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Federalism: Let’s build something together

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As a political writer and opinion columnist, I swim in an ocean of criticism.

The outrage culture we’ve built over the last 20 years — for which Sean Hannity and Trevor Noah bear equal blame — has degenerated healthy debate into insults, shouts, jeers, slurs, and just so, so much anger.

It’s not that we argue too much — I actually wish Americans argued more—and better — but we do sometimes fall into a rut of criticism that we’re unwilling to climb out of.

See, argument is a structured discussion used to discern the truth of a proposition, and if we had more arguments we would have less outrage, shouting, and street fights. The lack of actual argument has left us unable to discern and defend truth, which is why we spend so much time screaming our baseless opinions at others, and getting offended when others scream theirs at us.

It’s an untenable situation, and one that will likely resolve itself as soon as people start caring more about what’s true than what’s polite.

Like argument, there’s an appropriate place for criticism and even condemnation. Law enforcement officers who abuse their power should be criticized. Alt-right “race realists” intent on rekindling 1930s ethnofascism should be condemned, along with their violent, pro-censorship Antifa counterparts on the Left.

Criticism is meant to pressure, to challenge, to motivate toward something higher. Condemnation is meant to isolate something harmful, letting others know to stay away for their own good and the good of society.

But the problem we face is that both of these important tools are habitually abused.

Criticism isn’t meted out reasonably in hopes of modifying behavior, it is piled on everyone as a way to elevate the one offering the critique. Condemnation isn’t reserved for the truly heinous among us, it is slopped on indiscriminately like mayo on a McChicken.

Convinced of the impossibility of maintaining standards, we hitch our wagons to the slogan “nobody’s perfect” and seek equality around the lowest common denominator, by hanging every mistake around the neck of those who aspire to something higher.

And so doing, our entire generation is missing the opportunities laid right in front of us:

Build something. Create something. Improve something.

Innovate.

Engage.

Learn.

Grow.

Unite.

Before I get too close to sounding like an inspirational poster, I need to narrow the scope of what I’m talking about. Let’s strip away the layers of presuppositions that have built up over the years, and address the things we all care about — most of which have nothing to do with the issues that fill the headlines any given day.

One of the more insidious side-effects of the two-party system is that it has turned everything in the world into zeroes and ones. We know how we’re supposed to think about different things, based on who we identify with.

Republicans in New Hampshire are supposed to obsess over illegal immigration — even though they’re 2000 miles from the southern border — because, well, they’re Republicans.

California Democrats feel compelled to take a position against North Carolina’s bathroom segregation, despite the fact that it has no impact whatsoever on their state.

We square off against each other on social media, fishing for clues to confirm what column the other person belongs in, rather than judging whether their arguments are valid.

Less than halfway through this column, odds are you’ve already scoped out my profile, followed a couple links, and browsed the comments or my prior articles to decide whether you should share this or mock it.

We all do. It’s the norm now. And it’s cynical and destructive.

Partisanship and identity politics are tearing the nation apart, and the only people who benefit from it are those who receive the blind loyalty it creates.

But many articles have been written on the problem — it’s time to address solutions — and that’s where things get sticky.

On one hand there’s no silver bullet solution to “making America great again”, and anybody pitching one is usually out to make a buck. Red and blue America learned to resent each other decades ago; it’s not going to be undone overnight.

On the other hand, it’s lazy and intellectually irresponsible to suggest that we continue doing what we’re doing, and just accept the fact that left and right will always hate each other, battle in the street, and post gory imagesof severed heads in place of civil dialogue.

Given current trends, we can’t continue, even if we wanted to. Normal, reasonable Americans are abandoning both major parties at either an alarming or encouraging rate, depending on your perspective. “Independent” continues to rule the national party affiliation race by a wide margin, and third party presidential voting rose 300% from 2008 to 2012, and 800% from 2008 to 2016, despite some of the worst third party candidates in recent memory.

So the question we face isn’t whether the political landscape in the US will change, but rather what it will change to: a perpetual battlefield between increasingly partisan extremes, or an open marketplace of political ideals offered representation within competing jurisdictions — an appified version of government that fits with where culture and technology have already been for years.

The answer was baked into the country by the radical progressives (of their day) who founded it — Federalism.

Federalism has a way of relieving all kinds of tension and returning relationships to normal by developing and maintaining separate spheres of influence. This works with government just as it does for business or even family — who doesn’t have a better relationship with their parents after moving out?

Obviously there are a few things that the whole country needs to agree on in order to maintain a united identity and share the same space, but we shouldn’t have to agree on everything. For a culture that emphasizes diversity, we seem incredibly hostile to the idea that people in different regions should be allowed to have different lifestyles and priorities.

The trend in American politics over the last few decades has been to nationalize every single dispute, either through Congress, executive order, or — most often — the Supreme Court. Every special interest group seeks to wield the Federal government like a cudgel against their political opposition, and so doing, establishes the precedent for the other side to beat them with it given the first electoral opportunity.

Aside from being incredibly uncharitable and narrow-minded, this form of governance is backward, inefficient, and, well, stupid.

It creates redundancies at every level of government, as federal departments conflict with state departments, which in turn conflict with city and county policies established in the interests of folks in those locales. It fails to balance the different views of people in different places with different jobs, lifestyles, and priorities.

Many have written on what I believe to be the most important divide in America today — the rural/urban divide — but few have put forward any ideas to deal with the divergent subcultures.

It’s a real problem, and one extremely evident in my home state of Iowa. Our century-old farm culture is often at odds with the growing segment of the population living in the cities and taking service jobs. The Republican-controlled state legislature has declared war on blue-leaning city governments around the state, using preemption laws to block those cities from instituting policies that conflict with their own.

Over the last eight years, red America encountered a similar problem, and states fought tooth and nail to nullify President Obama’s far-reaching executive initiatives on immigration, health care, housing, climate change, and more.

This “standardize everything” mentality causes gears to grind between each level of the government machine, and ultimately you end up with multi-tiered bureaucracy that is bulky, unresponsive, and useless to most people who are more interested in building a new deck and taking a second job as an Uber driver than arguing the merits of traditional marriage or the war on terror.

What’s really interesting about this stubborn trend in American government is that it stands in stark opposition to pretty much every other cultural trend. Millennials have embraced small businesses over global corporations, customization over comprehensiveness, and individuality over uniformity.

We reshape the world with technology, defying convention and challenging time-honored societal institutions with innovative new concepts. We seek the compartmental, the object-oriented, the personalized, the individual, in everything we do.

Except government.

When it comes to the political system, most Americans — millennials included — are still content to let partisanship guide the system, and pretend to enjoy the biannual knock-down-drag-out that leaves the same two groups of people in charge of our everyday lives.

We have a million different options on our cell phones covering everything from food and fitness to business and entertainment, but when it comes to government, we have only two options — and pretty much every data set you’ll find suggests that few people are excited about either of them.

What if we applied the lessons we’ve learned in every other area of society to government for a change?

What if we increased choice by allowing more parties to develop and challenge the big two?

What if we modernized our electoral system to eliminate gerrymandering, and increase access and transparency for average people looking to make an impact on their government without having to take up activism as a full-time job?

What if you could invest in what you care about through an app in your pocket, rather than by standing in the freezing cold collecting petition signatures?

What if we created an object-oriented system of government that allowed your city or state to reflect the things that are important to you, without asking permission from Washington first?

What if the appetite for Federalism both on the Left and the Right brought us back to a place where we could agree to disagree again?

What if we actually believed in ourselves, and in our ability to break out of the two party shell and build something together?

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Doug Olson

    August 8, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    Excellent article

  2. Eric Dixon

    August 8, 2017 at 8:52 pm

    I was wondering just how bad those third party candidates were, and why I didn’t remember any of them. Then I clicked on the link.

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Guns and Crime

Border Patrol arrests 32 at San Diego demonstration

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Border Patrol arrests 32 at San Diego demonstration

SAN DIEGO (AP) — U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested 32 people at a demonstration Monday that was organized by a Quaker group on the border with Mexico, authorities said. Demonstrators were calling for an end to detaining and deporting immigrants and showing support for migrants in a caravan of Central American asylum seekers.

A photographer for The Associated Press saw about a dozen people being handcuffed after they were told by agents to back away from a wall that the Border Patrol calls “an enforcement zone.” The American Friends Service Committee, which organized the demonstration, said 30 people were stopped by agents in riot gear and taken into custody while they tried to move forward to offer a ceremonial blessing near the wall.

Border Patrol spokesman Theron Francisco said 31 people were arrested for trespassing and one was arrested for assaulting an officer.

More than 300 people, many the leaders of churches, mosques, synagogues and indigenous communities, participated in the demonstration at San Diego’s Border Field State Park, which borders Tijuana, Mexico.

The rally held on a beach divided by the border wall was the second confrontation for Border Patrol agents since a caravan of more than 6,000 migrants, predominantly Hondurans, reached Tijuana last month. A confrontation with rock-throwers from Mexico led to U.S. agents firing tear gas into Mexico on Nov. 25 and a five-hour closure of the nation’s busiest border crossing.

Thousands of migrants are living in crowded tent cities in Tijuana after undertaking a grueling journey from Central America to the U.S. border. Many face waiting weeks or months in Mexico while they apply for asylum. The U.S. is processing up to about 100 claims a day at the San Diego crossing, which is creating a backlog.

The demonstration Monday was meant to launch a national week of action called “Love Knows No Borders: A moral call for migrant justice,” which falls between Human Rights Day on Monday, and International Migrants’ Day on Dec. 18, the group said.

“Showing up to welcome and bless children, mothers and fathers seeking asylum from very difficult and dehumanizing circumstances is the right and humane thing to do,” said Bishop Minerva G. Carcano, from the San Francisco Area United Methodist Church. “How we act in these moments determines who we will become as a nation.”

The group also is calling on Congress to defund Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

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Entertainment and Sports

Latest Godzilla: King of Monsters trailer may mean it’s actually getting released next year

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Latest Godzilla King of Monsters trailer may mean its actually getting released next year

One of next year’s early blockbusters will be Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It is scheduled for May 31 after being pushed repeatedly to position it against the competition. This newest release date will give Marvel’s Avengers: End Game plenty of time to eat up audience dollars before passing the baton.

Originally slated for this year, executives kept looking for the best window for their second installment of what they hope to be a franchise similar to the successful Planet of the Apes reboot. The first installment of Godzilla in 2014 was widely seen as the first legitimate blockbuster featuring the Japanese monster after a handful of clunky attempts. It did well with a strong cast (including Bryan Cranston) and chalked up over $500 million at the worldwide box office against 75% on Rotten Tomatoes.

This installment features Millie Bobby Brown who has experience fighting demonic beasts in Netflix Stranger Things.

My only concern is that they seem to be putting out all the major bad monsters in this one – Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. It lends to the notion that this will be limited to a trilogy with the climax being Godzilla vs. Kong, crossing over the giant ape’s own franchise.

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Healthcare

Brett Kavanaugh punts on Planned Parenthood cases, leaving conservatives baffled

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Brett Kavanaugh punts on Planned Parenthood cases leaving conservatives baffled

Conservatives were cheering when Justice Brett Kavanaugh was finally confirmed after a tumultuous process that polarized the nation. Leftists argued that Kavanaugh’s confirmation would be the end for women’s rights to make choices about abortions, among other things, even before the confirmation turned into a high school sexual assault circus.

Instead of hearing arguments in his first major abortion-related case since taking the bench, Kavanaugh sided with Chief Justice John Roberts and the four left-leaning Supreme Court Justices to decline to review it. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch all wanted to hear the case, but it takes four.

According to Thomas, the move was political.

Kavanaugh, Roberts, side with liberal judges on Planned Parenthood case

https://www.politico.com/story/2018/12/10/supreme-court-planned-parenthood-defunding-case-845056?lIn February, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that Kansas was wrong to to end Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding, writing that states can’t cut off funding for reasons “unrelated to the provider’s competence and the quality of the healthcare it provides.” Four other appeals courts have ruled that Medicaid patients have the right to access the provider of their choice.

But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held that states do have the right to terminate a provider’s Medicaid contract and that residents cannot challenge that decision.

The Supreme Court’s action Monday allows the split decisions to stand in different federal circuits. Thomas, in his dissent, wrote that the Supreme Court should have taken the cases to resolve conflicting findings from lower courts.

“Because of this Court’s inaction, patients in different States — even patients with the same providers — have different rights to challenge their State’s provider decisions,” Thomas wrote.

My Take

Thomas is right. This is the type of case that is ideal for the Supreme Court to resolve the rights of individuals, who are currently bound by different laws in different states. The majority of the time, this isn’t a bad thing. States can and should act differently from one another. However, when it comes to a person’s right to challenge a federal funding, which Medicaid is in part, there needs to be clear direction from the Supreme Court.

As Thomas noted, the reasons for punting on this issue were clear.

“So what explains the court’s refusal to do its job here? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named ‘Planned Parenthood.’ That makes the Court’s decision particularly troubling, as the question presented has nothing to do with abortion,” Thomas wrote.

This case had nothing to do with abortion, at least not directly. It was about the rights of the people to challenge how their tax dollars were spent, a fundamental right that drills down to the core of our republic. The mere mention of Planned Parenthood, even outside of the abortion issue, was enough to spook Justice Kavanaugh. He joins Chief Justice Roberts and Republicans on Capitol Hill who are so terrified of Planned Parenthood, they refuse to address the issue even at its most basic level.

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