March 22, 2023
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ColumnsElephant in the Room

Resistance through Federalism

On Jan. 20, I sat in the press section at the inauguration, less than 30 feet from Donald Trump, as he became the 45th president of the United States. The next day, I witnessed hundreds of thousands of people descend on D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington. As I interviewed attendees of the two events, a common theme of frustration emerged. At the first, a group of Americans who felt left behind by the last administration. At the second, a group of Americans who worry that their rights will be trampled on by Trump.

The U.S. has transformed into a nation where the election of one person can alter our lives dramatically. That’s not how the Founding Fathers intended it. We now look to Washington to solve every issue in our diverse nation, but those solutions often make people more bitter and divided. There is an alternative to centralizing everything at the national level, and it’s actually one of our nation’s bedrock principles: federalism.

Federalism has long been championed by conservatives, but in the current atmosphere, it would be well worth liberals’ time to revisit the concept. Federalism is a nonpartisan idea that decentralizes power, transferring control to state and local governments. Instead of calls for California to secede, liberals should advocate for more control at the state level.

Falling into a cycle where the focus is on winning the presidential election every four years and then proceeding to impose a worldview on the rest of the nation is dangerous. Federalism allows for decisions to be made closer to home, meaning both liberals and conservatives should focus on shaping their states and localities. In the Supreme Court case New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, Justice Louis Brandeis popularized the concept of states as laboratories of democracy. This is when states test policies that work best for their residents without imposing those laws on the rest of the nation. Often, if a policy works well in one state, other states replicate it, building nationwide consensus and compromise rather than federal overreach.

Yes, there are major issues to be decided at the federal level, but if liberals are looking for some hope under a Trump administration, they need not look further than the U.S. Constitution. Our Founding Fathers knew what it was like to live under authoritarian control, and they worked to ensure we would never have to.


Kyle Stewart can be reached at or via Twitter: @KyleStew107