Unless we are to have another era of sectional rivalry that ends in irrepressible conflict, we have to end the states. Not that any nation larger than Monaco can do without local govt, maybe several layers of local govt, underneath the national govt. But those local govts have to be under the national govt, not independents sources and centers of power and authority.
And please, no appeal to the wisdom of the Founders, some notion that they gave us the states because they thought that was the best system of local/regional govt for the new nation. States that retained their own separate sovereignty, apart from and prior to the new Union, were a given. These states existed before the national govt existed, and they weren’t going to sign the Constitution unless the new scheme of national govt continued to have states as centers of power.
We’re past the most obvious danger of the separatism the Founders had to bake into the Constitution, that they had to leave the states the power to raise their own armies, the militia, and to exclude federal armed forces from their territories. The militia is gone (Though it could be revived!), and states can’t exercise their powers under the 2nd and 10th amendments and Art IV, sec4, to nullify and secede. Oh, they can claim some sort of “states’ rights” to nullify federal actions, but that phrase is a fundamental misstatement of the state sovereignty set up by the Constitution. States were given power, they had their armies, but they had to risk winning or losing a war with the federal govt to assert their sovereign authority. No more state armies means no more state power to nullify. State governors can stand in the school doorway to block implementation of a federal court order, and the nullifying state law they base that action on can stay in the their state’s lawbooks, but it’s all just empty theater unless the state can come up an army to hold off the US Marshals, or the 82d Airborne, or whatever force the US sends to enforce its authority.
But if states no longer have the power to achieve nullification and disunion by force of arms, they remain centers of political power. Most fundamentally, we let them influence who gets to vote and who gets sent to the House, by way of apportionment. This political power we have left the states creates an opening for sectional conflict in our national politics, if no longer on literal battlefields.
Of course this sectional party, our contemporary Republican Party, this red state American Hezbollah, wants to use the federal govt to screw over the blue states. As long as sectional interests and sectional passions weren’t a dominating factor in our nation politics, we could rely on prudence to keep either party from using the national govt when it had the trifecta to screw over any state. The Rs were once competitive in NY and CA, so of course a plan to screw them over would go nowhere back then. But in the current political atmosphere, why not screw over CA and NY? What’s the downside? Screwing over NY and CA makes their red state base happy, and they aren’t getting any EC votes out of NY and CA anyway.
Now in this case, this Graham-Cassidy bill hasn’t got it quite right. It screws over some states they need to win the WH. But that can be tweaked, and undoubtedly would be before any actual screwing takes place. The final form of this law, should it pass, would predictably only screw states the Rs can’t win anyway.
What will happen if the Rs do not pull back from this brink – this aggressive voter suppression and gerrymandering they engage in – and the blue states start to get screwed over by trifectas that these practices give the Rs, is that the blue states will answer in kind. CA probably could insure that it sends no more than one or two Rs to the House, if it were willing to be ruthless at gerrymandering. CA and other blue states could start passing state laws that screw over fundies and other R-sympathizer minorities in their states.
Worsening sectional conflict ends one of two ways.
We could have another civil war, though the absence of state armies makes it more likely that the intrusion of armed force into the political process this time would look more like a coup than a civil war. Coup plotters, perhaps ideologically based like the Oathkeepers, would prevail within the federal military and the intelligence services, or the regular chain of command would prevail. Either set of winners would impose order and the end of sectional conflict. I don’t see a prolonged struggle involving military units fighting on battlefields, not unless we go through a period first, as sectional political conflict heats up, of the revival of state militias.
The hopeful way this sectional conflict ends this time is that it teaches all of us – right, left and center – that we need to get rid of the states, and we pass the amendments necessary to do that.
People who rightly maintain that the secession that ended our last great period of sectional conflict was over slavery rather than “states’ rights”, tend to point to the word and deed of the secessionists, speeches like Alexander Stephen’s Cornerstone Speech, as proof of that point. But actually, the words and deeds of the side that won are much more relevant. If the Rs of that day had imagined that the problem was states’ rights and nullification, they would have repealed the gateways to secession and nullification, the 2nd and 10th, and Art IV, sec 4. They didn’t, because they did not think that state militias and state assertion of power were a bad thing. State militias called to federal service won the war, and it’s a damned good thing that the IL and MA militias were a lot more ready for war than those of MD and MO. R states and cities had nullified the Fugitive Slave Act, and those acts of resistance, and the failure of the then D administration to vindicate that law with federal troops, was the rallying point for the R sweep of the trifecta in 1860. We know that slavery was the cause of the war of secession, because slavery and the denial of equal rights that slavery was based on, is what got the victors to pass the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments while the slave states were out of the Union.
The victors in that war got it wrong, or, more accurately, they got it only half right. The fundamental problem was state power and divided sovereignty. Not ending sectional political power left the slave states the ability to end-run the 13-15th with Jim Crow. Slavery and the states are the two original sins of the Constitution, the two things it got fundamentally and disastrously wrong. The Founders had no choice, as there would not have been a Union without both embodied in the founding document. We do have a choice now, as the states have long since lost any needful or even useful function, and survive out of sheer inertia. As power centers, no one wants to mess with them, because the states are not going to vote themselves out of existence, as they would have to do in the amendment process, short of some disaster that clarifies the need to get rid of them so clearly that it makes politicians willing to end their existence. But their power is purely inertial. They command no one’s loyalty over loyalty to the US.
Until we reach the point where it is clear that we have no choice – the states survive, or the US survives, but both cannot survive – we will not do what is needed and decide that the states will not survive. And if the states survive, then there will be no end of second class citizenship either. If we don’t make this decision as a democracy, it will be made for us by the military, because tolerating the states as independent sovereigns can only end in irrepressible conflict.