively. Decentralization needs to start somewhere.

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