America is under attack, and it isn’t hand-wringing liberal secularists this time around. Extreme proponents of states’ rights are setting up a false divide between state government and federal government, an attitude that neglects the United part of United States. Those attitudes were on display in full force this morning during US Senator Mike Lee’s visit to the floor of the Utah House.
Lee was insistent that many state and national problems are the fault of the federal government. House members were quick to pile on. Rep. Ken Ivory compared receiving money from the federal government to the “illusion of being on a big federal cruise ship when we’re actually on a big federal petri dish.”
These comments suggest the federal government is an entity that exists apart from America. But the federal government is actually a rather successful attempt at governance that mixes state and national interests in a way that has provided for a surprisingly prosperous country.
There’s no question that an efficient, streamlined federal government is central for a functioning American democracy. Likewise, there is no doubt that states have a better handle on their problems than government bureaucrats in Washington, DC. The same is true of the city and county governments that understand their local issues better than government bureaucrats in Salt Lake City.
But the state-federal government divide sets up a false dichotomy, ignoring how the various levels of government can work together to address local issues while maintaining the historical importance of a united American government.
Historians often point to the Civil War as a key moment for our development as the singular United States over the then-preferred plural United States. That is, before the Civil War people would refer to America as these United States. After the Civil War, we became the United States. No longer a collection of states pragmatically united, but a collection of states grammatically, politically, and spiritually united.
Most would agree with historians and point to the Civil War as a key moment in the development of our national consciousness, in spite of our many differences. Will issues of balanced budgets, Medicaid expansion, gun rights and marriage equality comprise the historical moment that eventually divides us again?