Today we celebrate our liberty from the despotic rule of a colonial power. Back in the day, of course, it was more hope than happened. July 4th is the publication date of the manifesto, not the day we actually became independent. There was some question as to whether or not we could bring it off, as witness Ben Franklin’s famous quote at the signing: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Franklin was a superior wordsmith, and that’s pretty language, but it’s also hard truth: His Majesty’s Government was not going to take the Declaration of Independence kindly– they did not, in fact– meaning war with the mother country was immanent– that didn’t take long, either– and if the colonists lost, Franklin and his co-signers, if captured alive, would surely have seen the gallows; a fate avoided by good luck, fierce fighting and the distraction of the mother country by other matters considered more important, or at least closer to home.
The interesting point here is, while all the signers of the Declaration, and the colonists generally, were agreed they would not be subject to the Acts of a Parliament in which they had no representation, there was precious little else they agreed upon. During the Revolutionary War, the several States frequently disagreed about who should supply how many militiamen for which purpose, or in what state they should be obliged to serve, or the duration of their enlistment; not to mention who was going to pay for what. Washington routinely sent letters from his various encampments to the Continental Congress and the heads of the several States pleading for more supplies, more troops, or the extension of their enlistments. Famously, the Articles of Confederation fell apart through unworkability, causing the writing of the 1789 Constitution to replace them. The writing of that Constitution itself was an act of disagreement. Many people were scandalized; the purpose of the gathering in Philadelphia was to amend the old Articles, not to write a new Constitution. The new Constitution was not without disagreement; this is why the collected series of newspaper op-eds known as the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers came to be. The entire history of this country is about disagreement: Arron Burr did not kill Alexander Hamilton in a duel because they were bosom buddies. Woodrow Wilson did not give his “too proud to fight” speech because he agreed with Teddy Roosevelt about Germany. If Eugene “Bull” Connor had agreed with Martin Luther King, Jr., there would have been no attack dogs in Birmingham. Environmental activists do not ride horses and pitch tipis on the National Mall because they think we should build the Keystone pipeline. Pro-lifers don’t line up outside abortion clinics to hand out pamphlets encouraging abortion. Occupy Wall Street didn’t occupy (infest?) Wall Street and a number of other places because they were happy with the way things were going. Virginia Republicans didn’t vote for Dave Brat because they thought Eric Cantor was doing a good job.
Through all of our history, things have been like that. It’s the way we are. Our national motto is E Pluribus Unum, usually translated as “from many, one”, or “out of many, one.” That’s not a, but the, key point; we are many. And at the same time, we are also one. We are united in that we are all Americans. We are divided in that we don’t agree as to just what this means. If there is any lesson our history should teach us it is that, if we are to remain a united nation, we’re going to have to give each other the freedom and room to be what we each want to be, in return for the same courtesy returned to us.
Fortunately, then, we have a means available to us, organized within and guaranteed by the Constitution, to accomplish this delicate balancing act, this ability to live apart and together at the same time. This means is generally referred to as “federalism,” a system of government where power is divided between the national and local governments. Our Constitution is very careful to do exactly this. In general, the Constitution specifically empowers the federal government to do certain, but limited, things; while forbidding certain actions to the States; and leaves all other matters in the hands of the States or the People for the specific purpose of allowing us the flexibility we need to mush up such a great number of diverse people into a single, unified nation. In addition, the First amendment to the Constitution requires the government to avoid making laws to establish a state religion or to prohibit the public exercise of any religion any citizen likes; to protect freedom of speech and the press so we may publicly express our natural disagreement without fear of retribution; to protect the freedom of assembly so like-minded people may gather in groups to support or oppose any policy as may seem wise to them; and to petition the government to fix anything they may have screwed up which is, unfortunately, not a rare circumstance. That same First amendment is the grease that lubricates the gears of federalism; not only does our federalist system exist in fact, the First guarantees us the ability to actually use it.
Which brings us to today, and the intentional misspelling in the title. Our system of federalism, and our ability to operate it, are under attack by usurpers, by persons who would concentrate the power in the country in the hands of an oligarchical group primarily centered on the two coasts and inside the beltway. Still worse, this group of the power hungry are broadly supported by a sizable plurality in the electorate; due either to their urbanized nature, or to being bought off by government largesse.
The real divide in the country is not between Red and Blue states; that’s a symptom, not cause. Our actual division is between urban and rural populations. States are Red or Blue depending on their percentage of urbanization. It’s also easy to understand why there is so much diversity of opinion in this regard. Urban dwellers require a highly organized and rigidly controlled environment for mere survival. There’s not a large city in the country farther than a few days from food riots if the trucks were to stop, and cannibalism just a week or two behind. Rural dwellers are rather different; they don’t have, or need, the rigidly organized environment city dwellers enjoy or suffer. The ruralistas are more often thrown upon their own resources and, since they’re getting along OK like that, they don’t mind a bit. Each group quite naturally believes their way of doing things is the right way to handle it, because it works for them, and they also think it would work just fine if applied to areas where it is currently unused.
It is in the latter part where both sides are mistaken. Urban dwellers need their rigidity, they can not survive without it. The same is true of the rural folks and their need for independence and flexibility; their lives won’t be functional if they don’t have it. That’s why federalism is so necessary, and the oligarchs are doing so much damage to the country. We each have to find a way to let other people live the lives they need and want, and we have to find a way to depower the federal government in favor of the several States. The real problem with centralization of power is it forces an inappropriate system on places where it does not belong and is not functional. Every time the centralizers score a victory in national policy, the rural people are damaged. Every time the reverse occurs, life in the cities gets less safe and productive. It we’re going to remain a united nation, we have to stop that.
On another note, let me welcome everyone– you guys are out there, right?– to our new blog. I felt honored and pleased to be asked to join, and I hope to demonstrate this by writing things at least occasionally worth reading.
Further, I wish all and sundry a Happy Independence Day, and a Happy Independent’s Day as well. themaskedblogger’s advice for the Fourth is:
- It is not possible to overdo the hot dogs and hamburgers. Your diet can wait, go ahead and indulge.
- It is possible to overdo the cold beer, so you might want to be careful of that.
- If you failed to take heed of the above bullet point, call a taxi; you can get your car later.
- It’s a lot of fun to balance the catamaran on the downwind hull, but if a puff comes, remember to ease the sheet, don’t trim it.
- Failure to apply sunscreen is painful.
- Failure to apply sunscreen to the children is more painful than failing to apply it to yourself.
- Fireworks are to be looked at, but holding them in the hand for a closer view is unwise.
- Vodka watermelons are for young people. You’re too old for that.
- Bottle rocket wars are all fun and games, until somebody loses an eye.
- The boat is not securely anchored until the anchor sets. Merely throwing it overboard doesn’t always work.
- Fishhooks are painful when applied to the hand, foot, face or bottom. Be careful where you put them, watch where you walk and sit, and remember casting accuracy varies inversely with alcohol consumption.
- Picnics are wonderful. Fire ants, not so much. Have a look around before setting up.
The foregoing public service announcement, gathered from a long history of painful personal experience, is brought you by themaskedblogger, who wishes everyone a safe and happy Fourth. May the Almighty bless you, your families and our beloved country.