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What Ails Us

Sometimes it seems as if we’re the Divided States of America.

When you’re a conservative pundit—even a small fry like me—you tend to restate the obvious. A lot. It’s kind of like that passage from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Well, evidently those things aren’t quite so self-evident these days, as the right to life has given way to extending abortion to include actual infanticide; personal liberty is under constant assault, as those who would know better than us get increasingly brazen about telling us what to eat, how to live and how to think; and the would-be Democrat socialists actively attempt to subjugate the pursuit of happiness to a collectivist notion of shared misery.

So it bears repeating, since there’s obviously a sizable segment of the country that just doesn’t get it: America was founded on the principle that the rights of the individual are sacred, because they are granted to us by God—and, as such, they can never be taken away by any government. Through the pursuit of happiness by each individual is the greater good achieved—and given tha track record of our success throughout history, that good is far greater than anybody else has managed. Unfortunately, that isn’t good enough for those who believe that freedom itself is manifestly unfair, and that it’s up to government to not only level the playing field for everyone, but to guarantee outcomes through onerous laws and social programs of dubious merit.

The result is that Washington has accumulated far too much power, and expanded the scope of the federal government in ways that the Founders never intended. Moreover, they deliberately crafted the structures of government to prevent this from happening—a gift we’ve since squandered over the generations, which has birthed the behemoth that sits on the Potomac and is involved in seemingly every aspect of our daily lives. That’s why half of the country loses its mind every four years when there’s a presidential election. Unless it’s your guy in the Oval Office, the country is at risk of descending into a (fill in the right-wing/left-wing blank) dictatorship.

But it was never meant to be this way. Presidential elections aren’t supposed to be nearly so consequential—and indeed, in the years before Washington amassed so much control, they weren’t. Sure, people were every bit as partisan when it came to who they supported and who they couldn’t stand—but after the election, people just pretty much went back to their regular lives, with those on the losing end just dusting themselves off and resolving to get ‘em next time around.

No longer. With the stakes much higher—and a presidency increasingly more imperial with each passing year—each election has turned into “the most important in our lifetimes.” Living with these kinds of extremes, to put it mildly, is not healthy, and it’s done all kinds of damage to the public psyche. The media, of course, don’t help matters any by inflaming those tensions, almost uniformly casting liberals as the heroes and conservatives as the villains in this ongoing daytime drama—but they too are merely a symptom of the disease infecting all corners of the country.

Simply put, the federal government is too damn big.

Federalism was meant to counteract this problem, leaving the states to govern themselves as they saw fit with minimal interference from Washington. Sadly, with Congress largely delegating their powers to the permanent bureaucracy and the courts acting as a de-facto super legislature, federalism is all but dead. Arizona can’t enforce the immigration law that DC refuses to enforce without some judge issuing an injunction. States can’t ban or even restrict abortion because of some invisible right that some judges on the Supreme Court found in the subtext of the Constitution. The definition of marriage gets completely upended by a court decision, and all of a sudden it’s the law of the land. On and on and on it goes, until the states have almost zero say-so over what kind of state they want to be.

One size fits all—and if you don’t like it, tough.

Suddenly, losing your mind over a presidential election seems like the least insane thing you can do.

And so we go at each others’ throats, progressive versus conservative, when none of this would be such a big deal if the federal government just operated as it was designed—with a limited set of strictly defined powers, and all other decisions reserved to the states. Leave California to be California and Texas to be Texas. Get the courts out of the business of making law, and return them to the very limited role of deciding individual cases that don’t impose sweeping changes over the whole country. And take back the authority that Congress shrugged off to the bureaucracy, which includes talking responsibility for the decisions they make. That’s the way representative government is supposed to work.

Then maybe, just maybe, we can keep this republic.

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